As I entered the Cairo Airport, I had to pee. Of course I do. Thank goodness there was a female attendant because I couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet. After she showed me, I profusely thanked her, but, she kind of scowled, held out her hand, and rubbed the thumb and forefingers together. Ahhh, my first encounter with the baksheesh, the tip. I gave her a US dollar; she scowled more and took it. The dollar is almost equal to six Egyptian pounds. It’s a good tip!
As I passed through customs, a man greeted me and asked if he could show me the way to my baggage.
Hmm, strange man meets lone woman in strange airport…what movie was this? It’s like watching a horror movie where I am thinking, don’t do it, don’t be the dumb girl. Come on Linda, we are doing the trust thing remember? Yeah, yeah, okay.
He graciously brought me to the baggage carousel and told me he worked for the airport. They are trying to make things easy for tourists. Cool. Then he directed me to a bank where I could change money if needed. When I tried to tip him, he refused the money.
When I got to the bank they suggested I go to the ATM. I began to look for it when another man asked if he could help me. I told him what I wanted and we started to look for the ATM. We came across the first man who then took over and lead me to a third guy who took my baggage and guided me through the throng of people to an ATM. He also recruited a taxi driver. They watched my baggage while I got out the money.
Hmm, Linda, once again, if I was watching a movie, I would say what is that idiot woman doing, turning her back on her luggage in the care of two strangers in a strange country…not too smart chickie! BUT, I am trusting Love; I turn around and all is well. The men lead me to a tourist office where they give me a map and a phone number to call if I need any assistance.
“Why am I getting all of this help?” I inquire.
“We want tourists to feel comfortable and supported when they come.”
“Great, well, I do, so thank you.”
He asks which hotel I am going to and I tell both he and the taxi driver. Of course they know where Tahrir square is but I could tell neither were sure of the hotel. No matter. Alexei had already warned me it was hard to find.
The taxi driver took me to his cab and we were off. He asks if I would like to listen to Egyptian music. Absolutely. I listen to the first song and I like the sounds and the rhythm. As we drive, I space out the music while I take in the sights. Suddenly I notice my body grooving to the music and I tune back in. Ahhh, Egyptian hip hop! Excellent!
I began thinking again of what to do if Alexei isn’t here. I had emailed the hotel the night before about my arrival changes and asked them to let Alexei know, if, he was there.
Suddenly, my cell phone rang.
“Where are you?” He asks.
“I’m in a taxi on the way to the hotel. I am so glad to hear from you!!”
He started to give me more directions, but I hand the phone to the driver and they talk. He seems to understand. When I get the phone back, Alexei tells me he will be standing on the corner across from the American University. Due to traffic it will be about an hour before I arrive.
Yay! All is well, Alexei is here! Yes, I am relieved and grateful.
As we approach Tahrir square, traffic is stop and go and chaotic. The drivers appear to communicate their intentions by honking their horns in different patterns, but, I’m not sure. People are crossing the streets by weaving through the moving cars. Demonstrators are handing out flyers. People are lining the sidewalks and, of course, in the center, the tent city is still going on.
I notice the sidewalks are lined with decorative green metal waist high fences so you can only enter at the corners. My driver parks next to one of the fenced sidewalks and asks me to wait. I know he wants to find out where the hotel is. As the minutes march by, my fearful imagination arises. What if there is a bomb in the car and someone wants to send an international statement! Oh my God, Linda, where do you get these ideas! Movies, news, duh! Take a deep breath and choose Love. I do and the driver returns.
He leads me to the entrance way of the hotel:
Then into the alley.
I can see the alley goes all the way through to the next street. But, halfway through, you can turn left or right, go up some stairs and enter the elevator!
This is where the driver left me.
Ayyiyiyi! I gotta go up in that!! Holy moly. Okay, I think I saw this in a movie once. I drag my pack and suitcase into this maybe three foot by three foot box, take a deep breath, close the metal gate, then the wooden doors, and next push the button for the 8th floor. I tense; nothing happens. I do it again. Nothing. I begin to drag my stuff out when a man comes down the steps and notices me.
He says, “Hotel?”
He puts me back in the elevator, closes the wooden doors and then firmly shuts the metal gate. He indicates for me to push the button and, with a jerk, I start moving…slowly. Should I close my eyes? Fraidy cat. With a slight thump I arrive at the eighth floor and gratefully get out. I am now in a small simple dining room. I turn down the left corridor and pass a room with several beds laid out dormitory style on one side and a large, obviously communal, bathroom on the other. Is this a hostel? I finally reach the room where there is a small receiving desk to the left, while on the right there is a small sitting room with a TV and a balcony. Directly in front of me is a couch, chair and a computer desk. I see other corridors leading off to, I assume, bedrooms. This is the Ismailia House Hotel.
I turned toward the voice and a man is standing there, smiling. He is standing behind the receiving desk. I am pretty sure this is the man I emailed.
“Hi , Ashraf. I am glad to be here. Is Alexei here, I didn’t see him outside?”
“No, he is still out there. Please let me show you to your room.”
We travel to the front of the building and he lets me into a room with two beds, a fireplace, and a personal bath. Thank goodness.
Then he leads me to the window which he opens. I look out and directly onto Tahrir square. There are much less people than at the height of the revolution, but, this picture does not well depict just how many are still there today. I think they are having a siesta or the Egyptian equivalent.
At the height of the revolution:
Across the way I can see the museum and the administration building
that had been burned.
Wow. This room has a great view.
I decided to go outside so that Alexei can find me. Is it stupid of me to go down to Tahrir square all by myself? Maybe. I don’t know; but, I am not afraid, rather, I am excited! I stood directly in front of the news stand at the green fence and looked around but couldn’t see Alexei, so I just hung out and watched everything. Soon, I was joined by a blonde American girl named Marie. She had been there for two weeks already. She studies International relations and is doing a thesis on revolutions so had been here talking with people. It was very interesting but time was passing and still no Alexei. Marie told me the American University was just around the corner and down the street so I took off. Now, I am walking down a side street in downtown Cairo. In my mind, I can just see my Dad shaking his head in disbelief. I found the university a couple of blocks later, but not Alexei. I started back toward Tahrir square and half way there heard my name.
There was Alexei with Marie and another guy. I ran over and gave him a huge hug. Ahh, connected at last! He had been standing on the corner in a flowered shirt and waiving a flag for over an hour. I must have walked right by him. He had been talking to this other guy who happened to know Marie who happened to come over to talk to him and to whom Alexei happened to ask if she’d seen me. What a coincidence, huh?
Alexei wanted to take me on a little walk. We skirted the square and went to the museum which we were advised was closing in a few minutes so we headed to the Nile River. Along the way, two giggly young adult couples greeted us.
“Welcome to Egypt, where are you from? What is your name? May we take our pictures with you?”
It was a great welcome. We continued to the Nile. I can’t believe I am walking beside the Nile River. I have been so titillatingly excited by every move, every step I have been taking since I got to Cairo. Part of me is actually amazed at me doing what I am doing and the other part is just so cool and calm. I am sooo happy to be here! All along the walk by the Nile, people would smile, welcoming us. Eventually we got back to the square and sat across the street from the tent city. An elderly man with a young boy of about 10 approached us and nudged the boy who came over and asked if he could have his picture taken with us. The man nodded his head to me with a twinkle in his eye. We took several pictures.
Then we went across the street into the tent city.
Right away, people were surrounding us.
“Welcome, welcome to Egypt. We are happy to have you here. Where are you from, what is your name, may we take our picture with you?”
(I bought that shirt)
Over and over, we were greeted and welcomed into their celebration of freedom. A woman painted the Egyptian flag on my hand. She did not want money, so we took pictures instead.
A group of young men came up to me and one said he was Sammy Davis Jr. I asked him to sing me a song and his friends laughed as he stammered. I laughed and sang “Candy Man”.
Parents sent their children to greet us. One man had a video taken of us with him and a little boy.
It was all so beautiful and such a gift. I felt honored and blessed to be there with them and sharing in their joy of freedom and hope for a better future.