Arrival in Cairo – Aug 8-9
I left Ethiopia earlier tonight and it was slightly heartbreaking. It has been a whirlwind last month in Ethiopia as I wrapped up my work and handed over the completed projects. I feel like I have met a lot of amazing people in Ethiopia who truly inspire me and it has been hard to leave. Another reason why my heart was beating a little faster on departure was that I realized I had accidentally put my maiden name on my plane ticket so now it didn’t match my passport!! Well, finally everyone thinking that I’m “China” paid off as no one questioned my last name being “Woo”. I made it onto the plane with a breath of relief and flew to Cairo and entered the country in the wee hours of the night with no problem…
I looked out my airplane window and it was a river of light as we flew over the Nile River. A snaking river of light through the darkness of the desert surrounding it – it looked like the Milky Way galaxy and I was looking up into the sky rather than down onto the ground. We followed the Nile River from Luxor up to Cairo and I eagerly tried to spot the Giza pyramids but it was lost in the labyrinth of lights. Cairo is a city of over 22 million people, over two-thirds the population of Canada, all in densely packed apartment buildings rising out of the desert. The roads are brightly lit with streetlights and the cars driving along them makes the city below look organic, like blood cells flowing through blood vessels pumping vital life into the city.
Coming up to immigration, I first went to one of the banks and bought a $25 USD stamp, which conveniently also changed money at almost the same rates I looked up on google earlier today. Well that seemed easy…
There was no line to immigration and as I went up to the desk, the man behind the desk asked me,
“How long are you staying in Cairo for?”
“Two or three nights,” I replied, “then I will travel to the Red Sea coast.”
“Oh that is too short to stay in Cairo. You should stay longer. Are you meeting up with any friends here?”
“No, I’m travelling alone but I’m sure I’ll meet some new friends along the way”
“Well I’m off in 5 minutes if you want to wait for me,” he said as he stamped my passport and returned it back to me.
Did that just happen? Immigration didn’t simply scowl at me and say no but efficiently processed my application and stamped me in the country while simultaneously sneaking in a flirt at me at 2 in the freaking morning? After the incredibly complex series of lines and signatures at Ethiopian immigration just so I could get a visa extension to leave the country, Egypt seemed too easy. 10 minutes from the time the plane landed until I was waiting at the baggage area though immigration and health check.
I went outside the airport into the hot, balmy weather even in the middle of the night and my taxi driver was waiting with my name written on a sheet of paper. I spoke “shuaya shuaya” (little little) Arabic (when in doubt, a good phrase to say is “Alhamdulillah”which means “thanks to God”) while Jemal my driver spoke a little English. He enthusiastically taught me the Arabic numbers, “Wahid!” he would shout, “One!” as we flew down the highway at breakneck speeds. In Addis, there is a lot of traffic and the roads are crazy. Here, in Cairo, traffic is just as crazy but at faster speeds. Countless gorgeous minarets flew by in the blink of an eye as the energetic Jemal sang to the lively Arabic pop music on the radio. As we drove through Khan al Kalili, the narrow roads made us slow down just a little bit as tall majestic mosques towered in on us from both sides of the road. Electricity and lights were everywhere, cafes were still open and brightly lit and men smoked shisha on the sidewalk.
Cairo, Jemal told me, is the city that never sleeps.