Monday, July 12, 2010

Cabin crew, please prepare for landing...

I'm not gonna lie. It was intimidating arriving in Cairo. I wasn't expecting that. I mean, we've been to a fair number of countries by now that some may consider slightly, well, uncomfortable destinations. And the Egyptians are, after all, my people. It had always been a given in my mind that I'd visit here one day. I had no idea the experience could be unnerving.

Approaching our destination at 9:00am (on zero hours of sleep) was a surreal experience. Nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, rolling wind swept hills of it. It was immediately clear we were in an environment unlike any we'd ever experienced. Even the clusters of civilization were camouflaged amongst dusty sand colored buildings, giving the appearance of giant cardboard models. Very strange.

In the pristine airport, we began receiving instructions in Arabic as to where to go, what forms to fill out, what visas to pay for. And these guys mean business. I immediately felt very, very far from home. I was certain I would get arrested when I didn't know my family's address (where we'd be staying). After scrutizing me intently, the immigration officer advised, "Next time, know your address Aziza."

After collecting our bags, we were greeted warmly by my grandmother (my dad's mom), two uncles and my cousin, Yasmin, who I was meeting for the very first time. Then began our journey into the city.

Wow. This place is unbelievable. They tell you how bad the traffic is, how crazy the drivers are. They talk about the heat and the smog. What they don't talk about much is how beautifully captivating it is. So much, from the mosques to the Arabic writing that surrounds you, is just stunning. And the culture feels so unlike anything we know. I begin to reflect on all of the drastically different places we been in the past several months. The people and the landscapes and the customs, truly worlds apart. The urge to soak it all in is overwhelming.

After napping the day away, we spent our first evening out with Yasmin and her husband and son. A delicious dinner of 20 (I counted!) small flavorful plates. A walk through the dazzling street markets. A visit to a lantern-lit mosque. A table of mint tea and apple shisha under the warm night sky. There is no doubt in my mind we are going to love it here.

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