Saturday, September 4, 2010

India vs. Egypt

We've realized that the trick to maintaining your passion for a place is to not stay too long. Keep the affair short and sweet. Leave on a high note. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that jazz. Let's just say, we broke that rule in Egypt.

Fifty-two days passed between our arrival in Cairo and our eventual departure to India. Nearly two months! Longer than we have stayed anywhere else on this trip. Hell, probably longer than we have stayed anywhere else ever. Just enough time for the initial sight-seeing awe and cultural charm to begin to wear off, for the sometimes irritating and always nonsensical underbelly to shine through.

Don't get me wrong. We LOVED Egypt. It's a beautiful, mystifying country. And having family there made the experience especially rewarding. We definitely would not have stuck around for so long if it wasn't for the time we enjoyed with them. However, there are some things about it that began to drive us a little batty, and have been magnified since we've arrived to the exact opposite attributes in India.

So, here are a few comparisons we've noted. A little insight as to why we're coping so well in India so far. Who knew that one of the most polluted places on the planet could be such a breath of fresh air.


India appears to operate with a sense of it that I enjoy thoroughly. People wait in lines to get into places. Sites have opening and closing times that they adhere to. Even the Indian Embassy in Cairo is a little haven of process and structure.

As an example of the way things operate in Egypt, take our visit to the passport office. Renewing your visa requires a two hour wait. What they don't tell you, is that that two hours begins when the last application is received. So, rather than simply pass out completed passports as they are ready, they create a giant stack on the desk and release them all at once, creating total mayhem of pushing and shoving and shouting in the passport office. Hey, whatever works.


Speaking of shouting. Wow. I've never seen so many people yelling about so many things in my life. I don't think anybody actually posseses what one might call an "inside voice". The funny thing is, you'll see two men yelling at each other on the street, with a volume and degree of aggression that would surely be leading to a brawl in the US, and then they laugh and pat one anothers shoulders as they part. Even a game of monopoly with my family turned into an all-out scream fest.

My ears must be too tender for this part of the world. That's why we were so delighted, upon arriving in India at 5:30am, that people were using appropriate 5:30am voices. Thank you India, for speaking softly.


Egypt is a culture that runs on a little baksheesh. You want to know which way the metro is? Five pounds. You want hot coals on your sheesha? Ten pounds. Need to pee? Pay up. That was the worst, the guy who sits outside of public bathrooms and demands payment for each visit. You think maybe your paying for the service of keeping the place clean, providing toilet paper perhaps. Nope. Dirty, paperless, and him just sitting there earning a pound a squat! I think I'm in the wrong industry.

In India, it's absolutely baffling how many people are more than happy to go out of their way to help you, and want nothing in return. Nothing! These people, living in one of the most poverty stricken countries on earth, shaking their heads in embarrasment when offered a modest token of appreciation. You'd be amazed how many times a day someone adamantly refuses to accept a tip for helping us. It makes us feel genuinely cared for, which is awesome.


We are pretty used to getting stared at by now. People wanting to take photos with us. Kids tripping over themselves to get a better look. We're kind of a big deal.

But somehow, here in India, the stares feel less threatening. It's more of an intrigued "who are you" than a suspicious "why are you here". And often those stares are accompanied by smiles, waves even. The culture just gives off a warmth that makes us feel very welcome.


After several months of being deprived of good old fashioned greasy American food, it is very exciting to arrive in Egypt. Giant salads with ranch dressing from Chili's. Ranch dressing!! Pepperoni pan pizza from Pizza Hut. Gold medal ribbon ice cream from Baskin Robbins. We were in fatso heaven. But after packing on about five kilos between us, there was nowhere left to turn. Sure, we enjoyed the occasional koshary and hummus with tahina. But in the suburb where we were staying, pretty much the only options within walking distance were KFC and Carl's Jr.

I think it goes without saying that we are SO excited about the food here in India. And we hope our waistlines like it a little better too. We've managed to eat almost strictly vegetarian since we've arrived, purely on accident. It's incredibly easy here, with so many options that are all so spicy and delicious. I might be slightly more excited to eat everything there is to eat here than I am to see all there is to see. Uh oh, here comes the fatso again.


Obviously, I completely respect the conservative manner in which women dress in Egypt. And while we were there, I really thought nothing of it.

But since arriving in India, I've realized what a trememdous joy it is to see women walking around in bright, vibrant colors. Their traditional dress and make-up and body peircings combine to a sheer stunning effect. It's truly a beautiful culture. Women and children and old wrinkled ladies. All of them just gorgeous. We can't get enough of the people watching here.

I think that about sums it up. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I am aware I am making huge generalizations. Just wanted to provide a glimpse into our first impressions. And if all goes well, we'll be en route to Southeast Asia before we have a chance to change our minds.

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