New York and Cairo

As promised, I’ll begin to recap the trip thus far …Strangely enough as I sat in the Memphis International Airport chatting with the family, I hadn’t thought much past the upcoming weekend in New York. I wasn’t thinking about the weeks I would spend trekking from Arusha to Cape Town in the Land Rover or setting up my new life in Cape Town. I was just looking forward to the weekend in New York. I had never really been, except to taxi from LaGuardia to JFK. I won’t linger of the weekend in New York as the focus of the blog is Africa, but I did hit up most of the tourist attractions around the town. I also experienced my first speakeasy. I was staying with my friend Houston Adair and him and his girlfriend took me out Friday night to Death & Co. and PDT. I really enjoyed the concept and the pursuit of such finely crafted cocktails.After church on Sunday I headed off for JFK International Airport. Getting to the subway station was quite cumbersome. I had to trek from near the Columia Law building at 116th and Amsterdam into Harlem laden down with all my bags. And it would be an understatement to say the subway wasn’t designed for travelers as I was continually knocking into people.I landed at Cairo International Airport and caught a cab to meet an old high school friend living in Cairo working for a thinktank. Nothing could ever prepare you for the experience of driving in Cairo. Most of the streets we traveled on were designed with 2 lanes going in each direction, however, that concept had long been discarded for a complete and utter free for all. Each direction had from 3-4 lanes of traffic going at a time as the individual cab drivers saw fit. Each car on the road would manically switch from ‘lane’ to ‘lane’ as a perceived advantage was spotted. Many of the cabs and other cars had paint marks and dings running down their sides from the madness. I met Cade at his house and we went out to Taharir Square where the Egyptian Revolution had taken place almost exactly one year before. There were tents and people beginning to congregate in the square in anticipation of the anniversary that Wednesday. We took off down one of the side streets and grabbed local Egyptian food and headed to one of the only places in Cairo that served beer. The building was what I  had imagine a tea/coffee house would look look like. It was a large open room with windows running the length of the side it shared with the street.  It was a truly unique experience as Egyptians, expats, and journalist all mingled over beers. The windows on the side of the room where beer was allowed had been covered with boards as to not offend the people walking past.

The next day I headed off for Giza to view the pyramids. After a short taxi ride we arrived at on of the most spectacular sites I’ve ever seen. Having expected the picture taking opportunities I had brought my SLR Cannon Camera instead of my cheaper point and shoot. However, I was devastated when I assembled it and found the battery had died. I did manage to get a couple to snap a couple pictures of me with the promise they would email them later. We’ll see about that. I must say the constant pestering of people looking to hawk camel rides and postcards did take something away from the experience. They were constantly at your side having a one way conversation ; they were doing anything possible to get you to say yes to a ride. I did understand their plight though. After the revolution, the number of tourist coming into Egypt had decreased significantly.

After the Pyramids, I caught a taxi back into town and headed off for the Egyptian Museum. However, it was closed due to the pending celebrations. Cade later told me it was one of the first times he had heard of the museum being closed. It was there I met the most vile of people. I was walking away from the museum and a man came up to me asking if I needed a taxi. I said yes thinking I would head towards Khan al-Khalili market. He first coxed me into going to a place it later became apparent he had a connection with to buy a papyrus paints. I said no and he offered what I thought I heard was 20,000 Egyptian to go the market. I almost got in a couple different taxis as they passed, but I felt a commitment to the man who had offered his taxi. Well he didn’t show up in a taxi but rather his friends car. Well turns out the market was closed so I asked to be taken back to Zamelk Island. Once we stopped the man demanded 150,000 Egyptian and we had it out for awhile. I decided that instead of getting killed over the equivalent of a 10-20 USD I would hand over the money and be done with the situation. Looking back, I should have handed him the 20,000 Egyptian and walked away. On well, hindsight is always 20/20.

That night I got in my final Egyptian taxi and headed to the airport. I had my first encounter with a corrupt African official at the security checkpoint as he made a fuss about my knife. He obviously wanted a couple dollars and I obliged. Although I did make me question the airport security that a couple US dollars gets you a knife past the checkpoint. I was releive when there was a 2nd checkpoint at the gate. Of course by then the knife was tucked away under the plane. I met a couple German journalist on their way to Nairobi to teach classes and then dozed off to sleep.

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