Friday, October 08, 2010

Cairo

Welcome to the beginning of my Egyptian journey! I'd love to hear your thoughts and wonder if you have questions and or topics you'd like to hear more about surrounding this adventure. Please feel free to comment and let me know what's on your mind. Mine is still settling into US time while absorbing the adventures of the last weeks.

September 22, 2010

Arriving in a city after dark has always held particular intrigue - especially when approaching a city I've never before visited. Bleary-eyed from 20 hours of travel and a few time zone changes, I begin to catch my first glimpse of Cairo, the largest city on the African continent. With inhabitants of more than 6 million people and another 10 million in the surrounding areas, it is a vast sea of twinkling light as we approach in evening's dusk.

From my window seat I quickly snap a photo of the setting sun and the reality of where I am landing begins to invade my body. My senses perk up as I hear the Air France flight attendant announce in three languages (English, French and Arabic) our approach into the City of a Thousand Minarets. Not being a geography or history buff or business traveler, many might wonder what I (a lone woman) am doing flying into a Middle Eastern country on this September evening. On this final leg of my journey from Paris to Cairo, I have been gifted the luxury of no seat companion - an amazing thing in itself on a predominantly full flight. The brilliance of solitude fades briefly as I realize I have only myself to rely upon as I enter this new world, however, neither fear nor panic strike me at this moment.

Deplaning, we passengers exit our steel cocoon and are shuttled onto an airport bus that will carry us to the main international terminal. Brilliant yellow lights displaying "Cairo International Airport" move past the bus window. It is a scene I've lived in other cities (sans the Cairo sign) and feels somewhat ordinary for the time being. As we leave the bus and enter the terminal, the reality that I'm in a foreign land blasts into my awareness. Having braved sending my passport to the Egyptian Embassy in the US, my travel visa is already stamped in my passport, so I can forgo the confusion of trying to purchase one now. I fall into line behind a man I take to be British and hope I'm in the right queue. All the while, my eyes are scanning the handbills held by local drivers seeking their passengers as I navigate my way through zealous cab drivers offering me passage. "No, thank you, " I murmur while shaking my head and praying my driver will appear soon.

After moving through the passport check without incident, I edge toward the luggage carousel and await my bags. I am jostled by large men hoisting huge suitcases with little awareness of a petite woman standing in their midst. It is not unfamiliar to home. Again, I scan to see the sign for Abanoub Travel without success. Finally, my two small bags are in my possession and I realize it's time to resort to plan b for transportation. I begin to rummage through my carry-on bag for phone numbers and wish I'd paid more attention to things like international codes and calling protocol on my iPhone. The crowd has thickened as we travelers approach the final turnstile that will release us into the world outside the airport. Suddenly, like a sign from heaven my misspelled name comes into focus. It is held in the hands of a young, roundish man with thinning wavy hair, glasses that match his shape and a welcoming smile. He recognizes the look of relief on my face that I'm sure he's seen a thousand times when picking up others. We introduce ourselves and his name is quickly lost in the buzz of the electric evening air. Still, my body relaxes as my temporary guardian carries my bags and we begin to weave through the maze of human bodies toward our car.

Moments like this are so surreal to me. I've seen them in movies a million times, planned this trip for months, yet hadn't considered this actual moment of my own arrival. It is one played out in cities all over the world, nearly every minute of the day. A traveler arrives in a new city. My history is being written right now as I step into a land I've only read about in history books. I am not just arriving in Cairo, but Cairo is arriving in me. Like two lovers meeting under the cloak of darkness, our eyes have met. Will this city hold my gaze? What will be revealed in the days to come? Will she receive me or cast me off as just another casual lover? I wish I could see her in the light. I can feel the secrets she holds, but the light is unnatural and the wattage too low for visual clarity. Still, I feel her pulsing vibrancy. I hear the language shift quickly from English to Arabic and know the mystery is deepening and being revealed even in this seemingly ordinary moment.

photos © lucy
  • landing in Cairo
  • sign while traveling toward the Sinai desert
  • Cairo airport

11 comments:

Maureen said...

I have a friend who took a trip down the Nile and still talks of it romantically. She enjoyed Cairo very much.

Thank you for giving us views into what I've always thought of as a mysterious, exotic locale.

Kel said...

ah the relief of spotting in a sea of strangers, someone holding your name on that card :)

Barbara said...

Reminded me of my arrival at Narita airport in Tokyo. There was nothing waiting for me but a reservation at one of the airport hotels where I planned to sleep off the flight. How did you arrange for this driver?

lucy said...

hey maureen - nice to see you. cairo definitely has a mystique of romance surrounding it. i imagine to nile even more so.


kel - welcome sight indeed. i spend lots of time correcting the spelling of my name, but even the oddly placed letters felt like home this time!!


barbara - ah, my dear - the answer to that question is similar to one i didn't answer from an earlier post. i was part of a small group of pilgrims and personal service (i.e. the driver) was one of the perks!!

Tess said...

I began to feel anxious on your behalf, trying to find that driver in the sea of people.

Looking forward to hearing more about your pilgrimage, even while knowing some parts will probably be difficult to describe.

Abbey of the Arts said...

I love reading the chronicles of this amazing journey. The line which shimmered for me is: "I am not just arriving in Cairo, but Cairo is arriving in me." Ah yes, the way a place meets us and we must dance and let it into ourselves. beautiful, friend. xoxo

lucy said...

tess - so, funny that i didn't feel particularly anxious in that moment yet you did. thank you, friend!

when i read your comment, i was reminded of a much less stressful arrival last year in ireland. it was wonderful to be greeted by your warm hug and smiling face!! (perhaps cairo was more stressful than i recall :-)

xoxo

lucy said...

christine - that particular line shimmers for me, too. it's one of those i wouldn't have imagined writing yet felt so true once it arrived on paper.

i've just posted the next installation on mt. sinai. glad to have you on the journey!!! xooxox

Karen said...

Wow...I'm really going to enjoy, AM enjoying, taking this trip with you. You describe it all so beautifully--I can feel myself there with you...thank you...

claire said...

I am not just arriving in Cairo, but Cairo is arriving me. Yes so true.

You remind Barbara of Japan. You remind me of Delhi :-))

Nice to follow you on your pilgrimage.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Lucy - this is a Beautifully written descriptive piece that captures emotion, sense of place and time. I am transported by your words and felt my own sense of relief when your driver appeared!

We've personally, in the last 15 minutes, witnessed a teary ending to our cruise......our hotel is directly across from the liner we've just spent 31 days aboard - it was late leaving as an ambulance arrived just as they were preparing for departure. Our hearts went out to the person, hopefully note traveling alone, who had become overwhelmed with the stressful excitement that accompanies these voyages. The ambulance loaded - the ship sounded its horn and we stood teary eyed reliving those moments of our own departure 31 days ago. Truly the trip of our lifetimes - so far:)

I'm adoring catching up with you - the writing has reached a whole new level of maturity, congratulations!!!

xoxoxoxo