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