I visited Egypt in the year prior to the Egyptian Revolution also known as the Lotus Revolution that took place in 2011. Even then the hotels where the tourists were put, had tall walls, security and wired fences. This was my first solo travel and I was anxious to see the pyramids and to learn all about the ancient Egyptian culture.
The flight from Sofia was scheduled for late in the evening and I was tired. The airplane was full and there wasn’t not even a single empty seat left. Usually this is not a sight you will see on an airplane that is taking off from Sofia’s International Airport. I didn’t feel how the five hours passed and our plane prepared for landing. And then I saw it, Cairo in all its glory. Beautiful and mesmerizing, with lights illuminating the sand-coloured buildings.
When we entered the airport terminal I was already falling asleep. I had to queue for ages in order to buy my visa and then to transfer to another counter to get my passport stamped. When I passed through the immigration, I met the tour company representatives. The guides divided the whole group into three smaller groups, and each had its own designated bus, that was going to a particular hotel.
After I heard my hotel’s name being called I was directed to the third bus. I boarded it, put my backpack on a side and tried to switch on my phone so I can call home. There was nothing out of the ordinary as I was staring out of the window, examining the streets, coloured in yellow, talking on my mobile and ignoring the guide who was trying to say something. The reality struck me. Pyramidal structures crafted out of trash and rotten food were scattered everywhere. Although it was late, the streets were full of people. The men were sitting in big groups, on the ground on one side of the road, smoking shisha and drinking tea. The women, left on the other side of the road, were forming big groups of their own. Their colourful abayas were transforming the otherwise bland streets, making it livelier.
The bus was halfway on its way when the guide repeated the names of the hotels that we were going to. This time I realized that I boarded the wrong bus. I didn’t panick (well just a little) when I raised my hand. Just like in the high school, my hand was shaking as I was precariously raising it, preparing to ask a question. After I shared my concerns with the guide he found himself in a difficult position. He had to accompany the other tourists in their hotel and to help them arrange their stay, but he couldn’t let me wander the streets of Cairo by myself too.
When we reached the hotel and all of the passengers got off the bus, the guide instructed the bus driver to the whereabouts of my hotel. And for my own comfort and safety I was left with another Egyptian guide, that was coordinating the trip.
The doors closed and the lights went off. We began our silent journey through the other half of Cairo. I sat behind the driver’s seat so I could have a better view of the various districts we were passing through. I was trying to spot the pyramids, not knowing that we were miles away from them. The Egyptian guide was sitting on the right side of the bus and he was staring at me. After a long and quiet pause he started a conversation. Out of courtesy he did ask me about my age, where is my hometown and which is my favourite colour (or maybe he examined the goods before making his decision).
He had this serious expression on his face as he was going to make a public speech about the global warming. He cleared his throat and directly asked me if I was going to marry him. To back up his intentions he informed me that he already had built his own house and he was going to give me a dowry of two camels. (As I understood being able to brag about having built your own house in Egypt, was a big thing, and it was the best pick up line ever.) He was trying to convince me how good my life was going to be if I was going to become his wife.
I imagined how the bus driver would turn the bus around, driving to the nearest church to perform the ceremony. And how convenient it was going to be as I had all of my luggage with me. I imagined myself, dressed in my blue fleece and the two camels on each side of me in front of the altar. The bus driver was dressed as a priest and was laughing at me. I wanted to shout, kick somebody in the ankle and run away screaming.
Instead, I turned down his proposal and he accepted my rejection very well. That made me think that he was proposing at least to one tourist per group and I wasn’t all that special. After all he did offer me only two camels.