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HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Egypt, in the nutshell of 4 hours...

Our time is up in Egypt:
two weeks of Sudanese, Egyptian and Czech families congregating for one mighty celebration of a wedding, salty azure sea on the North Coast, the wild insomniac capital Cairo with its echoes of the ancients and modern cries from hawkers, the poor and the wealthy, rubble and rubbish everywhere, passionate haggling, dirt cheap cabs and exotically spiced food...

Our flight for Bangkok scheduled to leave at 11:15pm, we had spent the afternoon at the Egyptian Museum, vast and crammed with relics sometimes looking only slightly worse for wear than the building that houses them.

Our last 5 hours on the ground was like a review of the major motifs of our short and localized African experience. Around 6pm we confirmed that we had an airport shuttle van coming for us at 8pm - air conditioned, flat rate, safe vehicle, plenty of time to navigate Cairo traffic and arrive at the airport again with plenty of time to check in, get our bearings and board. Happily we departed for our first real meal of the day, our bodies' metabolism probably in starvation mode, and found a teeny little neighbourhood spot serving up kosharee by the pound - a vegetarian dish of short spaghetti, macaroni, rice, chickpeas, lentils, onions and tomato sauce. It was so fantastic we even took one with us to munch on at the airport.

Back at the family apartment where we'd been hosted, we gathered our belongings, did the long round of goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous and shuttled our stuff downstairs. Down at street level no bus and no driver in sight... Hmmm... Maysoon, the organizing legend, phoned to find out they are on their way and will call us when they arrive at 8:30. Back upstairs with our stuff for a bit of muffled "Men In Black" on the telly while kids squealed and dining room conversation spilled through the apartment. At 8:45 Maysoon called again, to be told the driver is stuck in an accident on the bridge, at which point she told them to forget it and took charge herself. (Why the company didn't call to mention they were late, twice, is beyond me. One theory to explain is that they never sent a van.)

Back down to the street, Maysoon (bless her heart) hunted down a cab that was reliable to her professional-Cairo-dweller eye, settled a good price and told him to step on it. So our packs went into the grimy trunk and we zoomed off into the madness of nighttime Cairo traffic. Riding in a cab in Cairo is a harrowing and exhilarating experience guaranteed to give meditation a run for its money for keeping you glued to the present moment, what with your life seeming a fragile and delicate thing one might part with at any second. Our driver did his best negotiating the crazy video game of speeding cars and buses constantly changing lanes with inches to spare. About a quarter of the way in we were nearly parked in bumper to bumper Tetris, but again our stoic driver came through and soon enough we were flying through the night, horns blaring, exhaust fumes in our faces, dodging brake lights suddenly appearing ahead.

An hour later than we planned (what have we learned out planning in Egypt?) we ferried our bags inside Terminal 1, through the first of many lock-down security X-ray and metal detector stations and over to 10 check-in lines for Egypt Air... all of them at a chaotically loud standstill, discussion, arguments and questions floating over mounds of luggage and frazzled groups of travellers. It took another half an hour for an express "Bangkok" line to open up, about the time we figured boarding was starting. Over to our gate, another long queue, a guy ahead of us with shopping bags stuffed with groceries going throug the fourth X-ray machine. (Cairo's level of security is something to behold.) Beyond the gate a shuttle bus (huh?) to our plane, bewildered passengers unloading warily, but finally... There we were in our seats, in the air and climbing, just under 9 hours to go until we hit 78% humidity at noon on Thursday for our first breath of Bangkok's daily life.

Relieved beyond measure that our butts actually made it to those seats on time, we giggled over the surreal feel of our evening: the kind help of our host family, complete lack of reliability from a business, renegade cabbies and the heat, fumes and adrenaline rush of Cairo streets, unexplained waiting, reigning chaos, great food - its spices opening up our senses to the wild ride of Egypt's capital and its alternately frantic and idle, laughing and swearing, passionate inhabitants.

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