The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love...Kenya

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Ah, For You, I'd Kill My Wife"

The title of this blog entry is the winning "wooing" comment from my time in Egypt.  It happened the last day in Cairo, Carole and I were strolling through Khan al Kalili market and one guy says to me, "Ah, for you, I'd kill my wife."  Now, not one prone to speechlessness, I was dumbstruck with silence.  All I could think was, geez, your poor wife.  This is all to say:  I had a brilliant time in Egypt and I can't wait to go back!

 

It was just two of us as our third planned traveling companion ran into some problems.  So, Carole and I set off to the oldest tourist attractions in the world.  But before I can get to the pyramids, sphinx and all that crap, I have to talk about the cool crappy food we ate!  We got off our insanely early flight to Cairo (departed Nairobi at 4am) and took a nice shower.  We then walked ACROSS THE STREET from our hostel to the McDonalds!!!  Now, it was the middle of Ramadan when we got to Egypt and the nice guys working at our hostel had invited us to break the fast with them that night.  Carole and I have notoriously small tummies so we made a compromise (well, if you asked Carole, I forced the compromise on her).  We would share a McNuggets meal so we wouldn't ruin our appetites for the big breaking of the fast that evening.  It was difficult not to chow down on everything on the menu, but we (well, I) won out.  And yes, the meal the guys brought in that night was amazing as well.  But back to McDonalds.  After a year and a half, it was so awesome how a McDonalds in Cairo tasted just like a McDonalds in Connersville.  This isn't something I would normally rave about, but consider my skewed perspective.

 

So, on to the ancient wonder of the Giza plateau and the pyramids.  They are HUGE.  There is no way to tell from pictures just how massive they really are.  It was really cool because they are practically in the middle of urban Cairo and you can see them from different parts of the city.  The desert heat, especially after a year and a half in mild Kenya was scorching; I thought it would burn my eyeballs up.  The best part was the horseback ride we did at sunset around the pyramids and into the desert.  It was such pretty light and so quiet compared to earlier in the day when there were all these huge tour buses and inappropriately dressed tourists about (more on that later).  Carole really wanted to take a camel, but the sunset ride lasted close to two hours, and as we know from the legions of experienced Camel Derby Vets here in Kenya, more than 30 minutes on a camel can incapacitate the tushie for days, so we both opted for the horses.  Also, this let us ride further out into the desert.

After some touring around Cairo, we hopped a train down Aswan to continue temple viewing (and trying to avoid the pressure to see the High Dam…now I am sure it is a nice place, but I was assured it was only a dam and didn't posses magical powers, so we managed to ignore the agent pressure and ditch the dam).  The highlight of going to Aswan is the massive, speed of light, motor vehicle caravan down to Abu Simbel.  They do this for safety reasons, but there is nothing safe about at least a hundred vans and buses traveling near the speed of light through a dark desert, blindly passing, all to get to the same place at roughly the same time.  That being said, we were one of the first ones there, so eat that suckers! 

It is a cool, Ode To Ramses II that he built for himself along the banks of the Nile only 40km from the Sudan border.  It really is impressive, and I really liked the Temple he built for his favorite wife, Nefertiti.  We had to leave at 4am to get there, and it was worth it to have the morning light and NOT the unbearable heat of mid-day.

To get from Aswan to Luxor we spent the night on a felucca.  It is basically like a Kenyan Dhow, or a wooden fishing boat, modified to sleep on the deck.  It was a nice gentle ride, but packed matatu style with some partying Aussie chicks.  Next time I think I'll opt for the private boat. 

More temples…it is Egypt after all.  We loved Luxor; it was a cool place to celebrate the end of Ramadan with Egyptians.  And we were in a totally posh hotel with a TV and a bathroom that was beyond perfection.  Fire hose strength water pressure, endless hot water, granite countertops, adjustable height showerhead…I could go on and on about the bathroom alone.  At one point Carole, who is quite tall, walked out and said, "I was going to complain about the height of the showerhead, but it's adjustable, now there is not ONE thing I can complain about." 

The shopping and the street food in Luxor were beyond compare.  Egyptians love honey covered pastries, and even more so during Ramadan.  We went from one curio vender to one food stall after another.  Temples viewed include: Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings (Tombs) Karnack and Luxor.  All pretty amazing, but beyond my descriptive powers, go look at the pictures. 

In Luxor we had the immense joy of spending the day with some of our Peace Corps Kenya buddies.  Emily and Meg were also in Egypt and our trip overlapped by a day.  So, what do four good friends do after so long removed from civilization and in an over-whelming historic and beautiful place?  Well, we lunched at McDonalds (across the street from the Luxor Temple though) and we shopped!  It was sooo much fun to be with them, because we could make the same dumb comments about how much better Egypt was than Kenya to each other and we all got it.  We feasted (see the pictures) and then we soaked up some temples.  We all went to Karnack together, which was great fun and gave me a great picture of them.  It was the last time until I return to the States that I will see my Oyugis mate Emily, as she had COS'd (Close of Service) and returned to the US before I returned from Egypt.  I will miss her, kabisa!

So, Em and Meg left for Cairo and we left for Dahab, better known to me now as PARADISE.  Dahab is on the Sinai Peninsula on the Red Sea across from Saudi Arabia.  Friends had been there previously and they couldn't speak highly enough of it, but I was still like, "it's just a beach."  Oh no my friends, it is not just a beach.  It is one of the best I have ever been to!  The water is really indescribable, it is a sapphire blue, but more than that.  And because of the geography, thirty yards off shore of most of its coast is a dramatic shelf that allows for absolutely brilliant snorkeling.  We went out to the famous Blue Hole to snorkel and it just rocked.  Behind us is stark desert cliffs, ahead of us, ravishingly blue water filled with the coolest sea life ever.  All around us Bedouin folks schlepping diving gear on camels.  It was really ideal.  And the town of Dahab was so relaxed and laid back, no pressure, the sign of perfect beach culture.  I can't wait to go back here. 

We also ventured into some Holy Land touring.  Carole and I climbed up Mt. Sinai, Moses' Mountain.  Now, let me just say that there have been times in Kenya I would SWEAR I was freezing (as I am but a poor southern girl unaccustomed to cold, and now I am Kenyan, so it's even more dramatic).  But nothing compares to how shockingly cold it was on the mountain.  We began climbing at 1am so we could be up there for sunrise (I promised years ago no more sunrises, alas I broke my own vow).  I was wearing a thin flannel pullover on top of a t-shirt, pajama pants and Chaco sandals with no socks (I live in Kenya, not too much need for a parka).  The temp, according to our wonderful guide, dropped to just above freezing before the sun came up.  I nearly didn't make it, especially when you consider the wind.  But I am glad I did as it was beautiful to see the color of the stone in the early rays of sun.  Because of the day (Sunday) there were only about 75 people up there, but all the other days there would normally be 700.  I can't even imagine that, Moses' Mountain isn't that roomy!  I guess that is why he went alone.  Anyway, it was worth the freezing climb (ending with 750 rock hewn stairs to the top) to get a wonderful sunrise.  At the bottom of the mountain is St. Katherine's Monastery where the burning bush is supposed to be housed.  The monastery is closed on Sundays, hence the less crowded mountain top.  But, the best views of the mountain are from the open rock outcroppings across from it, so all in all…GO ON SUNDAY.  Our guide was a really nice guy who has been leading folks up and around the area for 18 years.  He is a Bedouin guy who was so nice to tell us a lot about Bedouin culture, and how tourists trample all over it.

So, back to Cairo we went and then back to Kenya.  I nearly wept getting on the plane, I didn't want to leave.  Although our parting meals were KFC for lunch (not the same, as there were no fake mashed potatoes and no biscuits, we have to export biscuits y'all, the world doesn't know what its missing) and McDonalds for dinner.  We went out with a bang. 

Ok, now for some chat about perspective.  I bet if I had come to Egypt straight from the US it wouldn't have seemed so amazingly modern.  Just out of the doors of the airport we were giggling with joy over the smooth roads and painted lines on the street.  Not to say that Cairo drivers aren't totally insane, they are!  When we got to the hostel, the owner, knowing we were Peace Corps, said, "Welcome to Civilization."  He couldn't have said truer words.  The whole trip was marveling at how things actually worked the way they were meant to in Egypt.  I think I got a tiny taste of what coming back to America is going to be like, and all I can say is you people better bare with me, it is going to be rough.  But please do not let me eat crappy food like it will disappear tomorrow, or any of the copious amounts of food I took in while in Egypt.  But I did know while I was there that I only had two weeks to shovel it in before I was back to sukuma and ugali. 

Another comment…wear some clothes people.  Now, Carole and I weren't wearing full abyas or head scarves, but coming from conservative Kenya it wasn't that difficult to cover our shoulders and most of our thighs.  That being said, if you are NOT at the beach, and in a conservative Muslim culture, your tightest Daisy Dukes, half tank tops with your bra hanging out and belly bared is not the way to walk around.  It shows a total lack of respect and only invites more attention (sometimes aggressive) and revile from the local culture.  I know that when tourists come to my village wearing shorts it really is disrespectful to my community.  Even though I am a tourist in a place like Egypt and I am not trying to fit in, there is a decent level of decorum that should be respected, and it was mind blowing how many people didn't give a care.  Emily coined a brilliant term for it, Nakidity.  I wouldn't like us (westerners) if you showed nearly naked in a culture where upper arm is risqué.   So, please do a modicum of research into the culture of the place you are visiting, even if you are only hitting the major highlights, your host country would greatly appreciate it! 

One last thing…if I did try, I would blend (insert Marisa Tome accent from "My Cousin Vinny").  Countless times a day I would be asked if I was Egyptian, and I finally began to answer in my thickest southern accent, "yeah, I am."  It was true though, if I'd been wearing a head scarf and not standing next to a statuesque blond I would really have blended.  I guess my theory continues to prove itself true, if your people are brown skinned, I really can blend.  Too bad I can't use my powers in some super-agent capacity, that would be fun (language would get me every time, always does).  The other funny thing was language.  Kiswahili is a mixture of African Bantu language and Arabic, so we would constantly be stumbling over a few words that we knew that over-lapped with Egyptian Arabic.  That was to the great amusement of all the amazingly nice and hospitable Egyptian people we met.  They really are nice people, even if their blokes are aggressive with the chatter.  Carole said, "They look at me and they think a good time, they look at you and think wife."  It ended up being fairly true and amusing most of the time.  The whole trip was amusing and relieving and fun and just a needed break from Africa.

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