Off the Deep End, Part 3

14 Jun

By Eric Shipley

It was one of the most memorable sights I have ever seen (or likely will see). As our Al Italia flight banked on its approach to the Cairo airport, the captain made an announcement in Italian. There was no translation, but one word didn’t need it—“pyramids.” We could see them directly below us, magnificent and huge. Even from high above, they were clear as day. I was transfixed, overcome by a feeling of unreality I would experience often on this trip.

We landed soon after. My first impression of the airport was that it appeared to have been built in the 1950s or ’60s (as it very well may have been) and looked like little had been done to maintain or improve it. It was the first indication we had of how impoverished most of Egypt is. All of this was rapidly replaced, however, by the realization that we had no idea where to go or what to do. We also felt the full impact of being in a non-English speaking country. We had tried to learn some basic words and phrases in Arabic, but it was of no use. There were signs in English. The one I remember in particular used very pointed language to explain that the penalty for smuggling drugs into the country was death by hanging. Needless to say, we had nothing to worry about, but the sense of uneasiness the sign evoked was heightened by the large number of armed guards and soldiers wielding what I’m pretty sure were AK-47s.

We followed the signs and people who seemed to know what they were doing, and found the line to have our passports stamped. Of course when we got to the booth, we were told by a condescending, uniformed “official” that we had to have visas. It was the first we had heard anything about this, but luckily, at the price of some additional condescension, the official told us where we could get them. We headed off, looking for some kind of government office, but all we found were shops selling tourist junk. After some linguistic gymnastics with one of the shopkeepers, however, we discovered that we could indeed get visas there. The cost was just a few dollars, but it still seemed ridiculously mercenary.

With our passports stamped, we headed for the entrance. Between navigating the unbelievable crowd and fending off a flood of cabbies determined to give us a ride, I began to doubt we’d ever make it out of the airport. Then, in the distance I saw Lee (one of our hosts and a friend since junior high) jumping up and waving to us above the heads of the throng. Never in my life have I been so relieved and grateful. And it hit me—there we were. In Egypt.

Let the adventure begin!

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