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Somewhere in the Middle

By Danica Taylor

When I first saw Egypt on the Fall 2006 Voyage Itinerary, I knew I had to apply and be on this voyage. Initially, I had no preconceived expectations for Cairo, Alexandria, or Egypt in general. I knew that I wanted to see the pyramids and ride a camel and besides that I was open just to experience the culture and atmosphere of a place with an immense history.

            Upon arriving in Cairo I was astonished at the development and infrastructure present, felt as if we were back into a global city with numerous transnational elements. It was almost a relief to see such development and modernization. After being in countries like India, Myanmar and Vietnam it was like a breath of fresh air to be in a country that appeared to be in the mainstream with technology, skyscrapers, transnational hotels lining the water, and traditional housing. The chapter written by Farha Ghannam, "Relocation and the Creation of a Global City," describes Cairo, as many do, as Umm al-dunya, or Mother of the World. “the diversity of its neighborhoods, old quarters, and new western-style areas, high-rise buildings around the Nile, satellite dishes, foreign fast-food chains and the World Trade Center…it has something to offer everyone” (Ghannam, 25). This description paints such a beautiful picture of Cairo, which is what I experienced. There really was something for everyone here, the history is so immense that a historian could spend their entire life here, the hungry foreigner could satisfy a western craving at the T.G.I. Fridays on the Nile, the nightlife is amazing because the town seems as if it never sleeps, we watched the BBC news and Inside Edition from the hotel room. We even visited Cairo University and were able to talk to some university students about life in Egypt and what their plans for the future were; these examples could go on forever and ever.

        We went to a shop that our driver Ghimal’s friend owned and as they were resizing the rings and necklaces we bought they welcomed us into their home which was on the backside of their shop. It was beautiful, 4 stories, grass yard, and view of the pyramids. We were shocked at what a beautiful home and vehicles they had. There were 3 brothers who each had a level of the home and then the ground level was a common area. Two of the brothers had married two sisters and while we were there the father of the two sisters was visiting. Seeing the closeness and the compassion that families have for one another was so warming. I think that this is something that the United States could really benefit from, emphasizing the importance of family and dedication to loving and supporting family. This was a middle class family and home. You knew that they had worked hard for their money and that it was paying off.

        All of these different emotions and experiences truly left a special place in my heart for Egypt. In addition to staying in Cairo I was also fortunate enough to visit a desert oasis, 5 ½ hours away from Cairo. This was quite the opposite experience from that of the transnational Cairo. The desert took me right back into the developing country characteristics that have become so familiar to us. For example, there was no running water at the home we were staying at, we asked our guide Wahed, he assured us in the morning there would be water. Come 7am…still no water. We inquired again, and he responded “we’ll be at the cold spring in 3 hours, you’ll have a nice shower then.”  A that point we realized that there would never be any water, but the thought of loosing out on a profit was enough that he would say anything to get us to stay.  The toilets without running water were a bit of a different situation, but nonetheless it was a real quick reminder of life in a place that has yet to adhere to global and transnational standards of living.

        All in all, Egypt was a great transitioning country. There were the extremely developed and globalized areas such as Cairo and Alexandria, where if you visited these places only while in Egypt you’d never know what life away from the Nile was like. But contrary to this, life away from the Nile is quite the polar extreme. I thought of whether or not the desert areas of Egypt would ever become developed, and then I thought of Tucson and Phoenix…they’re in the desert and still are able to access running water and stable infrastructure. So in the end I view Egypt as somewhere in the middle…between the hustle and bustle of a developed nation and the simplicity and difficulties of a developing one.


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