Letter from Egypt

Lavender Jellyfish and Why you Shouldn’t Rent a Scooter in a Foreign Country

04 April 2005

So this is how it happened. It was the last few days of our trip, at the resort in Sharm el-Sheik on the Sinai Peninsula. Tired of Italians smoking and yammering on their cell phones everywhere, tired of being guided everywhere, we decided to take the advice of our Swedish dive guide. Rent some snorkel gear, he said, and hire a taxi to Ras Mohammed. You can snorkel right off the beach, and there is hardly anyone around.

Ras Mohammed is a protected national park area about 70 km of Sharm el-Sheik with loads of reefs off their coasts. Many of the snorkel and diving trips go there, but you snorkel off of boats that anchor just off the beaches anyway. So Colin and I took the diving guide’s advice… sort of. Instead of taking a taxi, we thought why not rent a scooter? You know the type, little, yellow, like a moped. So, we loaded our gear, water, snacks, and towels in big backpack, the fins strapped on outside, and set off on our freedom scooter, Colin driving. Colin used to own a scooter and was confident. We had directions and it didn’t seem difficult.

We made it through the old town of Sharm, out passed the marina and to the checkpoint. Colin weaves through vehicles on the busy, four-lane road, beeped his horn like a pro. You have to have a certain kind of visa to travel to out to Ras Mohammed, so we showed our passports to the guards at the checkpoint and were on our way. The road was a two-lane highway heading uphill into rocky desert. Ras Mohammed isn’t a green, lush national park. It is rough, yellow and brown— desert, like most of Egypt.

The scooter started to choke and sputter about a mile past the checkpoint. We were going uphill, so at first I just thought it was a power issue. Poor little thing wasn’t more than 100ccs. But then it died. That shouldn’t happen. We pulled off the side of the road. The backpack heavy on my shoulders, I clambered off the back. A truck or two passed us as Colin fiddled with the ignition, tried to kick start it. I suggested going back to the petrol station at the checkpoint and calling or, if it restarted, going back to the office, getting a different scooter, but Colin said he thought it was fine. The engine revved. We pressed on.

It lugged its way up the hill, unhappily dragging us along. It died again. I was beginning to get nervous. Colin prodded it and fussed with it, and it restarted. We were cresting the hill and once we reached the top, it seemed much happier. Another mile passed and we reached the entrance of the park. We stopped, got off the cycle and signed in, paid the entry fee. The tourist police and guards, in their black wool uniforms and berets, walked around the little yellow bike and smiled. Colin kicked it off the kickstand the restarted it. We consulted the map of the park, then Colin gave the little nubbin a good rev for the boys, and we shot off into the park.

We made it about two miles on the road into the park, heading up another hill, when the scooter sputtered, complained, and fizzled out. Third time was a curse, in this case. It did not restart. I hauled myself off the back again and looked at the sun overhead. We were going to lose a day of vacation to this crap. All around, there was nothing but rocks and dirt and air. Emptiness and the paved, unmarked road. We hadn’t realized that once you got the park entrance, it was almost another 35 km to the beaches at the far end. We stood next to the puny little bike, shiny and yellow and useless, and gazed into the desert on either side of us. Occasionally, small buses full of Italians passed us. Colin continued to fiddle with the ignition. I was not happy.

“We need to stop someone, to see if they will let us use their phone,” I said, edgy already. We had the phone number of the men we had rented from in our bag. So, the next bus that approached, I faced it and flailed my arms madly. The driver honked cheerily, and the passengers waved as it sped by.

“Damn Italians!” I said, getting really annoyed, shouting a few more choice comments into their exhaust fumes. The sound of another motor, coming from the other direction, shut me up. A motorcycle approached. I lifted my arm to wave then dropped it. The woman on the back of the motorcycle leaned off a little and snapped our photo as they sped by.

“Oh this is just great!” I said, my voice rising to a low screech. “We are just a joke! We are going to die in the desert!”

“We are not going to die,” Colin said, ever calm. He started pushing the scooter. “We passed a sign a little ways back that said Visitor’s Centre. We’ll just walk back there.”

We alternatively pushed and glided down the hill, being passed by smarter tourists in taxis. The cars flew by, horns beeping wildly. At the sign for Visitor’s Centre we could see a cove with a small beach. Two tour buses were parked at either end. Several boats were anchored in the cove. Further along, at the top of hill, stood a stucco building. We turned down the road, rutted gravel and sand, and watched as one tour bus drove up the road to the Visitor’s Centre.

The scooter… dead…

We parked the scooter at one end of the beach, near a palm-leaf-covered shelter. Colin tried to start it again, with no luck. He’d tried starting it by pushing it down the hill, but it was designed to start only with the brake engaged. We walked another half mile up the hill to the Visitor’s Center. A car was parked with near the tour bus and we could hear voices. Colin found a man who worked there.

“Do you speak English?” we asked.

“Yes, some,” he said. And we tried to explain the problem. Finally, with the help of some pointing and hand gestures, he understood and offered us his cellphone.

“Will you speak to him,” I asked the man, “in Arabic, and explain to him? He may not understand us.” He smiled and agreed.

Colin dialled the number. The scooter man answered. Colin’s voice got louder as he tried to explain, but finally, he just handed the phone to the man from the centre.

In fast Arabic, the man described our situation. He listened, then he came back to us and asked us what time we wanted to be picked up. He explained there was very good snorkelling at the beach below and we could salvage some of our afternoon here before the man would come to pick us up. We arranged to be picked up at four.

The man retreated into the building with his friends. It was approaching two. We had two hours to relax and enjoy the beach, snorkel in the Red Sea, before our rescue. We weren’t going to die after all. I felt the fear rush away.

At the shelter below, Colin and I pulled on our fins and masks, stripped down to our swimsuits, and walked into the water. It was colder than we were used to, about 72 degrees, but warm enough for a couple of hours reef exploring. The beach was deserted; we shared the reefs with just a few yachts full of snorkelling tourists, anchored off shore.

The afternoon underwater fell away as we followed the reef, pulling air through our snorkels. Colin, more experienced than I, held my hand whenever I panicked in the water. Trusting yourself to be able to breathe as you press your face into the water isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Red Sea is exceptionally salty; still, it took me some time to trust what Colin said: if you relax, you will just float on top of the water.

The cove at Ras Mohammed National Park
… where we almost got left behind.

Just after three, we laid out our towels on the beach to dry off and have a snack. It was still February, so although it was 80 degrees, the sun was beginning to fall in the sky. Sunset would come about 5:45.

At 3:45, we packed up our gear and got ready to be rescued. The tour bus had left the visitor centre ages ago, but another small van was now parked at the far end of the beach and three or four young people were exploring the water line and listening to music.

Four o’clock came and went. Colin checked his watched every few minutes as we paced the sand. We stayed near the scooter and alternatively watched the far road and the last remaining humans in our vicinity. The park closed at four.

At four-thirty, the car from the visitor’s centre descended from the hill behind us. I walked over and flagged down the young man we who had lent us the cell phone earlier. He rolled down his window. “They haven’t arrived to pick us up yet,” I said. He could tell I was worried, and I could see he was not happy that we were still there. There was one last boat anchored off shore, and the van at the far end of the beach had left.

He dialled the scooter man’s phone again. Again, he spoke is fast Arabic. He hung up. “He says he is on his way, will be here in 10 minutes.” He looked from Colin to me and back. This was the last car in the area we could see, our last chance to leave idled in front of us. We looked at each other and decided.

“Well, if he is on his way, then we’ll just wait, I guess.” The man shook Colin’s hand but didn’t look happy. He and his friend drove off. Soon, the boat pulled up anchor in the cove and left. We waited. The sun dropped toward the horizon now. There were no lights on the road. We hadn’t brought a flashlight. It was still daylight, but not for much longer.

A man appeared on foot, coming down the hill from the Visitor’s Centre. Later, we decided he must live there. He regarded us, scowled. We told him we were waiting for a ride. He said he had no car, no telephone. We sighed. It was getting closer to five. The man walked along the beach, picked up driftwood and trash. He made his way back to us. By that time, I was ready to jump out of my skin.

“We are going to walk,” we told him, “up to the road. Can we leave this here?” We pointed at the scooter. He looked very unhappy. Egyptians do not want tourists walking in the desert alone.

“I will take it back, up to the centre,” he said. He pushed the scooter away, up the hill. Colin and I began walking. I was in a panic. I estimated we had a little over an hour of light or more before we couldn’t see anymore. We didn’t know where our rescuers were, or if we would encounter any other human in the park. Once it was dark, it would be pitch black; if we lost the road, we might never find it again.

I walked at a near run. Colin, with the heavy backpack, or maybe less fearful, lagged behind. At least, I thought, if we made it back to the highway, we could flag a truck down. Or we could walk. There might be some light. “Slow down,” Colin said, but I couldn’t. I was sure we were going to die in the desert.

We started walking… the sun was setting quickly…

It took about 15 minutes to get back to the paved park road. We turned north, toward the main gate. We hadn’t walked for another 15 minutes when we heard a horn and a shout behind us.

“Hey!” It was our rescuers. They were here, two of them arrived to get us. Only one small problem. They came to rescue us on a scooter.

When they pulled up beside us, I wanted to clock them over the head and hug them. “How are four of us supposed to ride on this?” I asked. But the men ignored me. They had come to fix the scooter, not to bring us home. In two minutes, Colin rode off on the back of the scooter in the direction of the Visitor’s Centre with one of the guys, leaving me on the side of the road with other, to wait.

He indicated we should walk up the road a way. I thought maybe he just wanted to get a head start on our walk home, but he led me to a curb up ahead, where we could sit down to wait. The sun was just hitting the horizon.

We weren’t there two minutes, when a small black pickup full of military personnel pulled up. A man in civilian clothes unfolded himself from the passenger side and approached my friend. He exchanged brief loud words; they had obviously talked already. The man scolded my rescuer and then retreated. Crammed in the truck sat 12 other tourist police, dark-skinned, wearing black uniforms and the arm band that said “Tourist Police.” They were armed with semi-automatic rifles, handguns, and knives. Not one looked older that 22. Most of them smiled and waved at me, tried to catch my eye. I smiled, but kept my eye on the man in civilian clothes. He spoke rapidly in a large walkie-talkie. A few of the men in the back of the truck piled out of the bed and swung their legs casually off the back. Some got out, lit cigarette, stubbed their toes in the dirt.

I sit with the Tourist police and the scooter rental man
while Colin and the other guy are fixing our scooter.

I watched for any sign of my husband in the distance. I wanted him to come back quickly, but I wasn’t frightened or scared any longer. The man in civvies got word on the radio and gave a command. The loitering men piled back into the truck and it turned around, facing out of the park, but did not leave. In a minute, a huge truck with a blue trailer came up the hill. The trailer was all enclosed, a huge blue box, except for several mesh windows about five feet high. Inside, at least 20 more men in uniforms lunged at the windows. I could see the men, groping over each other, their hands on the mesh, for a look out side. I relaxed and leaned back, smiled. I knew, then, I would not die in the desert.

Five minutes later, I spotted two scooters on the road, descending from the Visitor’s Centre. A faulty sparkplug. Colin and the scooter man arrived and I climbed on. We led the way out of the park, with the military vehicles as our escort. In 25 minutes, we were back at the hotel.

We met our friends, Bill and Bonnie, for drinks later than evening. Bill and Bonnie are American. They met at KU and have been married for about 15 years. Now, Bill works as an environmental engineer for an oil company and they live in Equatorial Guinea. (That’s in Africa, for those of you who don’t know. Don’t feel bad; I didn’t either.) I said to Bonnie when I called her, “Wait till we tell you about OUR day today.” And before Colin said anything more than, “So, we decided to rent a scooter to go to Ras Mohammed…” Bill burst out in a wide guffaw and said, “Oh NO! I could have told you. NEVER rent a scooter in a foreign country!”

We had very nice long beers that night and slept well. We lived, we still got to snorkel and we got a real lesson. It was a good day in Egypt.

That wasn’t all of Egypt, of course. There is more… If you want to stop here, for a break, and come back, you can.

When Colin and I moved to Maida Vale in September, we crossed paths with a friend of Colin’s, a Canadian named Steve, his wife, Carol, and their daughters. They were just getting ready to move back to Canada. One night, over dinner, Carol advised us: “Start making plans soon to go somewhere warm and with lots of sun in February. The winter here will really wear on you.” Carol looked worn out and Steve smiled optimistically, but as their girls swirled around them, I could see they were glad to be going home to Canada.

We hadn’t had our honeymoon yet, so once we got settled in our flat, Colin and I began planning a long break away. We were going back to the States for the holidays, but with all the family plans, we didn’t expect to get much time alone. The stress of the selling half of our belongings, fixing up and selling of our home, the wedding, sending our beloved pets to new homes, leaving our jobs, leaving our family and friends behind, selling our cars, packing and planning for international move, and resettling and finding work in England had taken a serious toll on both of us. It was an adventure, but it wasn’t until November when we finally had our bank account set up, Colin felt comfortable at work, and I began to really adjust to working at home. We didn’t have any idea how much we were going to need a long holiday alone, away from Life and the gloom of England.

We mulled over sunny spots and finally decided on Egypt. Five hour flight, sunshine, beaches, and escape.

In February, winter ends in Cairo and Luxor: sunshine, but temperatures only reach into the 70s or 80s. In Luxor and Aswan, it only rains properly (longer than more than a minute or so) about every nine years, so clear days were a guarantee. In Cairo, the sun shone, covered by a thick layer of yellowed smog. There is not any kind of emission control on cars in Egypt, and up until recent years, many cars still used leaded fuel. Gas prices, naturally, are as low as they are in the U.S., so driving is not prohibitive. Cairo is a murky, cancer yellow, surrounded by a desert looming large and burnt around a city of 16 million people.

We flew into Cairo in the evening, lights surrounded by darkness. Egypt Airlines from Heathrow flew what appeared to be a newer Airbus 330, nearly empty. The seats, however, were musty and worn, the seatbelts were frayed at the edges. The seats had certainly been refitted from an older plane. At five hours, the flight went by quickly, with announcements in Arabic and heavily accented English. Service from the mostly male flight attendants was efficient if somewhat brusque.

We arrived to Cairo Airport, unsure of what to expect. The travel agent in London had been vague at best about what to expect. We had transfers to and from everywhere, he assured us. What did that mean? We weren’t sure. We unloaded down the stairs and onto the tarmac, loading onto a bus for transport to the terminal. It was dark. I watched as the cart pulled up under the belly to unload the baggage. In his orange vest and metal earmuffs, the faceless could have been anywhere in the world.

The terminal bus dropped us and the couple dozen other passengers at the international arrival terminal. The door slid open. We were one of the first to enter. We heard voices calling to us.

“Visas! Come here, visas!” Men behind a counter called, beckoning. Colin said “come on.” We needed to buy visas to enter and travel in the country. We presented our passports. The man licked the back of the orange and blue stamps and placed them on an empty page, one for the Red Sea, one for all Egypt. The agent, with a narrow dark face, curly black hair and a thick moustache, collected the British pounds from Colin and thanked him. “Welcome to Egypt,” he said, and smiled.

We turned away and passed through the next door. A young, handsome man, tall and barrel-chested, about 29, impeccably dressed in a navy suit and tie, held a clipboard in his hand with our last names written on the back. He approached us.

“Howard and Phillips?” he asked politely. We nodded and I sighed with relief. We introduced ourselves. His name, like so many men in Egypt, was Akhmed. He would take care of our transfers in Cairo.

And thus we were introduced to the most efficient travel experience we have ever had. Egypt relies of tourism for 40 percent of its economy. It has been a difficult time, over the last four years, recovering as Westerners regain their courage to travel, first on airplanes, then overseas, then, again, to Muslin countries. More than 90 percent of Egypt’s population are Muslim, Arabic is their first language. As you travel in the country, though, everywhere you go, you see how important the visitor is to the Egyptian.

For hundreds of years, through all kinds of political changes and turmoil, people from all over the world have wanted to come to Egypt, to the cradle of civilization. When our Western ancestors were heaving a few rocks on top of each other at Stonehenge, huddling around fires in caves, the ancient Egyptians were building the pyramids of Giza, carving huge single piece obelisks from stone, building and painting beautiful temples and writing elaborate stories on the walls in a complex written language. To the Modern Egyptians, it isn’t a joke. They tone at these sites isn’t of Walt Disney World or Dollywood. This is serious business that attempts to maintain authentic atmosphere while respecting the Muslim culture.

Young people, when choosing what to study in university, know that some of the best money to be made can be made as a tour guide. To be successful, however, you have to have a full speaking command of not just English (which is taught in schools from the age of 12 and posted on all traffic signs in Cairo and Luxor), but also of French and Italian, and perhaps German or Japanese. Additionally, in university, they study and learn to read hieroglyphics. And, to be a good tour guide, it isn’t just Egyptology they have to have to understand. A tour guide spends his days with hundreds of different people from different cultures every week, sometimes in groups of 50, sometimes in intimate groups of two or three. They have to learn to read people, to attend to elderly people who walk slowly or aren’t really prepared to walk in the desert at all; or children who are bored easily or poor disciplined. Some tourists want to listen to every word of the history; others prefer to wander away, snap photos. A guide must try to patiently attune to the needs and desires of every visitor because each visitor is on perhaps, their own personal trip of a lifetime. The guides learn quickly to remember faces, to make sure everyone has returned to coach, hasn’t been too swept up by the hoards of alabaster and T-shirt salesmen on their way back to the bus. At the same time, these men, dressed in slacks and a shirt and sweater, are trying to maintain their life as the head of a Muslim household, a religion that calls its followers to prayer from speakers hidden in the minarets of the mosques, five times a day. The job, I could see, is in turns, boring, exhausting, and tedious.

Colin and I had a personal guide in Cairo, Ayman, who took us to the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx. Giza is across the Nile from the main part of Cairo, a suburb that has been swallowed up by the ever-expanding city. We drove on the motorway in a small van. The day was hot for us, 29 degrees Celsius, but Ayman wore two sweaters. It was still winter for him. In the summers the temperatures would hit the high 40s and even the low 50s in the outer areas of the desert.

The area between the Nile and the pyramids was filled with residential buildings, the slums of Cairo. The structures looked like raw stacks of brick with clumpy mortar oozing out the sides. Most of the tops of the buildings were left unfinished, steel joists jutting out into the sunlight and jagged layers of brick cutting at the sky. Ayman said this was done on purpose: families, when another son married, could just move upstairs. Another floor could be added. Occasionally, as we drove, we saw huge gaps of brilliant green, tiny fields of clover or sugar cane. “All this land,” Ayman said with a frown, pointing out at another block of tilting brick slums “used to be farm land. But the government is too kind. Someone asked for a building permit and got it, without any thought. These buildings are all wrong. They all have to come down. They are all going to have to be taken down.”

We exited off the motorway onto the local road to Giza. The driver honked and veered as her steered around a blind a corner and just missed a boy on a cart loaded with turnips and carrots, urging a donkey on with a long switch. Donkeys, more than camels, seem to be the key animal of Egypt.

Cairo gave us the key to Egypt. We wandered around the pyramids with the other tourists, looked into the face of the Sphinx, solemn and broken. His nose and beard are missing. The beard, Ayman told us, an important structural component that, should it be reattached, would help support the head and preserve the integrity of the statue, is in the British Museum in London. The Rosetta Stone, discovered near Alexandria, is also in the British Museum. Ayman said the Egyptian government had asked the British to return the beard piece to Egypt, but they had refused. Colin chuckled and said sardonically, “Yeah, well, if every country returned the things they had stolen from Egypt, or any other country, for that matter, they wouldn’t have anything to put in their museums.”

Day two, the Egyptian Museum. No wonder other countries don’t want to return artefacts to Egypt. Overrun and out of space, some statues were left out in the courtyard. You could feel the grit, the age, the disarray in the stone building in the centre of Cairo. Later, our friend Patricia, a lawyer from Chicago, would laugh and wrinkle her nose, “Doesn’t it remind you of Indiana Jones’s office? God, what a mess! ‘Another ancient sarcophagus! Put it over there!’” The placards on the artefacts were typed in Courier typeface, from a typewriter, on paper that was yellowing.

Ayman steered us quickly to the second floor, a more carefully tended area. Room followed room of the treasures extracted from King Tutankhamen’s tomb. Thirty-two tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings outside of Luxor. All but one of them had been raided and raped of their riches. King Tutankhamen was not an especially remarkable King in terms of the history of ancient Egypt. His gift to the modern age was that his tomb was hidden well enough from tomb raiders. When it was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, all of the wealth, the golden masks, the containers of food and wine, the jewels, the furniture, clothes, chariots, the four huge blue and gold sarcophaguses (discovered nested inside each other), everything inlaid with gold, jewels, and silver (much more valuable than gold at the time) and painted with cartouches and hieroglyphs. The mummy was intact. Even Ayman, who said he goes to the Egyptian Museum almost every day of the week, seemed impressed and lively when explaining the exhibit. It was impressive. To begin to see the context, to begin to understand the climate of country, the dryness of the desert, why these things are so well preserved, to begin to meet the modern men and women, so dedicated, not just to tourism, but to preserving and respecting a critical link to their own past. I stood in the central hall of the lower floor of the museum in the gloom and dust, huge monuments on either side of me, and began to not understand it, but at least to feel it.

Back outside, in the sun-soaked courtyard, I sat down on a stone wall while Colin went to retrieve our cameras from the camera-check. The man on the wall next to me chattered in Italian to his friend, smoked his cigarette. Absently, I waved a hand in front my face to move the smoke away. The man glanced at me with a scowl. I said good morning to him in Italian and smiled. I realized by waving the smoke away, I had annoyed him. I told him, in Italian, that I didn’t smoke, but it was no problem. He launched into a tirade, saying if I didn’t like it, why did I sit down here, and I didn’t have to sit there if I didn’t like it. I just smiled and sighed, said it was no problem. I saw Colin emerging from the crowd and got up to join him.

What more do you want me to tell you about Egypt? About the way the water in the fountain in the hotel appeared to flow right into the Nile through the wall of glass? About the lush green that lines the Nile and the stark yellow desert just over the ridge? About the soundtrack of Egypt, the voice of men over loud speakers, echoing from the minarets, the call to prayers, a haunting reminder of a religion that is not just for an hour on Sunday? Of the inky blue of the Red Sea, the cerulean of the water near the reefs, the lavender transparent bodies of the hundreds of the harmless jellyfish that swam around us, pressed against us, that we touched and touched again? About the way we bartered for everything we bought, especially bottled water? How laughed and smoked the sheesha and drank anise tea with Egyptian men? About the children whose eyes glowed when they saw us, boys who marvelled at my uncovered arms and chest (I wore a V-neck t-shirt), who shouted in their new English “Hello! How are YOU?! What is your name?”

There was the bizarre smell of mowed grass in the desert at our lush hotel, the Hilton Fayrouz in Sharm el-Sheik, a smell that made my heart ache for home and reminded me of my Dad. There was the sound of the camels regurgitating their spit, a sound that echoed the noise our stomachs had made after we’d gotten sick from ingesting the wrong water. There was the thick, pulpy, burnt orange mango juice, a puree, hardly juice at all, Colin’s favourite. There were deep pink flower buds on our white duvet, every afternoon a new design. Long, lanky boys on bicycles weaved in traffic, a long wire carrier of flat breads balanced on their heads. Cars horns honked, honking, honking in traffic patterns that had no meaning. Women in traditional birkas, or headscarves and blue jeans, or something in between, poured in and out of shoe stores, carrying red leather handbags, wearing Gucci sunglasses.

There was the sheik from Saudi Arabia in his white galibayya and headdress. We met him in the square near the bazaar in old Cairo while Colin got his shoes shined. He spoke perfect English; he enjoyed chatting with Americans. He had business that took him to Texas frequently. There were packets of saffron for sale in the bazaar, three or four ounces each, a wealth of the rare spice. We bartered and started to walk away, then paid one English pound for three packets. Baskets filled with red-burgundy hibiscus pods; cages at the corner store with clucking chickens, a rooster preening in the sun—the shopkeeper huddled in the back, cutting up dinner. Sides of beef hung in the open air; young, boyish shopkeepers, selling papyrus, perfume, and belly dancer outfits, calling out to us “Where are you from?” first in English, then Italian, then in French, if we didn’t look their way. “Can I give you my business card? It’s just in my shop. Come with me.” La, shukran, we learned to say in Arabic, with a smile. No, thank you.

Flies rejoiced on our skin in the Valley of the Kings. Stray dogs hid under shady outcroppings at the place where the cracked, unfinished obelisk lay in the ground. The corpse of a goat floated past us tranquilly in the Nile on our sunset felucca ride. Two donkeys delivered a cartful of fresh white eggs to our cruise boat in Luxor for our next morning’s breakfast. A broken-down horse, exhausted, mourned under the whip as he pulled four of us away in a black leather caleche at Edfu. A nursing baby camel stayed at its mother’s flank and nibbled on my shoe lace as we lumbered on our ride into the desert.

Egypt opened up to us, from under the hazy smog of Cairo, in the mourning call to prayers, from warm wave of old woman at her home in the graveyard, the City of the Dead. They wanted our money, yes; but it was more. They laughed, joked, listened to our questions, didn’t mind helping. They struggled with our language and smiled. The sun shone and Colin and I relaxed against, into, each other. We followed our guides, touched the old carvings, and walked the path of humanity, carved in stone underfoot, preserved in the dry heat.


Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home.