This weekend i was flipping through American Express’ Departures magazine and an article about Egypt caught my attention. I tweeted my initial thoughts but even after that, the story has stayed with me. So much so that i feel compelled to write them down and share them.
Next to South Africa, my time in Egypt always makes my top five holiday trips. I love mythology, especially Egyptian mythology so spending time in the country learning even more about this part of its history was so rewarding. It was also fantastic to meet Egyptians and hear their own thoughts on their country, culture and religion. My upbringing was rather progressive but, based on location, i was not exposed to a lot of other religions. Being given the opportunity to enter a Mosc and hear about Islam in a non-threatening and non-confrontational way was incredibly meaningful. To this day, i find myself reminding people what you see on the news it not necessarily what Islam is about. (Sad that it even has to be said, honestly.)
Having been to Egypt, i have a tremendous appreciation as just to how much the country relies on tourism. It’s insane. A huge portion of their welfare is connected, directly or indirectly, to tourism. If people aren’t coming, travel guides are unemployed, shop keepers aren’t moving knickknacks, restaurants aren’t entertaining, the list is goes on.
While i’m paraphrasing, I think writer Joshua Hammer is making a valid point that with few people willing to travel to Egypt, it’s an ideal time to visit. You won’t have to fight crowds and lines throughout the country, especially in Cairo.
Having lived in New York City following the September 11th Terrorist Attacks, i’ve seen how tourism can help rebuild communities and offer people a sense of their normal life, even if its only in the psychological sense. Not only have i seen what Josh is talking about, but i do consider the role tourism plays in country’s economy when i decide where to travel.
What bothers me is that i really believe Josh’s article needs one GIANT asterisk: *this column is not intended to apply to Americans.
When i visited Egypt, relations with the US were very tense. I can honestly and wholeheartedly say i felt welcome and was treated well. (This includes being heckled a few times in Cairo). My issue is that i don’t believe Egypt is for the faint of heart or the average Departures reader. This is not a place you should plan to go and “wing it,” even under the best of circumstances. I want everyone to go there and share my experiences, but i strongly recommend going with a tour guide and/or tour operator.
These people speak the language and help you navigate a lot of in-country customs and daily tasks we take for granted. For instance, you can get through the Visa line at the airport without speaking Arabic. However, you can get through a lot more efficiently if you have a tour guide who translate the exchange between you and your customs agent. You can go to the souk and shop and attempt to negotiate with shop keepers for a fair price. But you will be more successful if you have a guide.
If that’s not a strong enough reason, consider most tour guides in Egyptian hold advanced degrees on the history of the country. It’s amazing what they are required to learn for their jobs. Your trip will be so much more rewarding if you have a guide with you.
A tour guide can also serve as a bit of a buffer. Like it or not, at some point you will meet someone who has strong opinions about Americans. By strong, i mean negative. Very negative and very unflattering. Tensions can be quickly diffused when people realize you are accompanied by a tour guide and therefore not a target for public heckling.
Guides also offer, unfortunately, much-needed safety and protection. It’s just a fact that the region is unstable. When you combine lots of people with perceived wealth, with people who struggle to find food, tensions rise and people do irrational things. People also try to hurt affluent individuals to make a statement or bring attention to a cause or issue. Consider, you may not think of yourself as affluent. But, it ain’t exactly cheap to get to Egypt and citizens know this.
Sadly, we live in a world where this kind of protest happens almost daily. Egypt goes to great measures to protect visitors. Most of the time they are able to.
When things change in Egypt, i will be one of the first encouraging people to go. But for now, i just don’t think it’s smart and i wish more care had been put into the construction of the story, “Cairo: Should I Stay or Should I Go.” And with that, my slightly organized thoughts on the story, “Cairo: Should I Stay Or Should I Go”
I’ve linked the article but the full text may be behind a firewall. If that’s the case, i’ll copy and paste it in a comment for those who wish to read it.