Before I delve into stories of my adventures in Egypt, I feel I need to explain my rationale for going to Egypt. And share a few factoids about Egypt and Cairo… if you’re interested in history.
For starters, why Cairo? Why Egypt at all actually? Isn’t Egypt a bit dangerous and unsafe at the moment? Surely there’s better places to go for a week vacation right now!
True. Perhaps. In some ways. Egypt is definitely not the most stable country in the world at the moment. But safety is completely relative. It’s how you deal with the dangers you face and what situations you expose yourself to as well.
There are so many great reasons to go and visit Egypt… and as long as you exercise caution… why not go??!!
Coming from Canada, we have history and culture that is only a hundred and a bit years old… although the First Nations people have history much longer than that. But… compared to Cairo… a city that has existed for thousands of years… we are so insignificant in Canada! Historically anyways!!
Cairo is a massive city of about 20+ million people. World population review states that Cairo itself has a population density of 19,376 people per square kilometer (50,180/sq mi), which ranks 42nd in the world. While the 2014 population of Cairo is 12 million, the Greater Cairo area has about 18 million people.
Cairo is the largest city in Africa and the Middle East and is located at a strategic location… just upstream of the Nile River Delta and at the center of routes to Asia, Europe and Africa. It is often referred to as the “cradle of civilization.” Although Cairo was only officially founded in 969 AD, it’s history goes back thousands of years more than that. It has been known by many names including Memphis, Heliopolis, Babylon-in-Egypt, Al-Fustat, Al-Qataei, Al-Askar and more by the Ancient Egyptians and by the people who conquered Egypt throughout the centuries.
Originally, Memphis was the capital city of Egypt, but as it declined in importance during the 4th century, the Romans built a fortress town called Babylon along the east bank of the Nile, parts of which still exist today and is the oldest structure in the city.
On our first day in Egypt, we visited the fortress of Babylon, located in Coptic Cairo. (more to come on this in my next post.)
So… now you have an idea how old Cairo is… as well as how many people live in Cairo. So perhaps it will be easier now to imagine what Cairo actually looks like.
It is an absolutely massive city. With so many many people living in a relatively small area actually. Many of the streets are narrow and congested with vehicles almost as ancient as Cairo itself. Tired old horses pulling carriages and cachexic donkeys burdened down with old wooden carts fight for the right of way on the streets with the more modern cars and buses. There is a cacophony of honking horns heard continuously with people yellow and shouting and engines revving in response.
Street after street of crumbling apartment buildings line the roads and even the Nile River, with ancient air conditioners perched in windows and ragged laundry hanging out other windows. In one place I even saw a type of pulley system with a bucket at the end of a rope going from one room down to street level. Every now and then there is a newer or a more beautiful building… but it adds this beautiful diversity to the city landscape!
Restaurants and shops selling groceries, meat, vegetables, and all sorts of merchandise fill the ground floors of many of the buildings… surviving somehow… although I really don’t know how!
Men and women in traditional and western dress fill the streets… women in abayas or burkas and women in western dress wearing hijabs… children running about… mangy dogs slink along the streets…
It is devastatingly poor in a way that I never imagined it would be as this is my first real exposure to a 3rd world country and my first time being surrounded with so many absolutely poverty stricken people.
I’ve been to Mexico… border town Mexico. Where people lived in cardboard shacks… but it was a small town. This is millions of people living in extreme poverty! It was a little heartbreaking. And it made me realize how supremely blessed I have been in my life. With opportunitites like most of these people will never have. It’s humbling!
But yet… despite all the poverty and sad situations here in Cairo… the political unrest… economic distress… it is a beautiful place. Rich in other ways… like in history and culture. It has a claim to fame that few places in the world have! The pyramids??!!! And thousands of ancient artifacts and cultural/historical pieces that symbolize thousands of amazing stories! And the Nile River?!! It is absolutely beautiful! There is a reason Cairo and Egypt has been home to a wonderful culture and people for so many thousands of years!
So… get out and go visit Egypt! I’m going to show you some of the beautiful things we found and saw on our adventures!
To be continued…