Probably the first question you think to yourself while considering a visit to arguably the most incredible ancient structures of all time- The Pyramids of Giza.
While I had my moments of hesitation, the Aries moon in me refused to be led by fear. Even after some kind Jordanians warned us of the difference in culture, we were determined to go. We flew into Cairo, Egypt from Amman, Jordan, which was a little over an hour of a flight.
One thing to note: I would not recommend any means of transportation other than Uber while in the city. Uber has created thousands of jobs in Cairo and there is an abundance of drivers on every corner. I would not consider renting a car here by any means- traffic is chaotic 24/7 and “rules of the road” are absolutely disregarded. If you think NYC, LA, or MIA is bad- Cairo is 100x crazier! Uber is also extremely affordable…just a couple dollars for a 10-15 minute ride.
If you’re new to Uber, you can use my sign up code: “kristenm9353ue”
Islam is the predominate religion in Egypt for over 90% of the population, and the main language spoken is Arabic. Islam is fully endorsed by the government and many laws are built around the religion. You’ll hear the prayer call echoing through the city multiple times a day. I would recommend searching the daily times so you know when to expect them! The first usually starts early in the AM, before the sun rises.
Also, it’s common for many Egyptians to speak/read little to no english, so having a translator app helped a bit. Be mindful of using slang terms or lingo- the translations are quite literal.
Visiting the pyramids was first on our itinerary. First we wanted to find the best view of all 3 big pyramids, which led us right to Pizza Hut across the street from the tiny, informal entrance building.
After we had a bite to eat + snapped some photos, we headed across the road and were quickly ushered around by an Arabic man who spoke fluent english + he directed us to the ticket office to purchase a ticket for less than $10.
While waiting at the front of a “line” (which was actually just a bunch of people crowding around the ticket booth waiving money at the man), I was skipped at least 5 times by men, until the usher stepped in and spoke on my behalf. The ticket booth man proceeded to tear off my ticket and hand it back to the usher instead of me.
The feminist in me was fuming, but I knew it was essentially pointless to express my aversion to the disrespect.
It immediately dawned on me that regardless of how independent and self-reliant I am, it didn’t matter here. I was a woman. I wasn’t taken seriously- I wasn’t meant to operate on my own & without a man dictating my every move, I was helpless. *CRINGE*
As much as I find joy in learning about other cultures and diving into them for an experience of my own, I found this to be really, really hard. The culture is much more aggressive than most of us are comfortable with, and they definitely take advantage monetarily if they know you’re American, UK or Australian. When asked where I’m from, I stopped saying America and started responding with “I’m Lebanese” and leaving it at that.
Ironically, I didn’t feel as strongly while I was actually visiting the country. I felt safe. I felt capable. I didn’t feel like any decisions we made while visiting were made out of fear. It was fun exploring and seeing the pyramids in person was as breathtaking as you can imagine.
These feelings came after a lot of reflection once I returned home. Being in such a confined environment, and feeling the pressure to conform or be treated differently was a lot for my psych to handle. I’m a rebel at heart, and after feeling the oppression of women firsthand, so blatantly, on a country wide scale made me compassionate towards the women there.
From what I understand, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, but Islam is the official religion and there is no “separation of church and state” as we experience to some degree in the USA. As I was in Cairo, I tried to open a webpage on “Christianity and Astrology” and was entirely blocked from viewing the post.
It makes me sad and a bit uneasy to know how sheltered many people are living, yet simultaneously grateful for the unlimited resources we have in America to make discoveries on our own and find an identity for ourselves.
Connecting in an unfamiliar world can be done, as difficult to understand as it may be. At the end of the day we are all living and loving and doing our best. I definitely encourage traveling to these areas (ideally with a male, guide, or someone fluent in Arabic) to prevent isolation, educate, and ultimately create connections.