There's nothing like a good holiday to recharge your batteries. What's not to love about waking up late and spending lazy afternoons sipping sundowners on the beach? Alas, that fantasy will have to wait. Instead, I got nine days of trekking through temples, sailing down the Nile, and discovering the magic of Egypt.
A large part of this trip involved visiting architectural wonders like The Temple of Karnak
and, of course, the Pyramids. It's hard not to be in awe when you realise that these structures were built thousands of years ago but are still standing today. Can you imagine how advanced society would be today if the ancient civilisation had prospered up to now? And yet the modern aspects of Cairo were equally impressive and somewhat surprising for a city so old. The city was buzzing with energy everywhere we went.
Eager waves and happy smiles
Spending time in Egypt left me feeling so grateful for all the things I have. For example, even though only a small percentage of Cairo's 9 million inhabitants have houses with yards, they don't let apartment living faze them. Instead, children come together to play in local parks. Everyone was just so friendly, full of eager waves and happy smiles. It's something that really takes you by surprise and something you might not fully appreciate until you have to leave.
That visceral sense of community is also quite evident in other aspects of Cairo life. Even though a lot of people drive like absolute maniacs, ignoring the few working traffic lights and constantly creating their own lanes, it somehow works. There is no road rage, nor does anyone get upset about the occasional scratch or bump. Nobody yells or screams when they are cut off, simply because they know it'll be their turn to do the same a few seconds later. In Egypt, driving fast is all about keeping things moving; back home, it's all about getting to your destination all of two seconds sooner with no regard for anyone else.
Rude customs officials
In the end, I was quite sad to leave a country I'd grown to love over such a short time. It was also a little disappointing to be welcomed back at the Johannesburg airport by rude customs officials, one of whom had the audacity to ask for a bribe just to speed things up. (I don't know if the fact that he asked for only R10 made it better or worse.)
Compare this to the efficient experience in Cairo, where people have mastered the art of good service. They really know how to make you feel welcome and they really know how to take responsibility for their lives. Instead of sitting around and waiting for hand-outs, they create opportunities for themselves. Some set up shop at the bazaar while others learn foreign languages just to be better tour guides. There's something admirable about making an effort and putting in an honest day's work. It's the kind of initiative that clearly goes a long way.(This article is based on a blog post I wrote back in December 2007.)