Images of Egypt, 1983
One morning in December, 1983, I had a revelation. It was a morning that started like any other, except for the fact that I was in the Radisson Hotel in Giza (outside Cairo), sitting down at the breakfast buffet.
I had a rather bizarre entry to Cairo – the tour that I was with – leaving Nairobi, was at the Nairobi Airport and we discovered that Egypt Air had overbooked their 737 flight to Cairo.
I was one left behind. When I finally did get to Cairo a couple of days later, I got an impression one doesn’t get on a tour bus.
Picture a city that at the time was estimated at 12 million (although they really didn’t know the exact population), very few traffic lights, the taxi passing new Mercedes and donkey-pulled carts all on the wide boulevard and…. the horns.
Horns constantly honking, as that is the preferred method for navigating ones way across an intersection.
Anyway everyone hears about the pyramids in Cairo but I didn’t see them.
Not until about 10 miles or so up that boulevard, we rounded a curve, and there taking up most of the view was the great pyramid at Giza. Years ago, Giza was a small town outside Cairo but with Cairo’s teeming population, it is a part of Cairo today.
Anyway, back to breakfast that morning.
What was the revelation?
A group of Israeli tourists came in to join us. I just knew I was witnessing the dawn of a new age. After hot wars and cold wars since 1948, Egypt and Israel were friends. Areas were demilitarized and Egyptians and Israelis were visiting each other.
One thing that slightly amused me – it is the little things some times – if you notice them.
No bacon was on the buffet table – something verboten for both Muslims and Jews.
This day came because one Egyptian leader had the courage to sign a peace treaty with Israel, after on and off fighting since 1948. Although he brought a generation of peace between Israel and Egypt, he was murdered for it 2 years before my arrival, in those very stands you see above.
Some soldiers who were members of a radial offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood started shooting into the stands, killing Anwar Sadat.
Sadat is buried right across the street….under this monument…
I spent almost 3 weeks touring Egypt and found it to be a fascinating country. One thing becomes part of the landscape is the dust – a very fine dust.
The Nile is a beautiful blue – that beckons you to have a swim but don’t. Other than people washing their clothes along the bank you won’t see swimmers. We were told there is a parasite that lives in the water and will get into your liver, never to leave.
Virtually all of Egypt’s people live along the Nile as they have for 1000s of years.
This some war damage at Port Said, 10 years after the Yom Kipper War.
Suez Canal at Port Said. I’m sure some of you Navy veterans know this area well!
In my opinion, Egypt’s most glorious past was a few hundred miles up the Nile (which was South), at Luxor. It’s been characterized as the world’s greatest open air museum, with the temple ruins at Karnak, and the tombs at the nearby Valley of the Kings
Grave robbers have over the millennium stolen virtually all of the treasures in the tombs, but there have been others buried when another tomb was built higher up the hill. That is how
Tutankhamun’s tomb, a relatively minor king, was found here. By the way, that fellow in the blue slacks was a retired Air Force general – anyone recognize him? I thnk his first name was Don. Can’t remember yesterday but seem to remember that name from 30 years ago.
In my E4 days he would have been “sir” but in the civilian world, he was “Don”.
By this time I had been in Egypt well past 2 weeks and had seen enough dust and sand to last a lifetime. In fact that dust, a very fine silt, got in my lungs and I was coughing for months afterwards.
Anyway I had seen enough magnificent temples along the Nile to consider myself fully templed, and then we went to Alexandria.
Alexander had his great library here – there’s a beautiful boulevard that winds along the Mediterranean for miles.
I fear that dark days are ahead for Egypt. The “New Age” that I could see lasted a generation.
I hope that I am wrong.