That was the motto of our driver today, on the grand Pyramid tour: Giza, Memphis, and two others whose names escape me. Stuck in traffic: “Welcome to Egypt!” Advice on sneaking my camera into a pyramid: “Welcome to Egypt!” Chatting up the secret police hanging along the side of the road: “Welcome to Egypt!”
And I do feel welcome. Said was great, and thanks to his experience and aggressive driving it seems like we did three days of stuff today.
The Pyramids really are difficult to bend your mind around. The Great Pyramid at Giza was the tallest man-made structure on earth until well into the 19th century, and according to Said there are 102 pyramids on the west bank of the Nile. You see them like mountains through the date palms as you speed along the rough road by the canal. And many of the lesser known pyramids are barely smaller than those at Giza. What cultural obsession gave birth to them is easy to guess at, but it’s depth and range are hard to fathom.
The social order of Egypt presents itself as equally foreign to someone whose direct experience of the world is as cloistered as my own. Driving west and south out of Cairo and back in again we saw profligate development and huge, palatially-walled houses right next to fetid, trash-covered lots and residential shacks half-hidden in the bushes. Groups of men (for the most part) and boys standing on corners, seemingly doing nothing. I’m trying to make sure that my eyes remain open. It was a relief to get out of the city, away from the smog and unending horn honks. Seeing the richness of the countryside, emerald grass and cabbage growing broad as a beach ball, it’s easy to wonder why Egypt’s political and socio-economic fortunes have always been so variable. Then you turn down a side road and enter the sand sea within two miles, and realize that aside from a few oases, tourism, and some natural gas wells, the country is hundreds of miles long, but only a few miles wide.
One more day in the city, and then off to the Sinai. I’m looking forward to being in warm salt water.