Helwa Ya Baladi

My trip to Egypt included a slight detour, seeing as there are no direct flights from Kiev to Cairo. So my first flight was to Moscow (my first time in Russia!), where I had an hour long layover before my next flight. Unfortunately, we got caught in a snowstorm, which made landing tricky.

By the time the plan landed, I had 18 minutes until my flight to Cairo was scheduled to depart. So after getting through customs and security, I had 3 minutes remaining. Needless to say, I didn’t see much of the airport as I sprinted through, but I can tell you its a huge place. I had to run through 2 terminals, and by the time I got to the gate, they were doing the last call.

As my plane left the gate, I worried about my luggage being transferred, doubting that anyone got it onto the Cairo flight in the whole 20 minutes I was in Moscow :/ But it turned out we weren’t going anywherethanks to the snowstorm, we were stuck on the runway until visibility improved, which turned out to be 2 hours later.

After we took off, it was a four hour flight until we landed in Egypt. As soon as I stepped off the plane I could feel the warmth, and I could hardly stand still at the customs check, knowing my friend Becca was waiting on the other side. But as predicted, my bag was never transferred in Moscow so I was bag-less in Cairo. I filled out a lost-baggage claim, where the man informed me that the next flight coming from Moscow would arrive Friday, and I could expect my bag then. It was Monday morning when he told me this, so needless to say, after all my careful packing it looked like it was all for naught. I was so bummed… but not for long, because Becca was waiting on the other side with her friend Ayman to drive us home! (FYI: Becca was a dear friend [and my roommate] when I lived and studied in Egypt in 2009 with the Middle East Studies Program! She’s back in Cairo for a 3 year position as an English teacher.) By the time I made it through the gate and were were finally reunited, it was the middle of the night and I was exhausted. I was happy just to be with her and on our way back to her apartment where I could sleep!

A beautiful mosque across the street from the City Stars Mall.

The next day our first stop was the mall—I kid you not. With my bag missing I had no clothing besides what I arrived in, so we went to the premier mall in Cairo: City Stars. And with us being white and dressed like foreigners, it seriously felt like we were stars. I forgot how much Egyptians stare… I blend in fairly well in Ukraine (except for being a little more voluptuous than most women), so being stared at was a little shocking at first. Also shocking was how western the mall felt… I bought jeans at American Eagle, sandals at Payless Shoe Store, and a latte at Starbucks, so if you forgot about all the veiled women in the mall, you could just as easily be in a mall in America. It was a strange feeling. But Becca was a real trooper for our day of shopping, and I found enough clothes to last the week, so I’d call our shopping adventure a success 🙂

That evening, we had dinner with one of my dearest friends in CairoEman! We used to hang out all the time when I lived in Agouza, the same neighborhood where she lives in Cairo. She’s actually Sudanese, but she’s been living in Cairo so long its her home now. It was lovely to see her and catch up, and she made me promise to give my mother kisses from her (Mom, if I forgot to tell you, now you know!). Here’s a picture of us from dinner.

Becca, me, and Eman!

Tuesday was our last day in Cairo before leaving for our beach trip, so we tried to cram in as much as possible. We started with a trip to Tahrir Square, which was the center of the revolution in Egypt last year. I used to work in Tahrir Square, so it was shocking to see how much it had altered. There were still some tents standing where die-hard protesters were staying, but for the most part the place was a ghost town. The most fascinating change in Tahrir was the street art… huge murals covered the length of the square, immortalizing martyrs to the cause and reminded Egyptians not to forget what they’re fighting for.

In this mural, the left half of the face is Mohammed Tantawi (the current commander-in-chief of the Army, and the defacto leader of the country while the military rules), while the right half of the face is the deposed president Hosni Mubarak. The two images are superimposed, equating the former president with the current leader and showing the people’s frustration with the current leadership, seeing it as no better than the former dictatorship they overthrew last year.

Much of the graffiti includes portraits of martyrs, and this one even has the English imperative to “never forget” the cost of the revolution.

Tahrir was a sad place to be, but I’m glad we stopped to see the changes taking place in the heart of Cairo. The presidential election is set to take place in May, and it seems like the whole city is holding its breath to see what happens… I kept telling Becca the whole week that she’s living in Egypt at such a pivotal moment in modern history! She has such a fascinating, first-hand view of the events unfolding, and I can’t help but feel a little jealous 🙂

That night, Becca actually had to work, so I called up an old friend and told him he had the pleasure of entertaining me for the evening : ) So my friend Omer came and picked me up, and we spent the evening catching up on the last three years. He went to the US to study in Idaho for a year, and I left for Peace Corps, so its been quite a while since the last time I saw him. We spent most of the evening at a roof-top cafe in Zamalek, which had incredible views of the Nile and the city center.

The Cairo Opera House, and if you look very closely, you can see the Pyramids looming in the background!

 The Nile….

 One of my favorite Egyptians, one of my favorite nights in Egypt : )

Omer dropped me off at Becca’s, where we packed as fast as we could before grabbing a taxi and heading to the bus station. We were on our way to the most highly-anticipated part of my tripthe BEACH in Dahab!

To hear about our desert safari and our new friends in Dahab, read onto the next post!

P.S: The title of this blog post, “Helwa Ya Baladi”, means “My Beautiful Homeland” and is a really popular song in Egypt… check it out here on Youtube.

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