After my stopover in London I fly through the night to Cairo.
Beside me sits a sweet Egyptian grandmother whose kids are in London, coming home to support her husband through the death of his brother. I share my headphones with her. She teaches me how to tie a headscarf so I’ll attract less unwanted attention to myself. “There is no need really, you are safe completely!”
“I just don’t like extra attention from men.” She agrees it will help with that, carefully and slowly teaching me to wrap it securely.
She directs me to the window as we fly over the Pyramids. I can make out the dark contours of the Sahara past the winding, circular lights of the city roads. I see a faint hint of lasers, but no pyramids. “The lazers are on the pyramids!”. Ha. Oh. Of course.
She carefully reviews my itinerary, worry lines appearing on her face when she hears I am not meeting anyone I know there. “My husband and I can drive you home if your taxi doesn’t come. Maybe even if your taxi comes…maybe better we take you.”
“My hostel is sending someone they trust”. She gives me her phone number in case I need anything while I’m here.
$25 USD gets me an automatic entry visa when we land. I nervously ask the passport control officer if there’s wifi. I can’t connect and am internally panicking. How will I find my taxi if I can’t text my hostel owner to say I’ve landed? How will I navigate the sea of taxi drivers? I’ve heard this airport is one of the worst to navigate. Why did I come here.
The young officer grins and pulls out his personal phone to create a hot spot for me. When I finish sending the messages I need, he stamps my passport and points to the exit doors. Kindness everywhere, just like I promised my mom there would be.
I steel myself to cross the threshold into aggressive taxi drivers ready to strongarm me into their cabs, slyly convincing me my hotel of choice has been closed down so they can direct me to their own (every blog and guidebook says this will happen). Instead I’m greeted by gentle grandfathers moving aside when I shake my head. A bright, missing teeth smile accompanies a handwritten paper sign with “Pyramid Loft” scrawled in block letters. Holy smokes, this is what relief looks like.
“salām ‘alaykum” (hello) I say in bad-accent Arabic. He lights up.
“bititkallimee ‘arabi?!” (do you speak arabic?!).
“shwaya, shwaya” I reply (little by little, my favourite phrase from my audiocourse in Arabic). A waterfall of words torrents onto me, so beautiful and completely incomprehensible. He speaks no english, so spends the hour drive to the hostel miming the meaning of words and phrases. By far the most enthusiastic teacher I’ve ever had.
Giza is a suburb of Cairo, housing the pyramids and small, semi-rural neighborhoods filled with horses and street vendors even late at night when we pass through the paved streets. The small alley that houses the hostel holds a doorway filled by the young owner. “You made it!” He hands me a key and I move to go to my room, but he mischievously beckons me to follow him up the rest of the winding staircase. “You can’t go to bed yet.”
It opens to a rooftop.
Jupiter shines so bright it’s like the moon, but all my attention is on the giants below it.
“Welcome to Egypt.”