Monday, February 20, 2012

If You've Drunk from the Waters of the Nile...Day One

Another week with Mohammed, but this time we have him all to ourselves. He meets us at the Cairo airport, and whisks us off to the hotel he has booked for us. We feel that some explanation was in order. After all, it's only been three months since we were last in Egypt. This is unusual behavior! "I'm not a bit surprised," says Mohammed. "They say that Egypt is a magnet. It pulls you back."

So here we are again. But the trip doesn't begin with Mohammed, who doesn't show up until the second week of the trip. There are several stars of week number one (the names of characters in this series who are not known to the public have been changed, in order to protect their identity) - Gabriel the Copt, Mr. Araby - the "Birdman of Aswan", and Mahmoud, a Nubian from Aswan, to name a few.  The story doesn't begin with them either, though, because I first have to talk about...

Stylish women posing in Aswan
Well, let me begin my story.

Day One

Waiting to go through security at Frankfurt airport, I notice a young woman ahead of me. Her hair is completely covered with a scarf, but I can tell that she is attractive. We both notice at about the same time that we're standing in the line for first-class passengers. "They'll take us anyway," she says, laughing. I like her. I wonder if she is possibly Moroccan. We all go through security without a hitch, no questions asked.
Later, as we wait in the departure lounge to board our plane, the same woman appears in line just as we get in line. "Oh, it's you again! We're on the same plane!" she exclaims.

"Are you Egyptian?" I ask.

"Yes. I am from Alexandria." I comment on her light skin.

"People from Alexandria are often lighter, with green eyes. It's the Greek heritage. I live in Cairo now, but my heart is in Alexandria."

Another young woman, also with her head covered, joins us, as we enter a bus that will take us to the plane. We have several minutes to talk about Egypt - with women! I didn't meet a single woman on my last trip to Egypt.

We talk about Tahrir Square. "Is it safe to go there?"

"Well, maybe you should avoid going there. It could be a bit tricky there. But I wouldn't miss it!"

Both the Alexandrian and the other woman have been taking part in many of the demonstrations.

"I was sad to have to leave Cairo to come to Germany on business," says the Alexandrian, who works for Siemens, and who attended a workshop in Germany. The other woman travels from European city to city, buying for her shop in Cairo.

Both women are educated, successful business women, both speak perfect English, and are lovely, lively women. They are passionately committed to seeing that true democracy come to Egypt.

"At first, when the demonstrations started, my husband wouldn't let me go," the Alexandrian says. "He said it was too dangerous. He said to me, 'If I don't come back, will you please take care of both sets of our parents?' The second time, I said he couldn't keep me home. We've both been going ever since."

We ask how they feel about the election outcome. I anticipate disappointment. "On the whole, we're pleased with the results," they both say.

Peter and I are perplexed. We think that educated women would choose not to cover their hair, and would vote for the liberal party. After all, this is the enlightened thing to do, isn't it? And these women are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, ardent freedom fighters.

Wrong again. Our assumptions pop in this country like pomegranate seeds when you bite into them. This trip, we will be spending our first week without a tour guide.  We've already discovered some wrong assumptions we had, and we haven't even left Germany yet!  We have much to learn.

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