The white mini van we are traveling in makes a right turn into a long sweeping tidy for Egypt street..or Sharia as it’s known in Arabic. I have been studying the Arabic phrase books with Sebastian before we came. We also have a phrase sheet thoughtfully provided by Ahmed ..
‘Welcome to Egypt’
Below is a list of basic Arabic words, try them out during your time here in Egypt. You’ll be amazed at the positive reaction and encouragement you receive.’
Hmm, not sure with our appalling pronunciation at the moment, however we practice it with his help, smiling at our complete mispronunciation but gently helping us.
The van stops outside perfectly manicured gardens and a sprawling white washed hotel surrounded by the ubiquitous palm trees stands silently in the battering heat.
Look Mum it’s like an oasis notes Mark
Ahmed laughs and says
Know what this hotel is called?
The Oasis, shouts Sebastian, tiredness put at bay by the sheer strangeness of this place so green and lush but right in the desert.
Got it dude..
They high five and we tumble into the hotel and pass through yet another security screen, something we will find at every entry to any tourist place in Egypt.
The men silently sweep our bags up and Ahmed smoothly checks us in after ushering us to sit in the blissfully cool air-conditioned lobby.
Our passports handed over for recording and copying, Ahmed finishes and turns to us with a gorgeous smile.
Now I know you will be tired after your flight, you are in two adjoining rooms, you can have some time to rest and perhaps have dinner at the hotel..
Actually Ahmed I have heard about this famous restaurant in Cairo..I was looking at the lonely planet guide..
Lonely Planet? he remarks with some irritation… Sorry, but..
What’s wrong? I ask innocently, whilst drinking in his perfect olive skin, not the full darkness of some Egyptians I have seen, but like there is a foreign blend, perhaps some European somewhere along the line…I force myself to try and focus on the conversation, after checking if he has a wedding ring, and wondering, surely he must have some gorgeous Egyptian woman waiting for him somewhere at home, wherever his home is. I must find out later I think. For God’s sake Louise, you are married remember. I blame it on the heat and the heady mix of an exotic totally foreign culture and surrounds..
They don’t know Egypt those writers..it is from a total western point of view..
The boys listen on with interest
Anyway they raved about this restaurant …
I refer to my iPad and the bookmark on the lonely planet iBook which will prove a god send all over Egypt..
Abou el Sid..
Abou el Sid..where in Cairo? he asks, with some interest and is that respect that I have actually researched some things..
Zamalek I respond as if I know the area well.
Yes I know it he responds smiling.
Mum! say the boys in unison, fed up with the delay
Lets go to our room now we’re tired, notes Mark
Ok boys just a minute, Jeff intervenes to save me from a chorus of complaints.
Darling we’ve been travelling for almost 24 hours lets just have a quiet night, he says to me.
Yes tomorrow will be a big day..Ahmed smiles encouragingly, ever ready to support the male view I notice.
We will meet here at 7.30 in the morning to travel to the pyramids..best to get out early before it is too hot.
Yes of course, but this restaurant..we are only one night here and tomorrow don’t we get the train to Aswan?
I have my itinerary where I have marked up a number of places and restaurants to go to on the unplanned sections. I feel a wave of tiredness start to wash over the adrenaline kick.
Yes that’s right, tomorrow night at 8.30 we go to Cairo to get the overnight sleeper train. If you want to go to this restaurant there is a shuttle bus that goes into Cairo I can check the times for you, or there are always taxis.
With this he nods to the young man holding the trolley with our luggage neatly placed on it and leads us out into the glorious grounds. We pass a tennis court, several pools, immaculate beds of flowers and plants, some which I recognise as being also from Australia, like hibiscus, petunias.
We finally stop outside a room with a double glazed mirror door the worker opens for us and next to man identical one for the boys, who whoop excitedly and proceed to hurl themselves onto the beds, as the worker turns on the air conditioning full blast.
The rooms are large and well appointed..the whole place looks 5 star to me, when our accommodation I was sure was 4..
I am too tired to care and Jeff closes the door, bids Ahmed goodbye and falls down on the bed next to me with a groan.
I wake up with a start, hear the noise of the air conditioner and try to accustom myself to my surroundings, large king bed covered with ornate bed spread, the whiteness and quality of fine Egyptian sheets, the adjoining ensuite where I stagger to wash my face and look with horror at my face in the mirror. I feel so jetlagged and like a thousand years old.
I must have a swim in that pool I think, and quietly open the adjoining door to the boys room and see they are still asleep, as is Jeff.
I can’t wake them yet I think as I hurriedly rummage in the inexpertly packed case and pull out a pair of board shorts and rashie top as I am pretty sure you can’t exactly go swanning around in a bikini in Egypt. Grabbing a towel I silently slip outside into the oppressive heat, worse at 4pm. Of course we did have to come at the hottest time of summer for Egypt I curse myself, clutching sunscreen and hurrying to where I think the main pool is.
A handsome young pool attendant spots me and says
Welcome to Egypt, can I get you a towel?
Awya shokran I respond.
His face lights up in a white smile
You speak Arabic!
I laugh…a little, I am learning.
He beams as I take the towel and I note the many Egyptian families gathered around the pool, the bridge stretching over it, and then scuttle to the far end in the shade under an umbrella.
Hmmm I think I can live with this I think as I plunge into the welcome coolness of the water.
I notice many eyes on me as I try and keep a low profile. I also notice as I come up out of the water, that I am the only Westerner at this pool, slightly disconcerting.
The women are all mostly covered up and don’t swim, watching the men and their children cavorting in the water. I think ‘what a shame, why can’t you swim with your children, instead of watching from the edge of the pool in the heat..’
Later I was to learn exactly how women are placed in Egypt, and the curtailing of their freedom, something which only happened after President Nasser’s reign in the 1950’s, when they were free to dress like Westerners, but how over time that became eroded to be at the point it is now…second place to men, but that I had no place to judge them, as a Westerner.