Sunday, June 29, 2008

EGYPT AND JORDAN TRIP

I have a few sections of notes about my trip and my experiences. If you have no interest in my brilliant musings, you can scroll down to the picture link at the bottom. There is commentary on the pics as well. Thanks for checking them out!

Looking back over my pictures…this looks like a pretty amazing trip. As some of you know, it was a bit less than. I got horribly ill a few days in (I think Egypt is second only to India in terms of tourist illness. I also was a bit put off by what I’ll call the “tourist culture” in Egypt. People are CONSTANTLY badgering you to ride in their taxi or come into their store. It’s utterly overwhelming. The concept of a quiet stroll up the Nile is impossible because on one side, every taxi is honking and yelling at you, and on the other, you have guys in sailboats screaming at you that you need to ride in theirs. I frequently read about Egyptian “hospitality” before I went and while I was there. This “hospitality” is that people will be friendly to you, invite you in for a drink, ask about your life…but they WANT something from you. Money, either for services or for NOTHING. Literally EVERYONE in the main tourist areas wants you to tip them. At every bathroom, they’ve stolen all the toilet paper and expect you to pay them for 3 pieces of it. Or like at the airport, when a random janitor followed me into the bathroom and stood by the sink holding paper towels waiting for me to finish. then wouldn’t let me take my own towels, and asked for a tip. I used an ATM, and a POLICE OFFICER sitting nearby asked for a tip…for no other reason than he sat near the ATM. No. Enough. I know they’re poor, but it’s disgusting and overwhelming. May sound minimal here, but I can assure you after lots of independent wandering around, it is far beyond annoying. All of that said, if you look at my pics and still want to go…I’d recommend sheltering yourself better than I did. Either join a small group tour or else stay in nicer hotels and have guides pick you up for excursions. At lower grade hotels, you will find the staff constantly trying to sell you their tours, whereas at the nicer ones, there’s a concierge who can help you if you want it and otherwise, no one will bother you. A pool is nice in the summer too, as temperatures approached 130 degrees Fahrenheit and it would be nice to cool off. When the time came to leave Egypt for Jordan, I was definitely ready to go. I was still sick for a couple of days in Jordan, but the people were much more pleasant. Jordan is very interesting…seems much more modernized than Egypt, though there are pictures of the King EVERYWHERE, reminding you that you are not in a democracy. Of course, Egypt is a “democracy,” but one who has had the same leader for YEARS…not very democratic.

Many people expressed concern for my safety before I left on this trip, and I can assure you that at no time, in either country, did I feel any animosity towards me for being an American. Despite government propaganda, I think, for the most part, people can differentiate between the American government and the American people. Yes, there are people who can’t…but there are also people in the US who think all Arabs are members of fundamentalist Islamic groups. Even the people I told I was Jewish didn’t have a problem with it. Now if I was Israeli, it would be a different story, but I’m clearly not, so no problems.

I was surprised to find more women wearing hijabs (head scarves) in Egypt than in Jordan. Apparently, according to my sources, Egyptians have become more religious in recent years and this has actually caused a DECREASE in militants or fundamentalist factions…teaching people what a religion really says, as opposed to twisting it, will have that effect. Interestingly, I was also told that Arabs from the more religious countries around the Persian Gulf will often travel to Jordanian resorts where they partake in hookers and other forbidden fruits. It’s odd, and it certainly makes you appreciate the freedoms we have in this country. It also illustrates how easily we could lose those freedoms if the wrong governments were in power. I think women, in both these countries, while enjoying more freedom than under other regimes, are still stuck in a very male dominated culture…forced marriages and the inability to travel or go places without proof of your family or husband still exist and are absolutely horrible to consider when you look at our culture.

Both Egypt and Jordan are very rich with historical significance though. The temples, tombs, and ancient cities are unmatched anywhere and are definitely something to be experienced in your lifetime. Hopefully both governments will be able to maintain the sanctity of these sites, as already they have declined, not only naturally, but from human interference. You’ve no doubt heard about the Pizza Hut/KFC right in front of the Sphinx…and similar encroachments of tourist shacks and stores are at all the sites. When one looks back at pictures from the 50’s, of tourists riding camels TO the pyramids as they sat majestically in the undisturbed desert, it’s pretty damn sad how urban sprawl has destroyed that. So maybe you should go to Egypt now, before the Pyramids become an indoor ski slope or some such nonsense.

Pictures are here…

http://picasaweb.google.com/davidgreenman/EgyptJordan

Feel free to ask if you have any questions!

David