Africa, culture shock and number 89

#89. Go to Africa.

In case you didn’t know, Egypt is in Africa.

I knew this. I think. I mean, my brain knew this. It’s pretty much common knowledge. It’s just that when I thought of Africa, when I wrote #89 on my list of things to do before I die, I wasn’t thinking about Egypt. I was thinking about safaris and places like Kenya or Madagascar. Or maybe even someplace like Rwanda (since I was a member of Journalists for Human Rights at the time and we were working with the Rwanda Initiative.)

The only images I had in my mind of Egypt were pyramids, temples and sheer linen dresses. We are a product of the media, and my expectations were fabricated mostly from historical fiction and BBC documentaries.

But Egypt is one of the most populated countries in Africa. Cairo is the largest city in Africa. There are about 25 million people in Cairo on any given day. In one city. There are 33 million people all of Canada. Our largest city, Toronto, has just over 2 million people.

Cairo isn’t just the home of the Great Pyramids of Giza, it’s also the home of millions of people and is the densest metropolis that I have ever seen.

Needless to say, it was an intense culture shock. I have never been to a city even a little bit like Cairo before. The traffic is so bad that it can take over three hours to make a 30 min drive. Every time we were on the roads, I thought we were going to die. There are no road rules, no traffic lights. There’s only pure determination. Every vehicle is dented, scratched, damaged in some way by its life on the streets of Cairo.

And there aren’t just cars on the streets either. There are also carts, drawn by donkeys and horses. Egypt is very much a city where the modern and the antiquated are thrown together and live side by side. I half expected to see a Bennett Buggy driving down the street.

The houses in Cairo are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There are thousands of huge apartment buildings, stacked almost on top of each other. There are buildings that look more like shacks, with satellite dishes on top. Everything seems to be in a minor state of disrepair and in need of a good paint job.

This is actually Luxor, a much smaller city than Cairo. But you can get an idea of the type of buildings.

There’s another aspect of the culture in Egypt that I wasn’t prepared for. As an obvious tourist, I meant only one thing to the people of Egypt. Money. Everywhere you go in Egypt, someone is trying to sell you something or ask you for money. They will take your luggage from you and then ask you for money for carrying it, even though you were perfectly capable of doing it yourself. They charge you 5 Egyptian pounds for a camel ride, then ask for another 20 for you to get off.

Everything is about hassling and haggling and it is thoroughly exhausting. No one even speaks to you unless they want you to buy something. And when you walk through the market, the vendors yell things at you to get your attention. “Do you want Egyptian husband?” “You have beautiful eyes!” “Are you from the moon?” “I will kill my four wives for you!” “You walk like an Egyptian.”

They offer camels in exchange for your hand in marriage. Someone offered me 2 millions camels. It was a good day.

Egypt was a definite culture shock. It was my first African country. Next time, I’ll be better prepared.

Next time, I probably won’t go to Cairo. Luxor was much nicer.


  • By Faebala, February 3, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    That was pretty much my brother’s reaction to Cairo too, when he went. Although I was hoping you might have a better experience, being that he went with the military and was obviously not on the top list of welcomed guests there. Ah well. You live, you learn, and at least you saw even if you didn’t conquer!

  • By Lisa, February 4, 2010 @ 4:00 am

    So, I definitely knew that Egypt is located in Africa, but I know what you mean…it’s easy to forget that Egypt is IN Africa! “Traditional” Africa seems so different compared to Egypt. I really want to visit South Africa sometime soon.

    I could not stop laughing when reading about the vendors and the type of things they said to you!! Also, I had no idea Cairo was so populated…especially when you compare it to Canada. That’s crazy!

    P.S. Thank you for all your comments on my recent posts– they are always so genuine and encouraging.:)

  • By Eleni, February 4, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

    Whoa, 2 million camels? You must be a very desirable bride.

  • By Jes, February 4, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

    oh my goodness, it’s like Turkey…well, Istanbul. But more intense, from the sounds of it! Still sounds amazing though, in its own way.

  • By Eleni, February 4, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    Isn’t it funny that Jes and I posted the exact same minute? What are the chances?

  • By Hezabelle, February 4, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

    hehehe My email was a bit confused by it too, I think.

  • By Christine Sweeton *The Chris*, February 5, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

    I will be going to Morocco (I hope) the day before I pick u up at the airport. I wonder if it will be a simular experience….

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