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Egypt, always yesterday and today

Street Market in Cairo
Street Market in Cairo
Richard Basch

(This is the body of a letter I wrote to a former professor and friend who is an Egyptian)

This has been a very informative and interesting trip. The treasures of the Egyptian Museum certainly are treasures. The golden bust of King Tut is amazing. The objects look new and the colors pure. I was overwhelmed. There is a new museum being built for the items but it is being delayed until more money can be raised.

Egypt is an amazingly fascinating place. Clearly it’s a third world country. In fact it reminded me a great deal of Mexico. So much in fact that I caught myself speaking Spanish to my driver a couple of times. Does that make sense to you? Similarly it’s very colorful, lots of off white skin here, horns blare on the street. The past is very evident, celebrated. Everywhere I went I saw copies of ancient artifacts and small copies of the Pyramids.

I’ve been a guest of the Egyptian Government so I’ve been treated excellently. I have had a driver, a guide/translator and a car everywhere I have gone and I have stayed in 5 star hotels. I have not gotten sick, although I understand that many foreigners do, another similarity to Mexico. I think that in part that is because I have restricted myself to bottled water. Once again like Mexico, the people are all rather proud of being Egyptian.

Tourism has suffered while I have been here. In Alexandria, where I am at present, there were in the past 100 tourist liners a year, since the revolutions of late there have been only 3. The economy suffers when this is the case. The vendors at the Pyramids are especially aggressive, shoving small cheap items into my pockets. I have had to be quite clear that I’m not a buyer. I got up on a camel and felt pretty unstable, especially when the camel stood up and got down.

I didn’t see much begging on the streets. I was told that there would be children running after me as I walked along. But I didn’t find any of that.

Yesterday, I saw King Farouk’s palace. He had it all laid on didn’t he? Tea houses, barn for cattle, a guest house which is now about to become a hotel. The Egyptians I met all said that he was a good king. What I read in Wikipedia didn’t support that. Did you know he had a red car, a convertible and he tried to make it illegal for any car but his to be painted red. Wild, privileged and ultimately very corrupt.

While I was here a bomb was exploded in Cairo. I was gone that day, but what I notice is that the revolution goes on and nobody seems to be particularly disturbed about it. It’s like one more entertainment or spectacle and I didn’t encounter anyone who seemed bothered by it. One of my guides had taken part in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and didn’t particularly want to talk about them.

I was very impressed by their detachment from the current events in Egypt.

I’m on my way this morning to El Alamein to the battlefield. That should be interesting. I’m flying to Luxor for 5 days on a boat floating down the Nile to Aswan. I’m looking forward to that.

All things considered, I’d say that Egypt is a place of fascination, mystery and great charm.

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