Laura Augustyn

Laura's Life Blog

My trip to Egypt

This is a narrative of my trip to Egypt, taken in October of 2016. This trip was the most amazing of my life that I have taken to anywhere. It changed me greatly and gave me a new direction for my life. In addition, it renewed my spirituality and sense of purpose. I still communicate with several of the people I met while I was in Egypt.. Several are people who were my tour guides along my journey, I realize it is best to get a local Egyptian tour guide from each area that you wish to visit - not only will they provide you with the most local flavor, they become wonderful friends that you can keep long after you go home.

Sadly, I also lost my mentor and friend of over 35 years as he passed away January 27, 2017, just as I was starting to realize that I should share my trip so others can benefit from my experiences and hopefully make some of their own with a trip of their own. His encouragement and guideance led me to the place I am now, studying how to teach English and actually getting experience to excel in that field. Hopefully, I will also be able to travel with it and do something with it, as he would have wanted for me.  Many are encouraging me to return and teach English there as EFL, English as a Foreign language. Writing to them through social media helps them with their English, although I can tell that they do not write that well, but they really do try.

Since returning home, I have been on a cultural and spiritual journey. Most of all, I felt a sense of spirituality and renewal. lt also assisted to show me the way of the Holy Quran, the Muslim's Holy Book, as Egypt's population is 90% Muslim. I have started to study the Holy Koran and have attended mosque services here in the USA for a better understanding of Muslims and their beliefs. One God, the All Mighty, who gave us life and to whom we will return. They have a call to prayer 5 times per day and there were many other interesting differences from what we are used to here in America.  Next I will study Arabic. I have a video when I attended "Know your Muslim Neighbor" about how women wear the hijabs and their meaning of them actually gives them empowerment.

Tourism in Egypt is profitable for them, yet it suffered in recent years after the revolution of 2011 with Mubarak, Morsi and the Brotherhood. Now tourism appears stable with President El Sisi in power. He is a friend of the United States as he recently visited the White House this year. Pope Francis also visited Egypt to call for peace amongst all religions as he met with the lmam and the Coptic Christian Pope in Egypt.

The places that I visited on my trip were Cairo, which has the pyramids and the Sphinx, then I went to Aswan where there is the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser; then came a 4 day, 3 night cruise down the Nile River on Princess Cruises. The cruise went from Aswan to Luxor, which is called the "tourism capital of the world." From Luxor I then flew back to Cairo to take the next leg of the journey by car ride to Alexandria - a mere 4 hour ride full of beautiful views of the Egyptian country. While in Alexandria, I stayed in a hotel on the Mediterranean Sea and toured the largest Library in the entire world.

We are all in this world under one God and God wants us to live in peace and unity. We all have a free will to choose how we live. So, I decided to embark on this journey, leaving the USA and travelling by myself, despite some people questioning my sanity as to why I was going there, given the media exploitation of trouble in that region. The 10 hour flight from JFK to Cairo was direct and uneventful on Egypt Air. The Holy Quran was recited at the beginning of the flight and directions for the safety of the flight were given in Arabic and then English.

When I arrived at the Cairo airport, I proceeded to buy my visa there at the airport for $25.00. Everything seemed to go easily and everyone was very nice, friendly, organized and courteous. My mentor and friend Abdel awaited my arrival at the gate. He had arranged for a private car to take me to my hotel, the Hilton Ramses. Abdel insisted that I should rest for a while after the flight; the private tour guide Radwa Said from Agilika Tours would meet me in the lobby in a couple of hours. Abdel had arranged the tour guide to show me Cairo in these first 2 days of my visit. After Cairo I would fly to Aswan to see the Aswan Dam, Lake Nasser and the Temples there. I would then board a cruise down the Nile to Luxor for 3-4 days which would give me the opportunity to see more of Egypt's fascinating history. From there I would take a flight from Luxor to Cairo, and Abdel arranged a car to bring me from Cairo to Alexandria for the next week to spend time in his home city, where l would spend time on the Mediterranean Sea as well as see the largest Library in the World and all the history of Alexandria.

My trip was amazing. The first day I went to the Cairo tower and was amazed at all of the people who lived there. The crazy driving on the way over to the tower stood out to me, where people would walk into the streets without stop lights or signs. There were donkeys and horses pulling people on the streets as another form of transportation. Somehow, in all this chaos, there was peace and continuity and I did not feel threatened at all. The next day I went to see the magnificent Pyramids at Giza, which is not too far from Cairo. The traffic is so intense in Cairo, that it often takes longer than one expects. Once I got to the Pyramids, I felt this tremendous sense of awe that I cannot even describe. How can the trio of Pyramids still be standing in all their majesty, built more than 5,000 years ago, and how were they built with such precision and dedication. There was a man there who spoke Arabic and showed me his camel, motioning whether I would like to take a ride. I agreed and my private tour guide Radwa took my photo as he lead me closer to the pyramids. The men near the pyramids are dressed in the long white gowns (or gabadaras) and soon I felt I was well on my way for my spiritual journey. Being in Egypt, in the desert walking in some of the same areas as the Holy Family was such an awe inspiring feeling! While in Cairo, I also went to the Khan al-Khalili outdoor market place, which was full of vendors and items and souvenirs from Egypt. Tea is the primary beverage at all of the shops, alcohol is not sold anywhere except in hotels or a few tourist spots. There were also quite a few places selling Shisha, which is smoked from a pipe similar to tobacco.

Later on my trip I saw the Sphinx, which was also amazing and magnificent in splendor. I learned from someone that the nose is broken off because a drunken French soldier shot it off. I visited the Egyptian Museum which had so much about Egyptian history, KingTut and well, you'll just have to go yourself! It's fantastic!

I later dined for lunch on tabouli salad, hummus dip with pita bread - a staple in Egyptian life with a meat dish called kibbeh, which is a combination of lamb/beef and bulghar wheat. Pork is forbidden in lslam and not served in Egypt. Since I am around Muslim people in America, I knew this already, plus I have not eaten pork in many years. I felt like I was in heaven. Everyone was so hospitable and nice in Cairo - I made friends with the owner of the gift shop at the Hotel Ramses and we still correspond on social media periodically.

While traveling around the cities, if you payed attention to the details you could see the British influence from their occupation back in the late 1800's. While Egypt had a British occupation in 1882, the primary language all over is still Arabic, although some still speak a little English.  English and French were taught to many as a second language after Arabic, so EFL is English As A Foreign Language, after the predominant Arabic. After the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, Egyptian nationalism became focused upon ending British colonial rule and the Arabic language went on to remain the primary spoken language of Egypt.

For the next leg of my trip, I was off to Aswan. My flight to Aswan took off in the early am. I was seated next to a Filipino woman and her husband on the plane who told me they were Catholic. I told them that I too was raised a Catholic in America. I was curious as to how Egypt was treating them, so I asked them how they felt living in Egypt. They said they felt completely safe, even though Catholics make up only about 1% of the population. Overall, they loved Egypt.

Everyone respected them, they had their own community of people called "Patriots from Overseas" working in Egypt and they were freely able to worship Catholic Mass at their Church.

I arrived in Aswan for this part of my journey, Nasir would be my tour guide. He had a couple from lndia with their baby in our group as well, this worked out well as we all went to see the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser together. Lake Nasser was named after the Egyptian President after King Farouk was overthrown in 1952. Abdel Gamal Nasser rose to power on themes that mixed Arab and Egyptian nationalism. President Nasser's first priority was to end subordination to Britain, which meant a quick and urgent removal of British bases privileges and then to acquire greater control over the Suez Canal. Egypt had asked the USA for money for the dam, but it was actually the Soviet Union that helped give the funding to build the dam. President Nasser's successors were Anwar Sadat followed by Hosni Mubarak. Sedat was part of The Camp David Peace Accord, which was signed in 1978 along with Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin. After Sedat stepped down in favor of President Mubarak, the Arab Spring of 2011 forced the resignation of Mubarak from power. This resulted in multiparty elections and has raised questions over the future of Egyptian nationalism. As of today, President El Sisi has been elected. El Sisi followed the in the footsteps of Nasser and Sadat as all of them were Army Generals. The people of Egypt seem to like the Army which has a great presence in Egypt. I saw many roads being built, and the Army is there to help and assist. I must say that I felt very safe in Egypt, in all honesty, I felt safer there than I do here in America. There are no guns that the private sector uses. There is a lot of security to preserve the historical sites and the police and army are not only very noticable, but they are very nice and hospitable as well.

I was now ready to board the cruise along the Nile, to go from Aswan to Luxor. I got to know the staff on the cruise ship, who l helped along with a few words of English, and they in turn would teach me a few words of Arabic. Everyone was very nice. The cruise allowed me to see much of Egypt and how the Nile is considered Life through the Ankh, as it gave life to the meaning. I saw a part of the Nubian tribe in southern Egypt near Aswan, who were darker skinned and lived close to the Sudan. They invited me into their homes. I got to visit Abu Simbel, Ramses temple, the great Pharaoh who had over 100 children and many wives. Out of all his wives he loved Neferteri the most and he built a temple next to his to honor her. Every year on October 22, there is a special sunrise celebration where the sun rises and shines directly on the rooms of his temple and hers as well. I was there to witness this and it was truly amazing. I grew to love the sun too as part of my spirituality. On the last day of the cruise, I had so much history and facts, that I was ready to embark on my own off the cruise ship as they were going to go on another tour.

I walked off the boat and a handsome Egyptian man asked me if I would like to take a ride on his boat, or felucca. I could see the kindness in his eyes so I went with him. His name was Ali Mohammad. He told me he did not continue in school, but had learned English on his own. He was a mechanic by trade and also a boxer. He took me across the Nile River to Banana Island, where there were monkeys and bananas and some other animals.

I felt I had died and went to heaven. This was in Luxor. Ali told me about his life, how his father had died, and how he is now responsible for his mother as well as one sister that is younger and not married. He told me some of the culture about Egyptians. They are very strong in their Faith, lslam, and their culture as Egyptians. They are respectful. He invited me to see some guest houses he was building with his brother. He told me that I was always welcome to come and stay. He told me how I was a kind person as he could see through my eyes and into my soul. He said that they do not hug or kiss or even hold hands in his culture without marriage. I learned quite a bit about the culture, and another friend was made, who I also keep in contact with via social media. Finally the day came for me to get off the cruise and fly on to Cairo so I could go on to Alexandria where my mentor and friend Abdel lived. Abdel had arranged for a ride which was 4 hours from the Cairo airport to Alexandria for me with Ashraf, who spoke no English. lt was a long 4 hours but he was kind and we stopped for tea and pastry. I arrived in Alexandria and Abdel met me at the hotel I where I would be staying, the Sheraton Montazah, which was overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and walking distance to the most beautiful beach I had ever seen. Again, l was in heaven. Abdel arranged for me to meet up with Radwa, the original tour guide for the next day to arrange a tour of Alexandria.

I got to see the places where Aristotle the Great, the Greek who came to Alexandria, and how it was named after him, in battles at Pompei, and the Roman Theatre. I did get to see that enormous Library, the biggest in the world. There were many students in Alexandria that go to the university. Education is free and despite what the media says, girls go to college. They are tested in their high schools to see and give them direction on what to do. One day we visited a separate beach called Memora, where I met up with some of the girls and they were fascinated that I was from America and insisted on photos with me. Abdel's extended family - his brother's family - his daughter, her husband and their daughter welcomed me to his home with an authentic meal in that Northern part of Egypt in Alexandria on the sea, made up of fresh seafood. They spoke Arabic and some English, so we conversed the best we could. All in all we remain good friends.

Sadly, my mentor / my friend, Abdel passed away on January 27 ,2017, but he was the guide for me in my life, and somehow it led me to experience Egypt and now study EFL. I hope to perhaps go back there to teach, through a sponsoring agency or private school, and perhaps set up a nonprofit foundation in his memory to act as a legacy to sponsor an Egyptian to experience life in America, as he did, as I did. lt proves that no matter what background culture and language are intertwined.

I continue now on my spiritual journey, reading the Quran and remembering that we are all on earth for a short time and we have the free will to treat other's as God would want us to. I find the Muslim people to be very kind in their actions and attitudes and feel that they are not portrayed in the media as the peaceful people that they are. I saw firsthand that they are truly humble and kind.