Laura Augustyn

Laura's Life Blog

Egypt - Reflection - Journey Oct. 2016

It is October 18, 2020.  Here in the USA, we are in the midst of the Pandemic of 2020, the Coronavirus Covid 19.  Travel has stopped, especially overseas. 2020 has been a time for reflection and looking within, because so many of us are limited to what we can do right now.  I have spent most of my time tjhis year running, walking and meditating and praying. 

I am so glad I made some decisions in my life about travel when I could.  When I worked with senior citizens in housing for 10+ years, a 100 year old friend Emily told me the lessons she learned in life.  She said if somone invites you someplace, go, don't hesitate, if you can, just go.  She said she stopped worrying and left all in God's hands.  Enjoy life every day.  These words of hers stayed with me and continue to stay with me always. 

I am reminiscing and reliving my first, best, most exciting, spiritual and inspriring trip of my lifetime to Egypt that took place 4 years ago, exactly on this date October 18, 2016 - November 1, 2016. My reason to go to Egypt?  My Mentor/My Friend Abdel H. Metwally of 35 years who had lived in the USA for 45 years had decided to move to his homeland of Egypt to retire in October 2015.  He always said Inshallah meaning if God wants, one day I will visit Egypt.  I heard so much about Egypt through my mentor/my friend Abdel. 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. I was of course very nervous and excited not knowing what to expect as I was preparing for my journey to Egypt.  Abdel told me that he prepared for me a tour as well as a cruise down the Nile.  There were three places he wanted me to see.  Cairo, Aswan and Luxor.  All of this was foreign to me, as I heard as I heard of Cairo but not Aswan and Luxor.  I knew Abdel lived in Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea and I said I wanted to visit him there since it has been one year since I saw him.  He said I will visit him and his extended family after the tour and spend a week in his city of Alexandria.  He arranged a hotel on the Mediterranen, Sheraton Montazah.

Days ahead my niece Samantha helped me buy luggage for the trip at T.J. Max.  I had not travelled by airplane since my visit to Spain in 2008, which was 8 years prior.  I never really liked flying.  This would be a direct and long flight. Kabir, a Muslim Bangladeshi who drove a limo picked me up at my mom's house on Tuesday, October 18. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016  -  The flight from JFK to Cairo is always at 6:30pm overnight flight arriving the next day in Cairo since Egypt is 6 hours in advance of the USA.  The driver I knew for years and he was the same driver that took Abdel to the airport a year earlier.  When I arrived at JFK, control was tight and Kabir helped me with my luggage but then I was on my own.  I saw that there were mostly Egyptians boarding.  Then I saw an American couple.  I mentioned the long flight and that the doctor told me to take Flonase upon departure and landing so sinuses stay clear.  Coincidentally, they told me that their doctor had told them the same thing.  I took an ativan, an anti anxiety pill prior to departure as well. The 10 hour flight from JFK to Cairo was direct 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.  Somehow, that made me really relaxed.  Raised a Catholic, I knew not to wear any signs of a crucifix, but I always travelled with rosary beads when I flew.  Later, I would travel with prayer beads.  It proves that our religions are very much alike, and I realized that during my trip.  Rosary beads pray to God and to Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Our Fathers and Hail Marys.  Muslim prayer beads pray directly to God, the Almighty, worshiping Him as the One in charge and control of our lives.  Egypt Air was very pleasant and relaxing and the service was great.  The meals were generous, a nice dinner since we were flying at night and a nice breakfast in the AM, with snacks in between, and plenty of time to sleep, as the crew would darken the plane by putting down the shades.  It was a smooth flight. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016  -  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 was waiting for me in expectation and I was so happy to see him after not seeing him after a year.  Will always remember his kind face and the kind hug and how they kiss on each cheek.  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 Saaid 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.

Thursday, October 20, 2016  - 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.  That evening I stayed up almost all night since I would have an early flight to go from Cairo to Aswan.

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.