The Loh Life

Egypt 4: What a Country

Sandra Tsing Loh learns about convoys in Egypt.

My friend Carolyn hasn’t slept in weeks.  She tracks the polls every five minutes.  She has sworn that if Romney wins tomorrow, she will change citizenship—to anywhere.

Well, look before you leap, I say, as I conclude my report on my trip to Egypt.  On one of our last days, my sister has planned a trip to see the Nubian temple at Abu Simbel.  “But we have to get up early because the only way to get there is by convoy,” she says pleasantly.

“Military convoy?” I ask.

“Oh, ish,” she replies.  She explains that we Americans will travel in a gaggle of plain white vans, with each one carrying a plainclothes security guard packing heat.

I don’t feel good climbing into the plain white van, and it’s not just because—having eaten more than my usual share of street shawarma—my digestive system is rebelling, and there is only barren desert for the next three hours.

But then, the wheels fall into a relaxing rhythm.  The driver adjusts our radio to tune in the world- and apparently Egypt-beloved South Korean pop hit “Gangnam Style”!  Our young guide Mohammed chats with us about his studies in the hospitality industry.  We even manage a joke or two.  Sensitive about being Americans, and out of respect to Islam, my sister and I are modestly covered from head to toe, even though it’s 100 degrees outside.  Meanwhile, we’d seen Australian female tourists from 20 to 70 with tube tops, bare midriffs, and shorty shorts so short it gave a whole new meaning to Valley of the Queens.

“And yet, Australians are never a religious target,” we ask Mohammed, “Why is that?”  He shrugs off our question with a laugh.

We arrive without incident and go inside.  Instead of facing the typical crowds, my sister and I are alone in this most famous temple carved out of solid rock in 1257 BC.  It’s miraculous.

I have to reflect.  Two weeks earlier, we had almost not gone to Egypt after seeing photos of Cairo protesters burning a flag in front of the U.S. embassy.  But, we figured it was only 2000 protestors—many paid—in a city of 22 million.  That doesn’t tar the whole country.  I mean, I live in Los Angeles, a place some Midwesterners consider to be dangerous.  I even know Angelenos who don’t dare send their kids to LA public schools, which they imagine are a pint-sized version of the HBO prison series Oz.

A lot of Egyptians are just as laid back as the stereotypical Californian.  I, for one, found Cairo taxi drivers amazingly serene for men driving in a city with no traffic lights.  Calmer than most latte-sipping Prius drivers in the parking lot at Whole Foods!

Will I ever go back to the Middle East for vacation?  Sure I will.  No matter who becomes president.  Inshallah.


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