After nearly 22 hours of travel Melissa and I finally arrived in Cairo. We exited the plane down a staircase to the tarmac and were loaded on to crowded buses and shuttled to the baggage area. Inside, a short stout smiling Egyptian man greeted us with a “Raqs of Course” sign. He introduced himself and said “ok let’s give me $25 dollars and your passport I will get the visas”. I hesitated with my nervous alarm bells going off and glanced at Melissa. Samad smiled and said “it’s ok, give to me”. I handed them over and he dashed off to get our visas and came back happily with our arrival cards. Samad bouced around like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. He weaseled his way to the front of the passport stamping line and demanded attention from the clerk (although he was embedded in a crowd of men who much bigger and more stern than him). With successful passport stamps he waived us on to the baggage claim and loaded our bags on a trolley and pushed it along winding through the crowd. Women sat idly on the baggage claim belts fanning themselves watching us go through the customs line. The man looked at our passports and said “what’s here in these bags?” Melissa shrugged and said “clothes, mostly”. The man handed back the passports and waived us on. Samad was off on a mad dash out of the airport. A crowd gathered out front waiting to greet their loved ones on arrivals. Men sat with their feet dangling on the fence while smoking and women in full niqab gathered together chatting. Other women dressed in western clothing, fussed at children for playing to roughly.
We scuttled through the parking lot with cars whizzing past so close I could feel the air move as they went by, Samad hurried among not seeming to notice. I looked around and took my first breath of Cairo. The air was hazy with the orange of sunset and the sounds of planes and cars and far off Egyptian music drifted around us. I realized suddenly just how amazing Samad was at his job, I already felt I wouldn’t have made it this far our of the airport or even though the baggage claim without him.
But then we arrived at our car and Samad loaded our bags. The driver was a different gentleman, more gruff, but still friendly. He climbed in the van and we drove off.
I have never in my life experienced anything like Cairo driving. Lanes are painted on the asphalt but rarely used. Most people just drive in a buzzing mass of varying speeds down the freeway. Stopping suddenly to avoid crashes is common and I’ve yet to see an Egyptian car without scratches. Safety regulations vary so much from home. Entire families ride in the back of carts on top of their possessions at high speeds, or three to one on a motorbike. I winced with each sudden stop, ready for impact.
It took two hours to get to the hotel on traffic. As the sun set, we headed deeper into the city. Hundreds of apartment buildings lined the freeway, most of which were windowless, dark and empty with singular occupied apartment towers like a candle in each cluster. In the places where the apartments nearly touch the freeway women and men would walk up and dump their garbage in large piles on the side of the road. As cars drove by bags would get whisked out of the pile and into the blur of traffic.
Our driver’s phone kept ringing with the opening rift of Fith Harmony’s “Give it to me I’m worth it” track and he would answer it and argue with the person on the other end until one of them hung up. Men and women would run through the speeding cars attempting to convince drivers to slow down and buy tissues, canides, or freshly grilled corn. Mothers sat on the median with their children draped sleeping across their laps, hoping someone would stop and give a few coins in assistance. Melissa and I glanced at each other realizing we had a lot to learn about the way and complexities of Egypt.
We finally arrived at our hotel, we checked in and were able to bunker down for the evening. We were tired, excited, and yet reflective on what we had already expierenced in this world away from home. And most of all really really grateful.