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My First Hour in Egypt

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

EGYPT | Thursday, 24 March 2011 | Views [648] | Scholarship Entry

Scruffy, lanky, 18 year old me stood in line at the Israel/Egypt border, proud to be the first of his classmates to travel alone, in Egypt no less! Preceding this, my travel experience included my birth country, my home and a Club Med.

I was crossing the border because it seemed the obvious choice; a border crossing and a bus. Easy. However, once you leave that little terminal, equipped with X-ray machine and Customs, there’s no plane waiting to take you somewhere; just some crumbling buildings, a couple of hotels catering to scuba divers, a few camels just mulling around and a dusty road,. It’s on you now, kid. Go out there and seek adventure!

So, I walked. Somewhere along this dusty road was a bus station, but I couldn’t see it. In that moment, walking along the stinking hot, desert road, I suddenly became aware of how much useless garbage I had filled my backpack with. And then a Ute pulled up. Several Egyptian men casually riding in the back stared at me. I felt exposed and started going through worst case scenarios.
“Where you going?”
No “Hello”, “How are you?” or “Fine weather, we’re having”, just “Where you going?”
“Bus station.”
“Ten pounds.”
The first thought that went through my mind was, huh? Then, it all fell into place and I thought, never get in a stranger’s car… especially on a dusty road in Egypt. And finally, ten pound! Are they crazy?
It was 5 minutes later when I remembered that ‘pounds’ was also the name for the Egyptian currency and equated to 1 British pound. And it was 45 minutes later when I made it to the bus stop (because calling it a station is gross hyperbole).

I waited next to a greying Egyptian man eyeballing my bag – was he thinking about stealing it? I gave him a look to say, I know what you’re thinking and you don’t know that I’m not a powerful Western man who isn’t afraid of altercations. But, all he did was ask a question as succinct as the Ute passenger’s.
“What’s that?”
Again, confusion overwhelmed me and I showed him my bag – perhaps the man had never seen a high-tech 75ltr Kathmandu backpack before.
“No, that.” And he points at the combination lock hanging from the zip.
What? This guy had never seen a $2 combination lock before?
I showed him how it worked. For several minutes he had his head down, figuring it out. Once he mastered it, he looked up and asked “How much?”
Well, my mind spun. Mate, I need this! What’s going to stop crazies from stealing my garbage?
“I’m sorry. I can’t. I need it.”
By the time I realised how valueless it was to me, and what this guy may have felt to receive it for nothing, he was gone, on a bus headed for Southern Sinai. This is not only one of my seminal culture shocks; it is one of my seminal regrets.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011

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