I had a fear that I might not like Egypt the second time around, 27 years later. That I might not feel again the inspiration I’d felt so long ago, the desire to take it all in and know it and write about it.
But I recognized it immediately; Cairo has changed little. Sometimes you know and feel things right away; you go with your gut and don’t second-guess. Egypt has energy, dynamism; it’s bursting with life.
And it wasn’t bad dropping in at the tail end of a revolution, either.
On Friday, Cairo’s citizens gathered to celebrate what they’d started on the 25th of January, and it was a street party like no other. Hundreds of thousands gathered under a brilliant sun and cloudless sky, drunk with empowerment. Dancing, singing, beating drums, holding their children into the air and photographing them clutching the barrels of tanks and in the arms of soldiers, an ocean of bodies waving flags that went on and on and on, up every side street and into the night. “We were not afraid!” people told me over and over. “We are Egyptians and we are free!”
Men hauled me up on lampposts and clapped me on the back. A dead goat was passed overhead from bloody hand to bloody hand. Families asked to have their photos taken with me and a man showed me the bloodstained wad of toilet paper he’d used to help staunch the wound of a protester who’d been shot. As the sun set, bottle rockets and homemade hot air balloons, each a flickering yellow flame, soared into the darkness. When I finally left the square after eight hours, it was shoulder to shoulder for miles, even across the Nile bridges, this river of bodies dancing in the smoky night.
Ever since, I’ve been south, first to Luxor and then to Aswan, where I am the only tourist in sight. The hotels are empty. The tour boats are docked, the feluccas moored in long flotillas. The touts are hungry. “We haven’t worked in a month!” they cry.
But on the west bank of the Nile, across the river from Aswan where life is slow and donkeys bray under palm trees, I sat with Abdel Sabour Dahab and his friends on a reed mat sipping tea, always another cup of tea. Dahab is a bear of a man, with a deep, resonant voice and joy that radiates. “Tourists will come again soon, inshallah,” he says, “and now there is no more Mubarak. Remember: one hand makes no sound, many hands make a thunder!”
- Nat Geo Expeditions
“Come!” he says, “I love to eat and I love the water! We must have lunch and swim.” And we do.
Follow along with Carl in Cairo on Twitter at @LunaticCarl.