An Ancient New York

This morning I write from the hustling bustling ancient city of Cairo. 24 hours ago, I watched the sunrise as I flew in over the Arabian desert not long after leaving Dubai. It was an incredibly beautiful and touching sight that brought me into deep awareness not only of how infinitesimally small one person is in the vast scheme of things, but also just how majestic this magnificent earth Gaia, truly is. To see that wonderful and incredible landscape of sand dunes for thousands of kilometres tinged with the golden pink hue of a gorgeously clear morning sunrise was truly humbling and a sight to behold. I wept. There was a big part of me that felt that I was coming home. I’d never been here and like many white caucasian Australians, I am 7th gen Aussie one side, and a mix of Scottish, Irish, German and Jewish on the other.

Landing in Cairo, after having crossed the Red Sea and the Suez canal, doing a full circle of the greater Cairo district and over the top of the Pyramids was nothing short of amazing. I quickly realised just prior that I was looking down on ancient ruins and archaelogical digs – a long lost childhood dream of mine to be here doing this and suddenly I realised: I’m 44 and living the dream! I’m living my passionate life! It was incredible.

Landing in Cairo, I felt the warmth of an ancient culture immediately. The international airport was far larger than I anticipated and inside was truly beautiful, far nicer than my own! I laughed when I went to the window and purchased my visa for $US15 – which they check at another desk 15 feet away. Spot the difference with the regulations and Australia’s visa process, and which after having recruited so many international candidates overseas, I know is an horrendous ordeal for the individual concerned. Deliberately so.

We travelled through Cairo and I was struck again by its grand architecture which appears to have had somewhat of a renaissance period early 1900s, with Persian and French influences everywhere. And busy! It’s like an ancient New York. On the go, non stop, but it definitely has its quiet periods, between about 3am and 6am just before the Islamic morning prayer hears throughout the streets. But people don’t really get going til about 9am.

Driving here is amazing and not for the feint hearted, so I won’t be attempting it! Everyone here on the road: pedestrians, cars, trucks and service vehicles as well as bikes, mini peds and carts all have right of way so I think it is best described as organised chaos! They all know what they are doing, and provided you have confidence and can time it right, you will too. Lanes are this strange road decoration no one adheres to. Seatbelts are installed but have no purpose and few if any cars have straight panels: its a panel beaters’ mecca here and I wondered whether people even bother to insure their cars? But the biggest impression of all? The way they toot their horns, non stop, at everything, in this little “audio morse code” that every driver and car seems to understand. They beep at each other, they beep at the pedestrian (who comes out from nowhere), they beep at the policemen, a pretty girl, and nothing at all. They just beep! In this chorus of horns that go morning and night and are a necessary tool of driving in Cairo, just as an indicator or gear stick is. You just beep! A lot! And yet, no road rage. No abuse, no rude gestures, just a tolerance for too many people on the road all trying to get through their day, too. It was almost polite. I hope to capture video of this at some stage its truly remarkable. And though it was so strange from what I knew and have come from, oddly, those little tooting horns and the chaos in the dirty street below lulled me into a couple of hours sleep before I got to walk around the city with my host.

I don’t feel like a Westerner, and I gather with the dark hair I tend to blend in. Despite what is written in publications there’s no insistence that you cover your hair – at least not in the cities and no expectation for you to be anything different from who you really are. I dress conservatively anyway and I think the main difference here is that men will tend to engage you deeply with eye contact and that is not something we are used to in Australia at least, where little if any meaningful eye contact is engaged in. Out in the regional areas, I suspect things will be approached differently, but Cairo itself demonstrates nothing but tolerance for people of all kinds of backgrounds as the melting pot of the Middle East that it is.

So why Cairo? In Western terms, Cairo is a forgotten part of the world – certainly for Australians and its not easy to get to, involving no less than a 17 hour flight: Singapore, Dubai, Cairo. But it was so worth it. Most Australians head overseas at some point in their lives, and Cairo is a destination for not more than a few days to see the pyramids and that’s it. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to join a privately run Antiquity tour for 15 days with a spiritual emphasis acknowledging Egypt’s true history, sleeping in the desert, sailing down the Nile on a Felucca, and working our way back to Cairo through a myriad of Temples. Egypt has called to me many times throughout my life, and finally it got its way.

If you believe the press and travel updates, it warns that this is a dangerous time to travel. There is absolutely no evidence of this at all, and just like at home, they too have their KFC, and Maccas and Egyptians are eating there just like any other establishment or outlet and are all going about their daily chaotic lives in the best way they know how. It made me wonder what else we are told to believe that we blindly adhere to in our lives, without getting to the real truth first. Mind you, that same press reported that Prince William and Princess Kate were on a private jet refuelling in Brisbane as I left. Not true – they left for Singapore on the same flight I did and were sitting just 10 seats away. Nothing ever really is at it appears.

I feel blessed to be here, and while it is another world – literally – from where I live, it is an honour to be here. It really does feel like I am returning home. Curiously, after 15 years a temple in honour of the the high priest P’tah (looks awfully like my own name!) has reopened literally as I arrived. It makes me wonder what other synchronicities are in store…

Until next time – Insist on a Passionate life!

Petah-Jane Hall