Salam-alayko (Peace be with you).
We're still in Egypt, but no longer in Africa. That is, we have arrived in the Sinai Peninsula. We decided to cut our touristy site-seeing short for more days on the beach. After Luxor / Karnak we said, "Enough temples and tourists and touts!" We were exhausted, so we went to Dahab, a friendly town with a view across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. We passed through Hurghada and Sharm el-Shiekh (an expensive and touristy town for rich Europeans and politicians that I cannot recommend). This part of the Red Sea is known for world-class scuba diving. Dahab itself doesn't have a great beach, but we settled for a swimming pool, air conditioning, satellite TV, and colorful sea life. We needed the down time after a seriously long road trip. Get to Dahab before it grows into the next Sharm-El-Shiek. The growth rate here is off the charts. Rich Europeans have discovered Red Sea diving.
Note from 2009: Dahab got bombed by terrorists.
I have been reading about Islam, and the more I learn, the more I like the prophet Mohammad (peace be with him) and dislike the clerics who came after him, distorting his message for their own political ends over the centuries. For example, Mohammed promoted women's rights, and Al-Quran does not mandate the wearing of head scarves. Religion is used as a lame excuse for sexual apartheid. Mohammad protected Christians and Jews, seeing them as spiritual cousins, believing in the same God of Abraham. But power rests generally with dictators and inflexible clerics who believe in twisted interpretations of the book that have become entrenched dogma. Mohammad would be most displeased. I think Jesus would be displeased with so-called Christian zealots like Bush, too. The people who cause problems, I think are of two types: 1) people who think these old books are the literal word of God, and have you read them? They can be quite brutal. Yes, the Bible advocates death by stoning in some cases, too. And shouldn't we be teaching science? 2) people who manipulate the masses, playing the God card for political gain. Haram (Shame).
Of all the MEGA-cities I have visited, Cairo is the cheapest and most interesting. OK, maybe Jakarta is cheaper. And Rio is more interesting (to me). But Cairo is right up there!
Cairo is where Africa and Europe meet the Arab world head on. Cairo's massive, dusty sprawl has a modern downtown with all the luxuries of Europe. We are staying in the nicest hotel of our trip for only $8 a night. The city ends where the desert begins, and yes, the Great Pyramids of Giza are cool :-) So is the Egyptian Museum. Cairo also has the world's second-oldest university, Al-Azhar. Could it be that Cairo's traffic is the craziest on Earth? Almost every taxi is dented.
Locals invited us to a wedding party in a Berber village, recently incorporated into the suburban sprawl. Lili was the only adult woman there. Then men drank alcohol and smoked sheesha and made a lot of noise. Interesting! We camped in the desert near the Abusir pyramids (no tourists). The next morning we went to the BIG pyramids, and in full tourist tradition, we rode camels.
When Lili wears a head scarf, she blends in with no hassles, but when she does not wear one, men stare incessantly, often making comments filled with sexual innuendo. Unfortunately, there is a shameful oppression of women's rights. Egypt is ahead of most Arab countries in this regard. I heard of Saudi women arriving at the Cairo airport in full burqas, immediately changing into Western clothes in the bathroom; in Egypt they are free to shop without a male escort. I met a Swiss film-maker who said that 5% of Egyptian women have managed to break free from the cultural chains, getting a good education and an interesting job. That's a good start.
I am trying to learn some Arabic. I find many things to like about the culture. For example, for such a huge city, I feel safe walking around Cairo at night. Also, it is common to hear sincere calls of "welcome" from strangers. I lost count of how many times we have been invited to drink mint tea. Only in the tourist centers are we annoyed by aggressive hustlers. We have met many Arab men who show us true warmth and hospitality. They tell their women to prepare food for us.