No Foreigners Amidst the Friendliness

Updated: Oct 7, 2018

Notice anything special about this picture? That's right, I'm the only person in it. It's a slight distortion of reality, but only very slight: from a selfish perspective, it was incredible. A dream destination all to myself. But from a non-selfish aspect...well, I hope people start visiting Egypt again.

I went to Cairo as a solo, female traveler. And I'll admit it, I was nervous about the decision. I was especially nervous because I had previously been to Istanbul as a solo female and the harassment had been awful there. "If the most Western city in the region is hostile towards me, what will Cairo be like??" I thought nervously.

But I needn't have worried. I can honestly say that the only other place I have been that has been so friendly to a foreigner was Senegal.

I only had two days in Cairo (partially due to these nerves but mostly due to money concerns). The first day was spent touristing around the sites that bring people to this huge city. On that day, no matter how many stalls I passed that were trying to sell to the non-existent tourists, I was never harassed by a single vendor.

The second day, the only thing on my agenda was to see the country's archeological museum. The rest of the day I just walked around, taking in the city streets, traffic, sounds, smells, everything (though these pictures are mostly from the day before, when I was being chauffeured around, as I didn't keep my iPhone out too much the second day).

The morning started out with my meandering towards the museum. As I slowly made my way there, a man walked out of a shop on a mission, but stopped when he saw me. He greeted me in English, and after a minute of polite chatting he invited me to his shop for tea.

Now, I had lived in Senegal for two years, and had only recently had the experiences in Istanbul. I'd like to think I have a decent intuition as to whether or not a man has sinister intentions. As my radar did not go off, I agreed to follow him. We went a block away, climbed a set of stairs, and I found myself in a perfumed shop full of papyrus. I sat near the door, and as he introduced me to his brother he told me to make sure my purse was in my lap. "That would ruin your vacation if someone was able to take that!"

His brother went into a backroom to make tea while we continued chatting. It turns out he had lived in London for three years, having received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Greenwich. As I was currently living in London, we talked about England for a bit until his brother returned with a pot and three cups of the ever-present-in-the-Muslim-world mint tea. His brother's English wasn't nearly as good, but we were still able to make basic conversation.

Once the tea had been drunk, they wanted to show me their perfume collection (a common good that is sold in the MENA region). They had about 15 options, and I smelled each and every one (and had several spritzed on my wrist). Not once did they try to get me to buy any of their papyrus or their perfumes, they only wanted to spend an hour with a foreigner. I'm sure they hoped I would buy something, of course, but they never made that intention noticeable. When I stood up to be on my way, they gave me broad grins, shook my hand, and bade me a good rest of my vacation.

I continued towards the museum. On the way, I passed a newspaper stall that was selling water. Considering this was Egypt in early May, I decided it would be best to grab a bottle. I opened the display to grab one, not even noticing that the electricity was not on and thus all of the bottles were warm. This was Africa after all, whatever. I rarely had cold beverages in Senegal, I was used to this. I placed the water on the counter and began to fumble for the correct change. A man about my age (27 at the time) in a business suit was next to me. He picked up my bottle, tsked, and spoke to the vendor in rapid Arabic. The next thing I knew, the vendor reached into a fridge he had behind the desk and gave me a cold water. I gave a big smile to the man next to me, but when I offered to pay for his purchase as thanks he merely waved me along.

Later in the day, while I was walking and came to one of Cairo's many crazy intersections. Again, as I had lived in Senegal, I wasn't concerned about getting across the Wild West of traffic. But a man caught up to me and helped me across anyways. We then chatted for a few blocks. Turns out he had lived in Milwaukee for years, and had only come back to Cairo when his mother got sick. Considering Milwaukee is in the state next to mine, that kept us busy until he abruptly said, "ok, well have a good day!" and turned down a street.

Even a teenage boy who began to tail me while I walked along the Nile was harmless, he just wanted to talk to an American.

I tell these tales because, prior to my trip, I was told variations of "you're so brave" by god knows how many people. And I bought into it. I was nervous. But I needn't have been. I did not meet a single person who harassed me, nor did I ever feel in danger from a terrorist attack. The Egyptians I met were genuinely some of the kindest people I have encountered on the road. This makes it so much worse that nobody comes. They want you to come. They want your money yes, and the country desperately needs it, but they also just want to meet you. So please go if you can. More than anywhere else I have been, I recommend Cairo.