My Past and Present
Vol 7 1998
I am originally Egyptian . . . but was born and raised in Kenya, then we moved to Waterloo, Ontario when I was fourteen . . . my name is Wasmaa Turky
The last time I had travelled to Egypt was eight years ago. I am now twenty two. So, when I went there last summer, I was observing the country through different perceptions. If I were to sum up my journey in one word, I would have to say fascinating. It is hard to be in Egypt and not think of the past, present and future all at once. One’s mind is constantly overwhelmed with thoughts of culture and social diversity. Especially if one is accustomed to the luxuries of a modern world such as Canada. I found that the best attitude was to break free from the confines of my own ego and try to withhold judgement.
It was interesting that, at first, I was considered a foreigner. Although, here in Canada, I am used to being asked where I come from, I wasn’t quite prepared to answer the same question in Egypt.
Of course, my poor language skills and obvious accent did not help. I didn’t have a mature vocabulary, and I suddenly realized that I think in English, which made expressing myself in Arabic rather difficult.
In my very own opinion, I found most people seemed disillusioned about the west and North America. There is a huge invasion through the media and multinationals. The youth listen to the same music, watch the same movies, attempting to lead similar lifestyles; the effect of American media is incredibly powerful and influential. Most students study in either English or French as well as the Arabic. This has allowed a new wave of thought, which separates them from their parents, both in culture and identity.
Although there is a new sense of freedom among the youth, Egypt remains tightly bound by culture and traditions that are rooted through its ancient civilization and religions.
I found that being a young woman travelling alone was not always a good idea. I wanted to stay away from these thoughts because I knew that my opinions came from being raised in a different culture and would not necessarily be correct. For example, when walking down the street, I was constantly reminded of my female presence, the steady remarks, jeers, whistles .. which were everything but subtle, became truly annoying. However, the other Egyptian girls were quite used to this, and, in fact, found my observations funny. They were more confident in walking by and not giving this a single thought.
It didn’t matter if you were veiled or half naked.
This form of communication was to be expected from the streets, and this eventually became a trivial issue. In many ways allowing other men to relay their integrity by showing true respect which did not exist on the streets.
The hustle and bustle of the streets in Cairo have a life of their own. It seems that at all hours your senses are constantly occupied. The traffic jams and the people scattered everywhere leave it visually impossible to get bored. The ongoing sounds of car horns and blared Arabic music in the majority of driving-by taxis, ultimately turn into somewhat of a melody. The ever present heat of the day illuminates you and keeps you alert.
Cairo is the largest city in Africa and also one of the more densely populated areas of the world.
Tahrir Square in Cairo’s downtown, essentially the heart of the city, is where thousands of people gather everyday to catch overcrowded buses, metros and subways. The activity goes on all day and half way through the night. One cannot help but notice the diversity in social classes, Mercedes’, BMW’s, and Jaguars drive by peddlers, beggars, vendors, donkey carts and pedestrians. Surrounded by beautiful five star hotels, rich fantasy architecture of mosques, domes and minarets, leading you to very ‘chic’ shopping malls and business districts. The contrast is sometimes shocking. All this and the Nile flows through, as it always has, slowly and silently.
There are many historic and touristic sites to view in Cairo. Hospitality is a huge part of Egyptian culture. People seemed genuinely friendly. This spirit is contagious and soon I had a permanent smile and felt completely relaxed.
It is so admirable to see how proud Egyptians are of their history. It keeps you interested and eager to learn as much as possible. I visited the Museum of Modern Art, the Islamic Art Museum, and the Citadel and I was especially taken by the mosque of Mohamed Ali which is an Ottoman baroque style of architecture, yet that is but one of the buildings on this property, from which the whole city is visible.
I then went to see the pyramids of Giza right at the end of the city and the beginning of the desert. The pyramids are like a huge staircase pointing towards the sky. The thought that these enormous buildings have remained standing over thousands of years and were built before our modern technology, is overwhelming. They remain both a work of art and an example of pure human potential. The Sphinx has an equally powerful effect as it stands with integrity, and its eyes penetrate you as though you are looking at a face that holds all the secrets (“abul Houl” in Arabic, meaning father of enormity). The Sphinx was carved into the rock, all one piece.
then took a short drive south to Saqqara, another pharaonic grave site, where the famous step pyramid along with hundreds of tombs and monuments stand. Several of the tombs are graced with murals of scenes of farmers, hunters, fishers, dancers and musicians. All engraved in hieroglyphics, which made me wish I could read it. There was a loud silence in every tomb which made you appreciate their spiritual significance, and although they were sometimes spooky, there was always a passage for light (the Sun God) to enter. The passage ways are for the souls to find their way to the afterlife. I cannot relay in words the feeling you get when you walk away from these tombs, but, I will leave it at: a moving and valuable experience.
During my stay, I visited the Cairo Museum. You are literally walking through the past. There is an array of treasure, the majority in perfect condition and I gained a better understanding from viewing the furniture, gold statues, coffins, small toys, jewellery and even preserved dead human bodies (mummies). They were a proud society, with lots of respect for life. It is evident in their efforts of preservation and their strife for perfection. It became plain and obvious that what made this society so unique was their sense of unity .. they were divided into classes but everyone was equal in their humanity. Whatever role one played, be it Queen or servant, one’s existence was clearly significant in the grand scheme of things.
After spending two months in Cairo, I decided it was time to head to Sinai on the Red Sea. This trip was so special that I returned a second time taking my friends from Cairo with me .. and that can be relayed in a separate article.
It was depressing to leave, and to say sad good-byes, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.
Like I said, Egypt was fascinating, this is truly a unique spot in the world, where so much has happened and where I became very relaxed and my insecurities had disappeared. Egyptians make it very easy for you to feel at home. I came away with a sense of fulfillment, furthermore, I reached a sense of clarity as to who I am and where I come from. This experience has enriched my life and offered me a sense of balance for my ‘Canadian’ culture and my ‘Egyptian’ heritage and I am proud to be Canadian of Egyptian origin