Top 3 Questions People Ask About My Experience in Egypt
1. Did you ever feel unsafe?
I occasionally felt nervous, like when accidentally running head-on into an approaching street protest, but I mostly felt the same level of alertness or nervousness that I would in any huge, major city where I’m clearly out of place. Bear in mind, the US Department of State had no official “don’t go there and get the hell out if you’re already there” warning for Egypt when I was there. It was (and I believe still is, at the time of this writing) considered safe for Americans. We just had to stay alert a little more than is already recommended when traveling.
2. Did you cover your hair?
I never wore a hijab, or anything resembling a traditional Muslim hair covering for women. A), I have no idea how to wear one (it’s more involved than throwing a scarf over your hair), B) I would have felt more uncomfortable, like a “faker” if you will, if I had even tried. Though tourism is really hurting there right now, they’re accustomed to western tourists to the degree that it was acceptable for me to dress pretty much how I normally would (covering my arms and legs of course). I was, however, the subject of constant (and I do mean constant) stares everywhere I went. After a while, I got used to it, and learned to ignore it. I was rarely cat-called, but every man, woman, child, and stray dog made lingering and shameless eye contact upon the flash of my blonde American head.
3. What was the hardest part about being there?
Unfortunately, there is a big “hustler’ culture in certain parts of Egypt – meaning, 10 out of 10 interactions with random people resulted in someone attempting to lure us into his cousin’s store, get a tip out of us way disproportionate to the service rendered, or persuade us to buy something, even going so far as to shove said item into our hands as we walked past. Hassling was so common it happened with every person we met, even with police and guards, and they all wanted the "baksheesh” (a tip) for even so much as giving you the time of day. Another common trick was to remove all toilet paper and soap from public restrooms, then sit at the door handing out small pieces of toilet paper as you walk in so you feel obligated to tip on your way out (hint: bring your own toilet paper to Egypt). The nicest people we met were the ones already contracted to get our money, like the hostel workers or cab drivers. Several times we were told that the tip given was “not very much money in Egypt” even though we knew otherwise, in an attempt to get us to reach back into our wallets. I understand there are very valid circumstances for Egyptians that would lead to or perpetuate this type of attitude and environment (and of course this happens many more places in the world besides Egypt), but it was still tough, and it wore on you. I will always prefer independent travel to group tours, but in this case I would absolutely recommend an organized, group tour when traveling in Egypt right now to provide some kind of buffer, because it will bring you down.
Even this guy, the nicest guy we met in Egypt, was a hustler in the end, even though we knew it would turn out that way. Sometimes you just have to go along with it. In Egypt, you definitely have no other choice.
Egypt is still an experience I recommend for all adventurous travelers and lovers of history and culture. It’s worth it to endure at least once, so you can see this: