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  • Writer's pictureCheryl

Cairo, A Day in the Life

It’s 6 am and the streets of Cairo are quiet—Egyptians are not early risers. We’re heading twenty-five kilometres to Memphis, the first capital of Egypt founded around 3000 BCE and Saqqara, necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital. Our challenge—find a taxi driver who speaks a little English and will negotiate a somewhat reasonable price. It's customary for a taxi driver to wait while clients visit sites and are ready to return.

Pyramid of Djoser, sometimes called The Step Pyramid. Photo: Noel Van Raes

Foreigners are a magnet for taxis—several stop but don’t speak any English. And then we’re in luck—a driver who speaks English—well, very little, but he knows the numbers and uses them to quote us an outrageous price. Seeing the look on our faces he laughs uproariously.

I’m not sure if it’s in my mind but I’ve begun to notice that laughter and Egyptians go together—even those with not much English will engage and joke around leaving us smiling, despite often having no idea what they're saying. Googling, I find out it’s not just my imagination. A sense of humour is so deeply ingrained that ancient Egyptians even had a goddess of humour who was married to the goddess of wisdom. To grapple with an inflation rate of 35%, high unemployment rates, and rampant corruption they need that sense of humour.

Politicians don’t find the humour amusing though—it has for generations been put to another use—the skewering of corrupt officials. But alas — poking fun at the government is now taboo. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the current president of Egypt passed laws prohibiting criticism of any kind, punishable by imprisonment.

The bargaining continues amicably with the taxi driver. We all agree on an acceptable price and we’re on our way.

The Saqqara museum has just opened when we arrive, but we decide to visit it on the way out and explore while it’s still cool. Temperatures now hit 40ºC every day and the shadeless desert is brutally hot.

A guard invites us out of the hot sun to share a cup of tea with him. Photo: Noel Van Raes

The immense cemetery of Saqqara is the largest archaeological site in the country and contains the oldest complete stone building complex known in history. The highlight is the step pyramid Djoser. Built for Pharaoh Djoser it was the first successful attempt to build a pyramid, setting new standards for burials for Egyptian rulers. 

Entrance to the Saqqara Necropolis.

Walkway through preserved columns to the site. Photo: Noel Van Raes

Camel rides are always available. Photo: Noel Van Raes

The Pyramid of Djoser was originally clad in polished white limestone. Photo: Noel Van Raes

Steps lead down into the Djoser Pyramid.

Relief depicting the mummification process, at one of the many tombs at Saqqara.

Paying homage to a Pharoah.

Sarcophagus in a tomb.

A couple of hours of exploration later we head back to our taxi, but can’t find it in the now overflowing parking lot. Our driver spotting us, approaches with a very perplexed look. He can’t take us to Memphis—he must return to Cairo—his wife is the hospital. There’s no explanation why and we don’t want to impose by asking. He’s also engaged two other drivers who speak good English to make apologies to us on his behalf. Concerned, we assure our driver that that is no problem—his wife is most important and he needs to get to the hospital.

Our driver still apologetic begins the return drive to Cairo. Halfway back, he quickly grabs his ringing phone, (no one pulls over to use their phone), and breaks into a big smile shouting, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl! Praise be to Allah!" Glowing with happiness, he repeatedly thanks Allah (God) for the birth of his child. He’s still praising Allah when he drops us off. “I’m blessed” he says. “I now have two sons and two daughters.”

We can’t stop smiling either!

Leaving him a tip to buy a gift for his newborn, he thanks us profusely and goes down on his knees to praise Allah one more time for his good fortune. 

We never do make it to Memphis, but the sweetness of that day remains.

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