I arrived in Egypt on June 29th 2013, the day before the June 30 Revolution demonstrations began. I have so many stories from my time in this country but I don’t want to waste time with the tales of men in Cairo that leave a sour taste.
The morning of June 30th we rushed through the sweltering museum, the walls still blackened from the 2011 revolution, as Tahrir Square began to fill with flag-carrying men. Thousands gathered and there was an overwhelming feeling of hatred and anger in the air, so strong you could taste it. They wanted change, and they weren’t leaving until they got it.
I don’t think I understood the extent of what was happening- I certainly didn’t expect the events that followed. The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza were completely abandoned. Our guide said in the eighteen years he’d been doing tours that he’d never seen the sites so empty. We got on a plane and flew down to the South of the country and spent the next week on a boat floating up the Nile stopping every day at a village or a temple.
I ran down sand dunes in the Sahara and dipped my toes in the Nile while sitting on the boat. I spoke to people who caught the baby crocodiles and kept them until they were big enough to not slip through the grates to keep them where they would be safe. I watched a man blow glass and another make traditional canvas from the papyrus plant. I was given clove oil to help my toothache and a man named Aladdin made me a necklace with my name in hieroglyphics.
When I went to collect my necklace, all the boat’s staff were packed into the smallest room watching a tiny old television. Everything was in Arabic, even the subtitles but they all started cheering and hugging each other and that was the moment I knew President Morsi had been overthrown. They called it The Festival of Democracy and there were fireworks all night.
Our last adventure was at the Red Sea where we spent the day jumping from the boat and snorkelling the reef in unusually buoyant water. The late night drive back to Cairo was also our first encounter with the Egyptian military and some of the most frightening moments of my life.
Entering a country with a travel warning is a decision everyone needs to make personally. Being able to see the people of a country come together and demand change is an incredible thing to witness. Terrible things did happen and in the months that followed my departure there were many obstacles for the country and its people. I'm so grateful for the adventure and the kindness shown- from everyone involved in keeping us safe to the woman with her children at a marketplace who smiled at me with her eyes when they met my own.