In the land of the ancient kings, Egypt is a wonderful place to see. Across the vast expanses of the desert are scattered pieces of a beautiful civilization that has oft been said to be the pinnacle of scientific discovery and from whose depths came the Ethynkera Device whose accuracy in predicting moon patterns hasn’t been paralleled by even modern day computer.
Much that was great now lies tarnished and ruined. Around the great pyramids of Giza lies a sprawling city with little or no planning. The roads remain choked with traffic, the drivers as horrible as those found in New Delhi. Buildings adorned the skyline as I travelled from Cairo to Giza, buildings that were dreams of people lie empty and barren like hellish edicts.
The morning begins on the Alexandria Desert Road; a long day lies ahead as the bus tumbles on, twisting, turning, jumping at every hole or disturbance in the road.
Alexandria was one of the greatest ports of the new dynasty and was under Greek rule substantially. It was the setting of the romance between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar and between Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. It is the biggest port of the country of Egypt.
Now, Alexandria resembles a ghost town. The outskirts have tall buildings with unpainted and crumbling facades, the streets narrow and the people desperate for money. They start urging you to buy their fares the moment they lay their eyes on you.
As I leave Amud El-Sawari, I see a weekly market adorning both sides of the street. The shops sell Burqas, Street Jewellery and quite amusingly Women’s Lingerie in the open. It is a normal phenomenon as such but the presence of outdoor shops selling lingerie and women actually buying them seemed a bit odd to me, especially since almost all the women I had seen till now in Egypt had been wearing burqas.
The thing about Egypt is that, even though it has been oppressed for so long and it seems that it is heading towards another period of oppression, this time religious, the heart of the people remains very strong. Egyptians are the warmest people that I have met. I met a little boy named Ahmed; he came to sell me a book of old Egyptian coins. I told him that I had already bought a few from Alexandria. He asked me what I paid for them and quietly replied that I had been given a good deal.
He did not try to persuade me to buy it again. He stood with me near my bus as I finished my ciggerete; he was not even old enough to be in college. He told me about the schools in Egypt and how they teach. At the end when it was time for me to leave, he hugged me and said goodbye. I instantly reached to check if my wallet was there, it was something stuck in my system. I felt horrible inside, Ahmed did not see me check for my wallet, he had already gone.
Amidst all the utter chaos of broken facades and unpainted buildings stands this majestic building inscribed with words from countless languages, the new Library of Alexandria. You go inside and it does not look less extravagant than the library of congress itself. State of the art security systems, 8 floors of books, I felt in heaven, really.
Just outside the library were the 4 main universities of Alexandria and the coffee shops nearby were filled with students. They were quite an inquisitive bunch and bubbling with enthusiasm, not much unlike me. As I left with the coffee in my hand I felt bad for them, my future had endless freedom written on it, and theirs had Sharia.