While we spent most of our time on the Red Sea, we traveled to Cairo for a day in order to see the city, visit the pyramids of Giza, and go to the Egyptian Museum. You can imagine how thrilled the kids were. Museums and old stuff. Throw in some sand and wild traffic, and it’s every child’s dream vacation.
Cairo is a riot of noise and color and movement. There is no rhyme or reason to traffic flow, safety measures, or rules. Bomb sniffing dogs, yes. Freedom from stalking and personal harassment in the marketplace, no. I have never seen anything like it.
We drove through the city, crossing the Nile River, and driving to the outskirts of the Sahara. The pyramids rise up out of the sand at a distance, and when standing in their shadow, looking in one direction you will see the high-rise buildings of Cairo, and in the other you see dune upon dune of grit and sand.
The pyramids were magnificent, and lived up to every Indiana Jones fantasy I’ve harbored since I was a kid. They are built like a jigsaw, a complex set of locks and keys. Each piece was cut by hand to specifically fit into the one next to, beneath, and on top of it. It was a glimpse into the engineering genius of that age, and as someone who still can’t cut a paper heart with any degree of symmetry, I was awed.
From the pyramids we took a short drive out into the desert, following a caravan of white nondescript vehicles full of tourists. We stopped for photos of the pyramids at a distance and then arranged to ride the camels led by a group of Bedouins. Our camels were led by three boys, children of the desert, who spend school hours walking straw-hatted rich folk in circles in the sand. I tried to get caught up in the exotic excitement of it all, but I could not stop thinking about the boys. Wondering what they think of their life, what they think of me, and if they sometimes wonder at the strange nature of it all.
They walk day after day in sun and sand, at the end of a very short leash, wandering into nowhere. I wonder if they find joy there? If, when the last straw hat dismounts their beast and the last camera is shuttered, they go joyriding on camels beneath an endless, low-lying desert sky? I don’t know. I don’t know where they find joy, or make peace with their past, or with their present. I do know this: I left there unsettled, thinking of them, of the great pharaohs of the past, and of the holy words in Ecclesiastes proclaiming that there is nothing new under the sun. The ancients gathered up their treasures under Heaven, hoarding them under blocks of lock and key, and what remains is nothing more than dust and shadows and children of the desert.
And I am left wanting to leave more than the sum of this behind.