Hands up if you’ve been to Egypt! No you haven’t! Sharm al-sheikh, Hurghada, and all the other tourist resorts don’t count. I’m talking about the real Egypt. Date juice sold in bags on the street, cars with decorations that weigh more than the car itself and an overall sense of being a celebrity, as literally everyone wants your picture. Living the dream, right? Not so fast, fellow travellers. Be reckless and you can almost end up in an Egyptian street riot. Or an Egyptian wedding... There really isn’t a fine line between the two.
This handy guide should give you a valuable insight to the uncharted world of non-ESN. Sounds scary? You’re damn right.
Imagine a scenario when you arrive, at a rather lovely looking international airport, in the middle of the night in July. This isn’t so bad, you think to yourself looking at the surprisingly empty airport. Immigration was a piece of cake and the airline didn’t lose any of your luggage. Things are going great!
That’s when you see a group of roughly 300 grumpy Egyptians plastered around the gate, as for security reasons anyone without a foreign passport cannot enter the arrivals hall from outside. You’re assured there is a person waiting for you outside, but the odds of meeting this person, without staring at everyone else like some sort of art exhibition, are pretty low.
With the guidance of God himself, you find your contacts within a reasonable amount of time, who then proceed to take you to their car. Anyone ever played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? If you want an accurate representation of what the streets and buildings look like, start up any Middle East mission and you will fail to see any difference.
My contacts were from AIESEC Zagazig. I’m assuming the vast majority of you know what AIESEC is, but in case you’re not familiar, I strongly suggest you check them out, as they are incredibly nice people. They have a great support service which I was lucky enough to benefit from and a pick-up at the airport was a part of it. Once we were in the car, all rules of common sense were abandoned. Seatbelts? Are you mad? What I also learned to understand was that Egyptian drivers have a very sophisticated car horn system, considering this is the only element of the car they actively use. From my basic understanding, the intensity and frequency of honks implemented by the driver is the equivalent of a different curse word. Something like a Morse-code for vulgarity. Oh and who could forget driving standards? There’s nothing that will wake someone up more than overtaking two trucks decorated with Christmas lights while going down the wrong side of a dual carriageway. Well, it woke me up. One of my new friends was asleep, while the other was dancing in his seat to the catchiest song I had ever heard in my life. Needless to say, he wasn’t holding on to the steering wheel.
After arriving to Zagazig, my home for the next 2 months, I was shown around my new apartment. I had air conditioning, my very own double bed and a medieval toilet (I prefer not to talk about as just thinking about it gives me the shivers.) Overall though, I was incredibly happy with my brand new accommodation. That was, until I was almost arrested for living there.
For those unfamiliar with Egyptian customs, you have to understand that Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country. In a nutshell, Sharia law is implemented to many aspects of Egyptian life. Things like alcohol consumption, drug use and relations between females and males are strictly regulated. Imagine my surprise when I found out that living with women in the same apartment, who are not connected to you by blood or marriage, is strictly forbidden. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, don’t waste your time on bungee jumping or any other nonsense. I suggest you get chased out of your apartment by an angry landlord and the Egyptian police. Equal amount of action at almost no cost.
My next couple of days were very hectic as AIESEC Zagazig members tried their best to accommodate me and another Polish lad called Robert. I think I broke some kind of record, as I was moved around about six times in three consecutive days. In the end, I ended up in an even nicer apartment than the one I started with, so I guess every cloud has a silver lining.
Even though I am a full-blown pessimist, I still had high hopes that the rest of my stay in Zagazig would be problem free and highly enjoyable. Perhaps my prayers were answered, as apart from getting sunburnt pretty much every day, I had an absolute blast. I once ended up at an Egyptian wedding by complete accident. It was perhaps the most bizarre experience of my life, especially when the same police officers who were chasing me out of the apartment, a couple of weeks back, were driving around the street with me, firing guns and fireworks and blaring out Egyptian rap at full volume in the middle of the night. We did around four laps of the city, being incredibly obnoxious and probably waking up the entire province before we called it quits and went home.
It was perhaps the most bizarre experience of my life, especially when the same police officers who were chasing me out of the apartment, a couple of weeks back, were driving around the street with me, firing guns and fireworks and blaring out Egyptian rap at full volume in the middle of the night. We did around four laps of the city, being incredibly obnoxious and probably waking up the entire province before we called it quits and went home.
The world outside of ESN is definitely not for the faint of hearted. Rules and regulations that are repeated to us every day in Europe simply do not apply anywhere else. Who would have imagined that I would be able to bribe an airport official to let me on my plane back home after arriving 30 minutes before departure? What is even more bizarre is that I wasn’t the one who initiated the bribing process. He was more than happy to let me on as long as I gave him some US dollars.
With all these crazy moments I had experienced there is one thing I value over the others. My good friend Mina told me that everything that happens is an experience. He told me that life starts after you leave your comfort zone, and I couldn’t agree more.
by Chris Ptasinski