Egyptian Airport Security Guards; Are They Honest?


Security Scam!

Although I found the people in Egypt to be mainly friendly and helpful, there was a sad exception: the border guards.

When you leave Egypt via Cairo airport, you encounter a mix of high security and total chaos. Before you can check-in at the airline desk, you need to put all your luggage through a security gate. There’s a sign telling you to separate liquids, computers, etc like normal security checks—but there are no trays, and nowhere to put them. There are men, scurrying to help people lift their bags (for a fee) and we fought to retain control of our bags. Everyone ignores the sign and puts all their cases through the scanner. We did the same, and walked through the metal detector. Everyone is then hand searched. I also had my hand-luggage bag opened. The guard said he could see something unexpected, and opened my bag. Two guards rummaged through it, while it was on the belt, with other passengers pushing past, trying to retrieve their bags. It felt very insecure, and I worried that they might put something into my bag. They mainly investigated the books I was carrying, flicking through them and checking the titles. One was a text book, and quite thick, so I wondered whether the density had worried them. They pushed my bag, and a variety of scattered possessions towards me, and moved to the next passenger.

I reloaded my bag, collected the rest of my luggage, and we continued to the check-in desk. First hurdle crossed.

The check-in desk was efficient, though there were still men trying to give unwanted help, and we were soon heading to the lounge. There was another security check. We went through passport control, and moved to the luggage check. Again there was a sign telling us to remove liquids and computers, and shoes and belts and watches, etc. This time there were trays (just two, so it was slow). We obeyed the sign, passed through the scanners, were hand-checked by a guard, moved to collect our luggage. I arrived as my bag was passing through the X-ray machine, and one of the guards pointed to the screen, indicating a vase that I had in my bag. This was a terracotta pot, bought on the street for 75p, and rather lovely. We had bought two, and put one in the suitcase and the other in hand-luggage. They had spotted it in my bag.

I thought that perhaps they were checking I wasn’t stealing something valuable; they opened my bag (again, on the belt, while other passengers tried to reach their bags). The guard lifted my pot, turning it in his hand as he examined it. He then put it under the table, and waved me on.

I asked for my vase, but was told: “Not allowed.”

I refused to move, and asked why. “Not allowed,” he repeated.

I asked why. He shrugged, and told me it was too heavy, and not allowed.

I went back to the woman who had searched me, and politely, in my best (not very good) Arabic, I asked her to help me. I told her I wanted my vase.

She spoke to the guard, then told me it wasn’t allowed because I could use it as a weapon, it was very heavy.

This was clearly rubbish. All around were duty-free shops, selling a variety of bottles of alcohol, all much heavier than my vase and ideal for use as a cosh if a passenger was so inclined.

Another passenger leaned over, and told me that they had also confiscated some giant marbles from his bag. The guard was currently playing with them, weaving the ceramic balls through his fingers; hard to imagine on what grounds they were a security risk.

But what could I do? I told the female guard (who looked more sympathetic) that I wanted it, but she simply shook her head. I asked for a receipt, but they shrugged and moved away. I asked if I could photograph it, and they agreed.

My lovely vase, abandoned at the airport. Not exactly a dangerous weapon!

I considered offering a tip—is that how things work here? But I have heard stories of things like that going wrong, and I didn’t want to be arrested for trying to bribe an official. I had no option but to leave it there. What a shame.

It’s also a learning point. We saw many over-priced goods in tourist shops, and the vase could have cost me several hundred pounds, the outcome would have been the same. When I next visit, I will put valuables in my suitcase. If the guard planned to keep or sell the vase, he will be disappointed. It really did cost about 75p (so cheap, we didn’t even try to haggle). I loved it, because the rough terracotta and simply beauty and incredible price would be a lovely reminder of Egypt—with its roughness and beauty and unexpectedness. Instead, I will remember the guards, and the frustration of confronting rogue officials, when there is nothing that can be done but comply.

Luckily, we had two vases. The second made it home intact, and now sits in the window—a happy reminder of Egypt, but with a sting in the tail.

The airport security is something that Egypt really does need to sort out. The hassle begins as soon as you arrive in the country, as drivers are allowed to enter the airport to meet guests before security checks, and keeping control of bags can be a struggle. The chaos on leaving was enough to make me think twice before I return. In Cairo there are many empty hotel rooms, and reading stories online, I realise that mine is not an isolated case. If people feel cheated, their possessions stolen, then they won’t want to visit Egypt. Tourism will plummet, and that is a shame. Egypt is an amazing place, with wonderful people. The history of our world can be found there, it’s somewhere that everyone should long to visit — but it needs to be safe.

Thanks for reading. Hope that only nice things happen to you today.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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anneethompson.com
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Cairo, Egypt. Blog Five.


Visiting a Souk

After breakfast in the hotel lounge, we took a hotel car to Khan Al Khalili – a sort of bazaar in the Islamic district of Cairo. The hotel cars are more expensive than using local taxis, but they’re easier than trying to explain in non-Arabic where we want to go, and we know they’ll have seatbelts and not take us to the wrong location. We found places in the guidebook that looked interesting, booked a car to take us there and then walked back to the hotel. Neither of us especially like museums or monuments, and this proved a good strategy for seeing some of ‘real Cairo.’

The car dropped us, and we walked round the corner, into a myriad of ancient lanes lined with stalls, a whole mishmash of sights: Chickens and rabbits and pigeons in cages. Men pulling wheeled carts. People balancing crates on their heads—one young man on a bicycle had a plank on his head stacked with eish baladi the local flatbread. Stalls selling fruit, and cloth, and drinks.

There were stray dogs and skinny kittens—cats were everywhere—sleeping on a food-cart hotplate, sharing a beggar’s blanket, curled under stalls. We watched eish baladi being fried in a sizzling vat of oil, hoisted out by a net on a long pole, the oil dripping off, then heaped on a stall for the flies to feast on. There was a fabric shop, with burst sacks of fresh cotton on the street outside. The streets were busy, with uneven hard-packed mud to walk along, and I felt as if I had wandered into a stage set. It was marvellous. It was also the wrong place! We checked the map, and realised we should have been across the street, in the lanes that make up the bazaar—we were in a market intended for locals (much better, in my opinion).

When we entered the bazaar proper, it was very crowded. Many of the shops were aimed at tourists, and stallholders called to us, inviting us to look, telling us they had the best products, the lowest prices. We had come to look, not to buy, so we disappointed them. Like all roads in Cairo, traffic and pedestrians shared the space. There were tuktuks here (we didn’t see them in the centre of the city) and they mingled with the lorries and bikes and pedestrians, vying for space in the narrow lanes. The air was full of pollution and spices and the sharp tang of limes from a nearby stall. A woman sat on the kerb, her short round body swathed in flowing black, selling bunches of mint. Children sat nearby, screaming at cars when they passed in some noisy game. Men with shiny round trays carried glasses of tea.

We passed the faded finery of ornate mosques, and crumbling walls, and red brick buildings; all powdered in brown pollution. The road was often uneven, often with holes or dirtied by dog mess.

When we reached the centre of the market it was even busier, and many of the products were the same as you would see in an English market—cheap clothing and plastic houseware. Inflatable legs were strung over the walkway, modelling various brands of trousers. Large dolls (like American Girl Dolls) stood in rows, modelling baby clothes. There were windows displaying sexy lace underwear on voluptuous mannequins—yet all the real women seemed to be covered from head to foot in flowing robes. (No one seemed to see the irony of this.)

Random men approached us at intervals, to practise their English, or to give unwanted directions. Always polite, always with smiles, sometimes overly persistent. We smiled back, and walked on.

There were constant car horns. Speakers blasted a sport’s game commentary or an Islamic sermon. The call to prayer echoed from minarets. I saw smiles, lots of smiles, especially when we responded to vendors’ calls in our limited Arabic. There was also lots of spitting in the street, and fingers pushed up noses, and loads of shopping carried on heads—all very different to an English market.

It was a fabulous walk back to the hotel. The sun was hot, the air thick with pollution, but there was so much to absorb, so much life to be part of. Wonderful.

Thanks for reading, I will tell you more about our visit in another blog. Hope you have a lovely day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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anneethompson.com
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Visiting the Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Blog Four.


It was Sunday, and we had booked a tour to visit the pyramids, so when I woke with a headache I was disappointed. The trouble is, I am a fairly anxious traveller — I force myself to visit interesting places because I really want to see them, but sometimes my body reacts and pretends to be ill. I have to try and decide whether I actually AM ill, or if it’s just nerves and my silly brain playing tricks. I took some pills, and felt very sick, but I was almost positive that this was all due to nerves. I don’t usually mention my anxiety in blogs, because I don’t want it to be what defines me, but if you suffer from nerves, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. I find that praying then forcing my mind to think about something unrelated (like playing Duolingo) usually makes me feel better. I forced myself to get up, slinking round the room like a slug while I sipped water trying not to be sick again, got dressed, and informed Husband that I was fine, no need to cancel. He gave me worried looks. At 9am we went down to the hotel lobby, and met the car we had booked. As soon as I was in the car, watching the streets of Cairo as we travelled through Giza, I felt better. That’s the thing with nerves, if I can distract myself, they disappear and I can be the person I want to be.

The car came with a guide, which isn’t my favourite thing because generally they talk too much. I let Husband (who is more polite than me) chat to the guide, while I looked at Egypt. We drove through various districts that are poorer than central Cairo, where the hotel is. It reminded me of India, though I didn’t notice the same abject poverty, the same despair, that I have seen in India. Then we left the city and entered the desert.

As we arrived at the pyramid area, I was surprised to see another city — a sort of satellite city, out in the desert. I had assumed the pyramids would be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but sand, plonked deep in the desert. It was a shock to glimpse them between buildings as we drove through the edge of a town. We came to the parking area, and went to buy tickets. Our guide was very helpful here. He seemed to know everyone, and he stopped people approaching us to offer horse rides and camel rides and photographs, and a myriad of other offers. I have read that touts can be a problem by being overly persistent, but he shielded us from all of that, so I forgave him for talking too much. He was called Samii, by the way.

Husband wanted to go inside the Great Pyramid, so he paid an extra £20 and joined the long queue. I knew it would be a steep climb down a narrow shaft, deep into the inner chamber of the pyramid. Not something I will ever want to do. Instead, I walked round the edge with Samii and tried to ignore all the facts he told me, as I wanted to soak up the atmosphere of the place. Actually, there wasn’t much atmosphere worth soaking up, as the sky-scrapers of the nearby city distract from the desert, and there are too many tourists. The pyramids of Giza are wonderful to visit, but it’s hard to find any romance there. We wandered round the area where the workers (Samii didn’t call them slaves) lived. There were ancient carvings around the doorposts, but some had modern graffiti on them. Shame.

Samii showed me the round indentations in the stones, where rivets would have held them in place. There is something awesome about the pyramids, even with all the tourists. They would have been bigger (you can see the edge of where they would have reached) but stones were removed over the ages to build other buildings. A bit like the Colosseum in Rome, which had bricks pilfered over the years. The age is astonishing. Way back, in the time of Moses (if we date him about 1400 BC) he would have seen pyramids that were already a thousand years old. The Romans would have seen them as ancient structures.

I also hadn’t realised how many pyramids Egypt has. As we wandered round the Great Pyramid at Giza, we could see other pyramids in the haze in the horizon. Different Pharaohs from different ages built pyramids in places convenient for them.

We drove down to the Sphinx (which is on the same site, but a long walk in hot desert sun). At one time, a canal from the Nile would have lapped around the Sphinx, and you can see where the limestone has been worn away. He would have had a beard too, but I think it fell off and is now in the British Museum in London. And he once had a nose, and there are several rumours as to where that might be!

We left via a little souk (a market) selling various statues and carvings. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a papyrus shop. Guides often take you to visit their friends rather than to what you want to visit! This was interesting though, and we saw a demonstration of paper being made from strips of papyrus, as they would have made it in ancient times. Samii offered us a drink, and I managed to ask in Arabic for a cup of tea with sugar (and actually received a cup of tea with sugar, which was by no means certain!) It was hot, and very black, and it arrived in a tiny glass. Perfect.

Returned to the hotel exhausted, but extremely happy. Sometimes, it is definitely worth forcing yourself to do things that seem scary.

Hope you have a great day. Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

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Visiting Cairo


I have always wanted to visit Cairo, to see the pyramids. I have heard about Egypt, that mysterious place that people in the Bible ran to whenever there was trouble, ever since I was a tiny child in Sunday School. As I study the Old Testament, and learn about Moses, and the Hebrews living in Egypt and then miraculously leaving, it makes me want to visit even more. Our trip to the British Museum, to look at all the stuff the English took from Egypt in the past, and my knowledge of Pharaohs and how they were buried, has all fueled this longing. So, when Husband suggested a trip to Cairo, I leapt at it!

I prepared by downloading the Duolingo Arabic app, and practising my Arabic every day. I mainly wanted to know how to ask where the toilets are, and to be able to recognise which door has ‘Ladies’ written on it. Unfortunately, neither Duolingo, nor the CD I bought, ever got to this essential information. I set off for Egypt able to say things like, ‘Hamid is from Oman’ or ‘The house has a new door.’ Not as helpful as I had hoped.

I read a few guidebooks, and chatted to friends who have visited Egypt, and packed things they recommended. My case was full of long skirts, chaste shirts, and tatty bags to carry a water bottle and an umbrella, without appearing ‘rich.’ I took my money-belt, as apparently pickpockets are common in Egypt. I also ordered a hijab and hair cap from Amazon. In Dubai, I disliked being stared at, and found the best thing was to dress like a local. I decided I would watch from the taxi from the airport, and see whether most women covered their hair or not, and then I would copy. Warned Husband I would not be looking my best during the trip. I showed him my hijab, and he laughed, told me I looked exceedingly grim, and no one would dare to come near me with that face. I’m sure he meant it kindly.

I also bought some books, mainly about the Exodus, and whether it could possibly have happened or not. They were hugely interesting, but too heavy to take, and I only read a little before it was time to go. Might have to plan another trip. Many of the places mentioned were several hours drive from Cairo, and this was slightly less secure. The travel advice was that touristy areas were safe, but possibly not other places. We decided we would stay in the city, and see what we could. (I secretly told myself I would visit again if I like it.) Husband booked The Sheraton, which also has a casino, so I hoped it wouldn’t be too tacky. It was walking distance from the Nile (Oh wow! Can’t believe I am going to see the Nile!) and right next door to the Russian Embassy (which perhaps wasn’t quite so good, given the current politics).

We arrived Friday evening. As we drove from the airport, I saw faded villas that had once been beautiful, mingled with ornate minarets and tall concrete apartment blocks. Cairo is busy and noisy and has a faded charm. I loved it.

Our hotel room was lovely, with a tiny balcony that gave a glimpse of the Nile. Oh wow! I am looking at the actual NILE as I write this! When I was a child in Sunday School, listening to stories of Egypt, I never imagined I would actually see the river Nile. Amazing.

I will tell you more about our trip in another blog. Thanks for reading. Stay safe.

Love, Anne x