This sign was the first thing I saw, lopsided, paint crumbling and letters peeling. I stepped down on to the hard cement dock covered in dark yellow sand. The surge of heat went through my sandals and into the tips of my toes. Greeted by two women with their faces concealed by veils, the difference in culture hit me. The women were kind and had soft voices; they were no different (apart from their veils), to you or me. I followed the arrows along the sandy dock. A few old buildings watched me stroll by. Aged bricks were crumbling from dark yellow walls, none were perfectly aligned.
Only the clear blue sky lightened the dull decay of the place. To dock at such an unhappy and miserable looking place had not given me the best start to my maiden voyage. The arrows directed me to an old battered bus. All were instructed to mount. After lining up we started to mount the wrecked bus one by one. Just passing through the doorway onto the cramped bus made me feel uneasy. The carpet was discoloured, the curtains were torn and I got the distinct feeling the driver was staring at me. To further worsen the atmosphere there were armed guards on each bus. What were they protecting us from?
The floor was stained brown, chewing gum was stuck to nearly every handle and the stench was enough to make even a rat feel nauseas. It smelt as though animals used this bus as a place to die. The decomposition and rotting of what must have been a long dead animal overwhelmed my sense of smell. Unwillingly, I sat down. I was disturbed. I had just disembarked a magnificent, luxurious, clean Cruise Liner, and was now sitting in a bus with armed guards and an overpowering, nauseas smell. Was this all usual? No one I had asked about Egypt had mentioned anything about armed Guards for visitors. But what was I supposed to do, ask the armed men to let me off because I was scared? Exactly. So I forced myself to relax, sit down and accept what was happening.
The rumble of the starting engine shook my body; and I began to feel relaxed. All I could see, gazing though the window was the gleaming wall of the glorious white boat. It towered ten times higher than the bus I was sitting in. The boat’s body was surrounded by hundreds of tiny balconies, but this privilege still cost hundreds more. But I assure you, you’d definitely pay the price once your eyes laid sight upon the outstanding view.
The bus started to move, and about time too, I had the feeling that the water inside my body was starting to boil. Looking down, I saw a small creature scuttling across my right foot, it must have been a beetle.
A voice began to talk but I wasn’t sure where it was coming from. I looked around but no one was talking. The language was foreign. Disruption and distress ran through my mind, I didn’t know what was happening. The voice changed to English and then it hit me, it was the driver talking to us through the tanoy. Tranquillity was restored to my body. My feelings and emotions during the day had varied so much; they had gone haywire, I had felt lost and I had felt alone. Every now and then I’d hear a mechanical clack as one of the guards played with his gun. What really intrigued me, was how similar it all seemed to my hometown, though money was clearly a completely different issue here, life remained the same.
I saw a woman cross the road with her shopping balanced precariously on her head and men on their way to work, either by bicycle or on foot. The one distinct memory I recall is the poverty and sadness I saw from the bus. The faces of the children were utterly expressionless; laughter and happiness emotions I am sure are alien to them. Their clothes varied as we passed through different parts of the town, form dirty rags stained and ripped, to people dressed like you and I always trying to keep up with the latest fashions.
The helpless feeling it gave me to drive past children begging for food in an air conditioned bus. We had paid thousands of euros for this trip, to see this country, and there were children in this “so called” beautiful country begging for food and water. I could no longer cope with the terrible sights. I was being attacked emotionally and had reached my limit. The streets were dirty, littered with the carcasses of dead animals. Elderly men, women and children were all begging for food, small empty pots sitting on the ground in front of them, for the money tourists might throw at them. I abruptly closed the curtain and closed my eyes.
I drew back the curtains to see a tremendous transformation. The Grand Hotel, covered in Marble and surrounded by endless lines of stunning golden flowers. This luxurious hotel, my sanctuary from sadness and depravation was to remain my home for the next two weeks.