This title sounds like an old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie. Because I had business to transact in Cairo at the Binational Fulbright Commission office, we paid 400 Egyptian pounds to hire a private car and driver to take us there for the day. That’s about $67 and included gas. It’s 220 kilometers one way or about 137 miles. Round-trip train fare and taxis for the two of us would probably have run around 250 pounds. So we paid about $25 for door-to-door convenience – a deal in my estimation, especially when we considered how interesting we found the trip from Alex to Cairo and back.
The driver spoke some English and drove like Mario Andretti (do my references give my age away?). There weren’t many cars on the road that passed us and, while it was an eight-lane divided highway outside of Alexandria, the lane markers were perceived as just suggestions by the drivers. The car wove in and out of traffic constantly. We made one stop for morning coffee early in the trip, our first in a while, and enjoyed the fresh-cooked pastries that Omneya, the daughter of our host, had gotten up early to prepare for us.
We drove through parts of the Nile delta early on; past water, marshes, and lush farmland, with a backdrop of many office buildings and petroleum refineries. I couldn’t help but recall the story of Moses and baskets in the bulrushes. Much of the rest of the trip was through a mix of industrial buildings – many still under construction, open sandy desert, and more farmland. There seemed to be an awful lot of construction along the way, which I found surprising given the uncertain political situation that Egyptians face. We caught our second glimpse of the three Giza pyramids, a hazy one in the distance, as we drove into Cairo.
A Fulbright driver and messenger drove us to a clinic for me to have tests done for my work visa. As we drove through Tahrir Square our two guides were eager to point out locations of interest: where the protesters were, where fires broke out, where snipers were firing from. They were very eager to share their experience and their hope for the future. They are very much aware that the whole world had been and still is watching.
Our first real culture shock experience came at the bank, where we learned that we would not be able to open a joint account. Apparently because of inheritance laws, spouses do not normally have full access to each others’ money. Male heirs receive half of their father’s money; female children get much less. Wives will, at most, get a quarter of the whole. Since we were depositing a check made out to me, this meant that we couldn’t open a joint account, nor could we get two ATM cards. We solved the problem, to some extent, by my giving Mary Ann my power-of-attorney, but that still leaves us with just one card. So, the one who has the card has easy access. The other must endure long waits (“take a number, please”) to make withdrawals in person, during the fairly short hours that the banks are open, at a branch location rather than at an ATM. Fortunately, our ATM cards for Wisconsin banks work almost everywhere, anyway. I’d like to personally thank the folks at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Credit Union who do not charge an ATM fee and whose cards are accepted anywhere in the world (not to be confused with the credit union currently in Reeve).
It took us most of the day to complete our business, so we returned to Alex when we were done. Exploring Cairo will have to wait until some later date.