DJ/Triple J presenter Nina Las Vegas has been travelling, so we asked her to keep a travel diary for us. This is her second entry:
In the week after Mohamed Morsi was named the first freely elected President of Egypt, I traveled from Paris to Cairo to visit my father’s family.
Although the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs suggested I ‘reconsider my travel’, my (second) cousin Tewfik
reminded me over Facebook chat that things weren’t going to change quickly.
My remarkable cousin is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni, mobile phone marketer, venture capitalist and amateur political commentator. He was also moving to Dubai in September, so if I was going ignore the warnings and visit my Egyptian roots, I needed to go while he was still in town!
He also noted (many times), that I needed to bring booze with me. The country is now run buy a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, making liquor stores a thing of the past.
Hello duty free and an Australian Passport aka six bottles of spirits.
Rather cutely, when my Egyptian Air plane landed, everyone clapped. I was greeted at the airport by Tewfik, who in the time it took us to reach my aunt and uncle’s home in New Cairo, gave me a quick run down of the past week, the past month since the 2011 Revolution in Tahrir Square.
As the driver drove and my cousin talked, I observed the unfinished developments outside. "If you’d come before the revolution, you would have seen a construction boom!" Tewfik exclaimed.
I wish I could elaborate on ‘the situation’ in more detail; however I’m not as informed as I’d like to be. Regardless, the political climate was hard to ignore. By the time I was in the country, the election result had only just been announced, campaign signage remained all over the city, and Egyptians were eagerly waiting for Morsi to name his cabinet.
[Cairo update via Associated Press
— "The designation of Hesham Kandil comes nearly a month after President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was sworn in as Egypt's first freely elected civilian president. The time it took just to select a prime minister reflects the difficulties Morsi has had in putting together an administration".]
My family’s home was beautiful. Situated in a gated community called Mirage City, it took them over 8 years to build. After hours in the car (Egyptian traffic, right?), I was more than happy to take in the cooler mid-afternoon air (still around 35 degrees) by the pool with my little cousin, Christina.
I was spoilt — pool, great care and eating some of the best food I have ever eaten.
Seriously, although I am part Egyptian, my palette is 100% middle-eastern. Give me fresh Egyptian bread, salty meats, rice, foul maddamas
Each day in Cairo, I visited my great uncle Assil. Assil is my grandmother’s brother and is one of the three remaining of nine global dispersed siblings.
At 97 years of age, he’s unable to move far from his 4th floor apartment in Heliopolis. Wonderfully filled with my family’s history including wedding photos, baby photos, Christmas cards — memories from my last visit in 1997 came rushing back.
Like most of the members of this family, Assil can speak fluent Arabic, French and English. Even in his old age, he puts my language skills (or lack there of) to shame.
Having been to the country before, I didn’t hit up any of the usual tourist spots. As I’d already ticked the Pyramids, the Sphinx and Khan el-Khalili off my list, I spent my ‘One Australian In Cairo’ moment at Cairo’s Saladin Citadel.
Now a preserved historic site, with mosques and museums in and close by, my favourite part of the Citadel was the view.
Unlike my last visit to the country which was filled with the usual Cairo tourist delights, this trip was relatively quiet. Ah, ‘the situation’.
Just over a year ago, before the riots started in January 2011, Tewfik had visited Australia. He spoke highly of the young Egyptians during that trip, informing us about how many of his friends were returning to their homeland after studying abroad.
Each night in Cairo, I’d go out with him and meet these same people.
Aside from each venue seemingly no different to any hipster joint in Melbourne or Sydney, talk among the group would often swing between Egyptian politics and immediate life plans, including who was starting which business where, who was returning to collage in the USA, who was going away one last weekend before fasting for Ramadan.
All this while we were listening to a DJ play a relatively new tune from Aeroplane… Oh, and Gotye … heaps and heaps of Gotye.
On my final day in Egypt, I traveled with my aunt and cousin to The American University in New Cairo, where Christina was attending summer camp. While we were walking through the campus, I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the amazing murals situated right in the middle. Celebrating the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, it was clear to me that wherever there are young, radical, educated and/or brave people, there is hope.
Nina Las Vegas