Not long ago I took a horse ride into the desert outside of Cairo. Not an hour had passed before a violent sandstorm showed, causing me to seek shelter in a nearby pyramid. There I was, standing in a structure which had survived the test of time, its limestone walls older than cities, countries. When I looked down at the smooth floor, I imagined sandaled feet striding down the narrow passageways; spectral figures passing by as they chatted and laughed on a warm day of old.
Intentionally or not, the words "Egypt" or "Middle Eastern" nowadays are often coined the same way as one would talk about a problem, or a headache. This probably goes to explain the lessened interest in Egyptology, Arabian romanticism, or Sufi mysticism. Gone are the storied tales of Aladdin, Pharaohs, and a Thousand and One Arabian Nights, replaced instead by the grind of news networks pumping out stories about terrorism and uprisings in a manner befitting George Orwell's 1984. Mixed messages and poorly researched news abound, considering the claim to Cleopatra's Egyptian roots are false. Cleopatra was Hellenic, and despite her lineage's refusal to speak anything but Greek, she was one of the few who took up Egyptian.
Unlike many Middle Eastern countries which have only recently modernized into tourism hubs, Egypt's history is dotted by Western influence dating back from the Roman Empire to the British Protectorate of the early 1900s. It is this mixed influence of East and West which tourists will appreciate, and which will help them more easily assimilate the experience. Cairo harbors both the old and the new. Narrow streets leading to classical markets known as soukhs are as prevalent as wide, modern highways which give to modern buildings. But it's true face lies not only in its diversity, but in the jewel of its past--monuments which we've all come to recognize in pictures and movies--for wherever you stay in Cairo, remnants of the great Pharaohs are never too far, nor is the work of mathematicians and astronomers accomplished well beyond their years.
It was during the moment when I sought shelter in the pyramid that it hit me--the realization of how deeply history has become marred by technology--how diluted culture has become as the internet draws us to a more lazy way of life. There comes a time when we owe it to ourselves to trek back into ancient pasts beginning with the places least familiar to us. We owe it to the explorer's heart which beats in our chest, which advanced mankind, and to lose ourselves in the era of bejeweled scarabs, hieroglyphs, and incredible achievements.
And if you ever think the notion is too trivial, I'll ask only that you look at the back of a dollar bill.
Egypt and its mysteries are much closer to you than you imagine.