I doubt there is a serious belly dancer that has not at least considered travelling to Egypt.
The shopping, costumes, culture, teachers, language beckons to us and when you throw in the last wonder of the ancient world left standing it is an intoxicating mix. Yet since the revolution enthusiasm has dwindled for travel to Egypt. There is even more fear about personal safety then ever before but how much is based on fact?
I was lucky enough to travel to Egypt at the end of 2010. Before I left I was told by just about everyone that I would be treated badly, spat on by the locals and to expect extremely rude behaviour from the men. What I experienced was the total opposite. I was never spat on, almost all the men were super polite and friendly and I felt safe at all times. It was by far the best travel experience I have ever had.
I travelled with a group of belly dancers (all female) lead by Margaret Cunningham of Soul Dance Tours and we had a great time. One would expect that travelling in a group of all females would attract the sexism that I was told was rife but it didn’t eventuate. It seems so much of what we hear about the Middle East is based on rumours. I even spent the better part of 2 days shopping and sight seeing on my own and had no problems what so ever.
So have things changed since the revolution? Is it possible to experience Egypt and expect a good experience?
The following are exerts that I am publishing (with permission) from what Margaret has dubbed her “Shisha diaries”. She is in Egypt right now with her friend and dance colleague Helen and is reporting the reality of what travel is like in Egypt at present.
THE SHISHA DIARIES – Exploring the safety of Egypt, one Shisha Cafe at a time.
20 March Day 1
“Well, we’re here! I am sitting on our hotel balcony sipping coffee, wrapped in a blanket and overlooking the one, the only Nile River. I hear, from across the river the traffic rumble accented endlessly with horns. It’s early for Cairo – only about 7am. As loud as the horns are, the birds singing loudly in the trees around the hotel are winning! Zamalek, the area where we are staying is considered a ‘flash’ area and there are more trees and gardens around here than in some other neighbourhoods.
It is so strange for me to be here without one of my beautiful tour groups. Usually, at this moment, I would be getting ready for a day of ‘nursing’ wide-eyed apprehensive travellers through their first day. I would be checking today’s itinerary, making last minute phone calls, trouble shooting any issues that have arisen with tour members; lost luggage perhaps or forgotten medication; perhaps someone’s global roaming hasn’t kicked in and they are tearful they can’t let hubby know they have arrived safely; perhaps someone has already been down to breakfast and is now knocking on my door concerned that there are no ‘gluten-free’ options on the buffet.
Well, here I sit responsible only for myself, in my PJs, knowing I can sit here soaking up this river all day if I want to. The other times I have come to Egypt without a tour group in tow I have missed them terribly the way a parent would feel if they can’t watch their children open presents on Christmas morning. Witnessing the love affair grow between Egypt and my adventurous travellers is a gift I treasure and am humbled to be a part of each and every tour.
But tell us about the trouble I hear you calling from across the planet! What about the riots, the chaos, the danger? Well, sorry to disappoint those of you who insist Egypt is a ‘no-go’ zone right now but life is going on as it always does here. Over the next 5 weeks I expect there will be protests and flare-ups at times but will they effect us? Perhaps I won’t be able to go shoe shopping Downtown (near Tahrir Square) or maybe our planned night out to the Zarr Folkloric show (also Downtown) will have to be put off until tomorrow but, as I always explain to people at home, Cairo itself is so huge any issues when and if they arise are easily avoided and there is so much to do and see- so what if shoe shopping has to be replaced by fruit cocktails overlooking the Pyramids of Giza?
To be honest, it is easy to be sitting here on my first morning in my hotel room bubble and say how things are fine….that’s why I am going to reporting back regularly from everywhere I go over the 5 weeks I’m here from the baladi neighbourhoods, to the tourist sites, to Tahrir Square (yes, even ground zero itself). I need to show you this place is safe.
It’s ironic that since the 90s there have been frequent deadly attacks on tourists here as a way to threaten the government but since the revolution that deposed this depised government, there has not been a single organised act of violence against a tourist. And NOW tourists are avoiding the country? Go figure!
I have to do my best for this country which has changed my life forever. It has given me my art; the creative passion I am wholly devoted to. It has given me my livelihood; my dance school, Soul Dance through which I have met the women and men who grace my life on a daily basis. It has given me the only place on earth where my soul comes alive, where it truly ‘dances’. I know my efforts to convince people to come back here and support this miracle of a country are but a drop in the ocean, but this is what I have to do.
I already have 6 beautiful souls booked into my October/November tour, but I would love more. I am hoping that, if anyone is reading this and wavering that my on-the-ground reports will help to assure you that Egypt is very much able to offer the safety and warmth is always has. Stay tuned over the next 5 weeks – I promise to present an honest, objective appraisal of what it’s REALLY like here. I promise to leave my rose-coloured glasses back in the hotel and help you make an informed decision of the viability of travel to Egypt.”
Margaret has her own website for her dance school and tours that can be found here. It is my intention to travel with Margaret again with her October / November tour this year, so if you are interested in joining us please mention Jade Belly Dance when you ask for more info through Margaret’s website or you can contact me and I will forward you the tour newsletters to date (email@example.com)
Stay tuned – Pt 2 to be published tomorrow. Have you travelled to Egypt? Were you interested in Belly dance at the time or has that come later? I would love to read about your experiences. If you have any questions you would like to ask Margaret about the safety of travelling to Egypt then ask away and I will forward them on to her. Just comment below.