Luxor. Photo by author.

Luxor beat me.

We arrived in time for the Friday prayers, tense with the noise and tiptoeing around the crowds of men kneeling outside on the street – overflow from the mosque next to our hotel. Karnak overwhelmed; the Kalashnikov carrying temple guards hassled and hustled, and the whipped-up sand and dust burned my eyes through my contact lenses.

In the Valley of the Kings you are permitted to visit just three tombs; we saw the tombs of Ramses IV and III at tourist-shuffle pace – never getting the opportunity to pause for quite long enough. At Ramses I, I spent some minutes alone, in silence studying the hieroglyphics before one of the guards interrupted and began his pitch.

We shuffled all together through the bone-dry valley; back to the waiting van, on to the boat across to the other side of the Nile. Together with the two Australians I walked through the souk, the three of us forming a buffer against the beckoning shop owners and catcalls. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the noise; the disorder and the dust, but then I went back to the hotel and I stalled. I sat in the lobby looking out at the city then back down at my iPhone. I saw carriage drivers calling to tourists; children and unidentifiable touts doing the same, so I stalled. I returned to my iPhone and read about Marie Colvin, killed by shelling in the besieged Syrian city of Homs; about babies dying and rockets raining down, but still, nervous of the looks and the calls, insignificant and cowardly in comparison, I couldn’t drag myself out into the city and wasted the rest of the day by just looking through glass instead.

First: Cairo


(Writing this while exhausted, sleepy and on a slow connection. It will be brief.)

Day Two of my MatadorU/Adventure Center trip to Egypt.

I’m still wearing the clothes I was wearing when I left the U.S. If my bag arrives before the end of today, I won’t name the airline that misplaced it.

Our group, which consists of only four people, was woken early for breakfast and a briefing. The word right now is that we will not be going to the Sinai region (meaning no Dahab and no climbing Mt. Sinai) owing to unrest and recent kidnappings. The mood of the group was noticeably more of disappointment than relief. “We want you to be safe,” our guide tried, but there was still grumbling.

We drove out to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. I had heard a lot about the touts but, really, they were just annoying but that’s all. There really were not that many tourists there at all. It was quite quiet. I feel terrible for the people who make their living from the tourist industry. In conversation I empathised with our guide; he smiled and said that it was worth it.

All photographs by author

In the afternoon there was walking and getting lost — my favourite thing to do in a new city and something for which Cairo is just right.

Approaching the Egyptian Museum I ducked in and out of Tahrir Square, snapping pictures of the powerful street art around.

Across Egypt in Three Weeks


It’s my birthday today, but who cares because tomorrow I fly out to Egypt.

I was incredibly lucky to be chosen to serve as a Traveler in Residence in a partnership between MatadorU and Adventure Center.

Previous travelers in residence, Keph Senett and Kyle Ellison went to Turkey and Nepal; Coen Wubbels in currently travelling in Panama and Costa Rica, and I will be covering Egypt in a three week tour named Egypt Encompassed, travelling from Cairo through the White Desert, to Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Mt. Sinai and Dahab. Phew

The challenge of tackling a country — that has a 5000-year history; is processing a revolution, and is at present rarely out of the news — in just three weeks is daunting, as is the idea of doing it with an organised tour group, and on a schedule, which is a brand new experience for me. I am, however, hugely excited and, in typical fashion, frantically trying to get organised with little time left to spare.

This is my itinerary:

I would love to hear any suggestions/recommendations/advice/warnings that you may have.

And follow me (Internet access permitting) here and at Twitter.

Badass Egyptian Women: Doria Shafik


The volume of information available about Doria Shafik, activist, feminist and author, is disproportionate to the level of her contribution to the Egyptian women’s movement. In fact, much of her life’s work was confiscated and banned, and her name prohibited in the media following her February 1957 house arrest at the hands of the Nasser regime. Police stormed the offices of her magazine Daughters of the Nile, seized every issue and destroyed her own private papers. She remained under house arrest, in total seclusion, until 1975 when she committed suicide by throwing herself off a balcony.

Shafik was born in Tanta and raised in a traditional, middle-class family. Her childhood was comfortable but peppered with experiences that planted seeds of what her biographer, Cynthia Nelson calls “deep, personal feelings of outrage and indignation”.

“Doria grew up in a atmosphere where women, rich or poor, suffered in marriages and lived at the mercy of men and the “whims of his tyranny; a tyranny that had become second nature.”

Nevertheless, Shafik was able to take advantage of the expanded educational opportunities available to Egyptian women in the 1920s. She received a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne, where she gained a doctoral degree at the young age of 29.

On her return home, she applied for a teaching position at Cairo University but was rejected for being female. Instead, at the request of Princess Shuvekar, first wife of King Fuad I, she became the editor of the new magazine by the Daughters of the Nile Union, a women’s liberation movement.

While editing and writing for the magazine, Shafik intensified her activist work. She staged sit-ins to protest the British occupation; attempted to run for elections illegally (as a woman), and, most famously, in February 1951 led a crowd of 1,500 women to storm a session of Parliament and demand that the council take action on women’s issues. the following week Egyptian women were granted the right to vote and to run for political office.

“Our meeting today is not a congress, but a parliament. A true one! That of women! We are half the nation! We represent here the hope and despair of this most important half of the nation. Luckily we are meeting at the same hour and in the same part of town as the parliament of the other half of the nation. They are assembled a few steps away from us. I propose we go there, strong in the knowledge of our rights and tell the deputies and senators that their assemblies are illegal so long as our representatives are excluded, that the Egyptian parliament cannot be a true reflection of the entire nation until women are admitted. Let’s go and give it to them straight. Let’s go and demand our rights. Forward to the parliament!”

— Source: Ms Magazine

Following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, Shafik successfully campaigned to have the Daughters of the Nile Union recognized as an official political party – Egypt’s first women’s party. However, the changing political situation following the revolution did not favour her: in 1957, she organized an eight-day hunger strike to protest the Nasser regime. His response was her arrest, seclusion, erasure and, ultimately, her death.

Speaking for the Other Half – Al Ahram Weekly