It is a country that embraces the landmarks of its past even as it claws itself into the future. It is centuries old edifices bedecked in burning neon tubes. It is guttural conversations in Arabic, where every interaction sounds like an argument to the outside ear. It is a land of hospitality, where inviting foreigners into your home and sharing what you have is the norm. It is a river of life that carved itself into 700,000 square kilometers of desert.
It is Cairo.
It is smoke and spice and smog. It is the organized chaos of driving five vehicles wide on a four lane highway as pedestrians meander their way almost effortlessly between the cars. It is the almost complete absence of stop lights. It is families constructing their homes over ancient tombs in the City of the Dead. It is over nine million people living out their daily lives under the stony watch of the pyramids built by some of their earliest kings.
It is Aswan.
It is a hydroelectric dam over two miles long that created the largest man-made lake in the world. It is the Lotus Tower, commemorating the cooperation of nations in its historic construction. It is the Temple of Isis at Philae, nestled on an island in the middle of the reservoir. It is feluccas criss-crossing their way along the Nile between the city and the Nubian village. It is evening dance parties with complete strangers in the living room next to the crocodile cage.
It is Luxor.
It is the ancient former capital of Thebes and the modern seat of tourism for an entire nation. It is the Avenue of Sphinxes that stretches on for almost two miles. It is the Luxor and Karnak Temples, magnificent in their unearthed splendor. It is the final resting place of kings and queens, of nobles and laborers. It is archaeologists excavating ancient ruins under the faceless gazes of the Colossi of Memnon.
It is cuisine infused with legumes and fruits. It is pita, falafel, and kushari. It is the source of the concentrated flower oils later diluted with alcohol in France to create overpriced perfumes and colognes. It is papyrus scrolls and carved hieroglyphs. It is the coral reefs of the Red Sea teeming with all manner of aquatic life. It is the Suez Canal, gateway between Europe and Asia. It is Alexandria, and Edfu, and Esna.
It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
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