Memory Lane: Cairo

Cairo city view

One member of my book club here in Dar (side note: I’m in a book club! Read Americanah, it’s so excellent.) recently moved to Cairo, and when I read that piece of news in my email this morning I was immediately transported back to my trip to Cairo last spring. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you- I went to Cairo last spring.

As part of our R&R (gov-mandated vacation in the middle of our tour), the Diploman and I traded in our full-fare ticket back to the US for a whirlwind four weeks that I call the ‘Trader’s Route Holiday’: Dar to Ethiopia to Cairo to Istanbul to Budapest to Ukraine.

Cairo City View 2

abu simbel entrance

That architecture- amazing, isn’t it? But, I digress. I will share details about the trip some other time, and for now, I just want to talk about the fact that Cairo is an amazing city!

What I remember most about Cairo were: the people (who talked a mile a minute, and were so friendly); the history (pyramids! ancient civilizations! hieroglyphics!); and the energetic frenzy (Sim City-like sounds of a working, living city). This last part especially I clung onto far after I left: the clamoring, banging, bustling city, milling with people, animals, cars, horns, radios, construction. With Cairo, I found this vibrant and positively energetic pace of life very unexpected–which is the best way to find things, right?!

Anyway, this morning, when I saw the email that someone moved to Cairo, I smelled and heard and felt the vibrant frenzy of the city. That’s all. Does that ever happen to you? Where certain locations (or scenarios: sounds, songs, expressions, tastes, visuals) just prick the tip of your sensory factors?

me in cairo

UGANDA >> Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth Park

While in Uganda, we took advantage of the fact that we were driving across the country and planned a small detour after visiting the Gorillas to drive through Queen Elizabeth National Park. Famous and expansive as the Serengeti ’tis not, but beautiful it certainly was in its own right.

Queen Elizabeth at dusk

We witnessed a truly drop-dead gorgeous landscape, with scenery that would make any Hollywood director jealous to the core. The Diploman kept saying, “this is what I imagine when I picture Africa“. It had a lot to do with the light, which was gorgeous and plentiful, and also the weather, cool and comforting, and finally the trees: majestic, umbrella-like beauties home to dozens of bird species. We didn’t see many cats or dogs, but plenty of elephants and monkeys, and after dark we were amazed at how many hippo sightings we were privy to on the banks of the rivers next to the main roads. What strange, huge, and blubbery creatures!


After an overnight at the park’s Hippo Hill Lodge, we organized a river ‘cruise’ the following day—getting us closer to hippos than normally would have liked. We were lucky to catch a glimpse of the famed national bird, the Ugandan Crane, beady blue eyes, mohawk and all.

We also saw herd after herd of water buffalo and lining the banks of the river, and learned (witnessed, too) that the older adult male water buffaloes are exiled from their herds after a certain age; these small clan of 5-10 old elder states-buffalo wind up living together in retirement-home-like groups down the banks from the rest of the groups, giving proof (and a bit of relief from guilt) that we humans aren’t the only ones who disregard our elders.




We cruised down the river until we witnessed the DRC horizon just beyond us. We saw a local village, existing in the area far before designation of park borders and thus who were left in relative peace— as peaceful as one would be surviving among hundreds of pods of hippos, I suppose.


Africa, you always trick me with your crime-ridden statistics and your dusty, packed cities, but ultimately you win– big wins, for your majesty, your gentle giants, and your natural grace.



False Bay Beach


As the rainy season approaches, I am holding onto thoughts of endless summer days and bright blue skies. Something about this beachy little town of False Bay was just so idyllic on the day we visited back in January. Maybe it was the crystal blue sky, maybe it was the green waters, maybe it was the perfect little puffs of cloud in the air, maybe it was the dozens of beginner surfers out on the water.

Doesn’t this seem like the most easygoing place in the world?






The grandeur of Abu Dhabi and the UAE


A couple weekends ago the Diploman and a took advantage of President’s Day Weekend to visit some fellow foreign service friends in Abu Dhabi. A direct flight to Dubai was scheduled to take less than six-hours from Dar. We couldn’t NOT splurge on the chance to visit the Middle East–for the first time!


We flew into Dubai on Emirates (which is definitely up to its hype, if you get an opportunity to fly Emirates do it!) and arrived into the city close to midnight. Going straight to the hotel it’s always hard to justify throwing down one night’s worth of money  for a hotel room when you didn’t even get to see any of the city during the day. But that concern is always fleeting for me–waking up the day after arriving late is one of my favorite things to do in a new city. It happened when I arrived in China for the first time, and it happened when I arrived in Dar for the first time, too. It’s like waking up on Christmas Day, sort of knowing what you might find but still so pleasantly and totally suprised!

For some reason, a city is never the same during the day as it is at night.

Waking up to Dubai the next morning and looking out of our 14th-floor window made me gasp. The image of the city itself is a perfect example of what the culture represents. It’s a culture of contrasts–shiny new buildings suddenly spurting out of nothing, women in age-old abayas (the head to toe black garments) carrying the newest seasons’ Louis Vuitton purses– and a city that is obsessed with all things new and bright. You might have heard of a little wonder called the Burj Khalifa, which is truly as much an architectural marvel as all the books and magazines make it out to be.

Breaking records is the ‘thing’ to do in the UAE, such as attempting to break the world’s record for most nails done in a day (as pictured above in the Dubai Mall concourse).

Our friend met us in Dubai and we roamed the city (the mall) for a day, then set off on the hour-ish drive to Abu Dhabi. We passed desert landscapes, huge airports, and were soon greeted with yet another cluster of gleaming skyscrapers–Abu Dhabi!

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. A blindingly white structure that might have the feel of a 15th century mosque, but was in fact built in the late-nineties. Nineteen-nineties, to clarify.


As our tour guide explained, there was marble and glass imported from Italy, gold from Egypt, clocks from London. There was the world’s biggest chandelier (until very recently) and the largest continuous rug in the world, carried in pieces from Iran and hand-stitched together inside the mosque by hundreds of Iranian ladies. I’m telling you, an obsession with the best and the brightest and the most and the greatest.

_MG_0013 _MG_0027

The UAE is also home to a number of seven-star hotels, which I had never even known existed. Just for fun, we visited the Emirates Palace hotel, where there was a private helipad outside and ATMs that dispensed gold trinkets within.

_MG_0040 _MG_0047 _MG_0060

Instead of seeking out unique cuisines and canvassing every inch of the city on foot as I am typically prone to do on vacations, we spent much of our vacation catching up and laughing with friends. We went to an amazing brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel (a brunch that lasted 3 hours) and spent one night in, ordering pizza from Dominos and playing our version of the Newlywed Game (champions right here, duh).


We also took a trip to the desert on another day, which you of course have to do while in ‘the Dhabs’, as we were calling it by the end of the trip. I had imagined some sort of trek involving camels, but I have since realized that in Abu Dhabi, one would never just ride a camel. Instead, we rode SUVs across the desert in what is known as ‘Dune Bashing’.

Have you heard of this? It’s basically extreme SUV-driving, up and down and sideways and slideways around sanddunes!

_MG_0096 _MG_0100

Overall it was a great trip. I got my nails painted for free, I visited a mosque, I got drunk with friends, I got to see camels and surf on sand, ate lots of hummus and tabbouleh, and smoked hookah under the great big black sky of the Arabian Desert.

Saturday Series / No. 32

02’15’14 >> Desert. For Days.

In the desert this weekend. Above is a iPhone snap of the desert just outside of Abu Dhabi, where the Diploman and I spent the weekend with seven of our friends. We came from Dar and Islamabad and Belgrade and DC and Guangzhou, all to convene at a friends’ place the UAE. There’s one thing about this Foreign Service lifestyle that I wouldn’t trade for the world; and that’s the cross-continental friendships that are formed over the years.