.أنا مديرة في ويكيبيديا الإنكليزية. في الصيف الماضي ، ذهبت إلى تايبيه
- Sign-up for post-conference activities in Cairo, if you are staying around after Wikimania. Aude 08:44, 19 July 2008 (UTC)
I have been in Egypt for over a month now, living in Cairo, as a student. Since arriving, I have traveled around the country, including Sinai, Alexandria, and will be in Luxor this weekend. With people arriving soon for Wikimania, I'd like to take the opportunity to share advice and experiences as a female.
English is widely spoken in Egypt, and you will get by just fine if you don't know any words in Arabic. Though it's good to know a few basics in Arabic: "shukran" - thank you; "aywa" - yes; "la" - no; "la shukran" - no thanks; "kwayis" - okay, good; "low samaht" - please, excuse me; "asif" - sorry (said by a male)/"asifa" (said by female); "hina kwayis" - here is good (useful in a taxi for saying where to stop); "mish fahim" - I don't understand; "betikkallim ingleezee" - do you speak English?
I found it unusual when arriving in Cairo, when we had to walk down stairs (out of a jumbo-size Boeing 767) and onto the tarmac. We road a shuttle bus from there to the airport terminal. Go ahead and exchange some money in the airport - best to do before going through customs. Getting through customs and immigration was quick and easy for me, though I obtained my visa in advance.
- I feel extremely safe here -- safer than I do back in the U.S. Crime is not much of a problem at all. Also, there is a strong police presence everywhere. In Sinai and other places, there are checkpoints on the highways. Most of the time, our tour groups have been completely on our own, but we had police accompany us a few times.
- There is some harassment on the streets, but it's mainly words. Knowing a few things in Arabic helps (e.g. "la shukran"). It helps to walk in groups, but I have walked around my neighborhood and other places on my own without problems.
- For the most part, Egyptians are very welcoming, especially with tourism so important to the economy here. I even have some friends here who are Jewish, who are getting along fine here.
- The biggest difference between the U.S. and Egypt (and elsewhere in the Middle East) is that traffic lights are pretty much lacking here. In a few spots, there are traffic lights and/or police controlling traffic. To cross the street, it's like playing the video game "Frogger", hurrying across the street when there is a small break in traffic. Also, when riding in a taxi, the taxi driver may go quite fast and it takes getting use to the manner that they drive.
What to wear
- I brought lightweight long/half-sleeve blouses, pants (linen or other lightweight material), and long skirts. At the last minute, I tossed a t-shirt in my luggage before I left the US. I'm so very glad that I brought a t-shirt, and really wish I brought more short sleeve tops. In the area of Cairo where I live (Zamalek), as well as around the university and many other areas, it is acceptable to wear short sleeves. Same goes for Alexandria (Bibliotheca and other areas), which is located along the waterfront.
- Either way -- short sleeves or long sleeves, foreigners will still be "center" of attention, regardless. If out on my own, I will be more conservative. Among a group of students or Wikipedians, then I will be more relaxed about all this. It's also possible to wear shorter/half sleeves and bring a scarf, if you need it. Anyway, bring both conservative, long-sleeve tops and short sleeves. Once here, you will find what's comfortable for you.
- If you are going to see the pyramids in Giza or other such sites, anything goes for clothing. It's not a problem to for women to wear a tank top/or t-shirt and shorts. Such attire was also absolute acceptable when I was in Sharm el-Sheikh (in Sinai) and in similar locations.
- For all places, sandals are completely acceptable for women. You will even see women covered in hijabs who are wearing sandals.
It's been quite hot in Cairo (37-40 C / ~100 F) during the daytime, though Alexandria is quite a bit cooler than that (~30 C / 86 F). The best way to deal with the heat is to do things (e.g. see the Giza pyramids) very early in the morning. Arriving at the pyramids at 6 or 7 am is ideal, and be done by 9 am. Or do things in the evening (e.g. Khan al-Khalili). Also, the heat is reasonably tolerable in the shade.
Another factor is the pollution in Cairo, and to some extent in Alexandria. I don't think the pollution is any worse than Taipei was, but it's still an issue here.
- In Khan al-Khalili (Cairo) and other markets, the vendors are aggressive in wanting you to come into their shop and buy. As well, the crowds at the markets can be overwhelming.
- Bargaining - The prices that vendors tell you are way overpriced and you need to bargain. For example, they may want 50 LE (khamseen) for a scarf, but you can get it for 10 LE (ashrun) or not more than 20 LE (ashreen). To get out of bargaining and move along, you can say "hagee tania" which means "I'll come back another time". Pretty much all the vendors will know some English, but a little bit of Arabic can help.
- Khan al-Khalili is located in Islamic Cairo section of the city, which is more conservative. It's good advice to dress more conservatively when going shopping. To visit Al-Azhar Mosque, women should also wear a scarf.
Despite having to put up with all this, it is definitely well worth it to visit Khan al-Khalili or other such places for shopping and souvenirs.
Taking a taxi
- Prices - Taxi is a cheap and easy way to get around. It's one flat price, no matter how many people are riding in the taxi. There are no meters. You set the price, and it should be fair for the driver. If you don't know what the fare should be for a particular destination, then you should ask someone (hotel concierge, staff at the dorms, at Bibliotheca, etc.) what's a reasonable price. 5 LE is a fair price for a ride from Bibliotheca to the downtown area in Alexandria, since it's not far. I don't remember for sure exactly how far the dorms are, but I think 5-6 LE is reasonable, since I don't think the dorms are far. I paid 10-12 LE to get from BA to the other end of the corniche in Alexandria.
- Getting a taxi - If you are going really far (e.g. downtown Cairo to the Giza pyramids), then you should agree on a price before getting in a taxi. For most places (medium and shorter distances), do not discuss price before getting in. Just say your destination and the driver should agree to take you. A few times, before or once getting in, the driver has asked me about price. If that happens, you can say your price. If they don't agree, then find a different taxi. Really, price should not come up.
- Paying the driver - When you arrive, everyone MUST GET OUT before paying the driver. Once everyone is out, then the person with the money should give the driver the money through the window. Then everyone needs to walk away. Most of the time, the driver doesn't argue with me/us, but sometimes they will make a fuss and demand more. The thing to do is keep walking away. You gave them a fair, reasonable amount. As a tourist, maybe you can give the taxi driver a tiny bit more to avoid an argument. It's also good to be dropped off right in front of my building, hotel, or other places which will all have security staff. Our security staff has come out on occasion to talk with problematic taxi drivers.
- You do not need to tip the driver. Just give them the fare.
- Taxi drivers do not give change back. You must have the correct amount to give them.
I think most meals are provided at Wikimania, but when you are on your own...
- Koshari (dish of macaroni, rice, lentils, and sauce) or tamiyya (falafel) make a good cheap meal. A falafel sandwich can be had for 1-2 LE each, and koshari meal w/drink for 7-10 LE. Fast food places (e.g. McDonalds, Hardees, KFC, Pizza Hut) are available most everywhere, though these are not cheap meals by Egyptian standards. A meal at McDonalds will cost ~30 LE ($5-6 USD) or more. A meal at a good sit-down place (American style cafes, and other types of places) will cost a bit more, but I think the prices are comparable or slightly cheaper than in the US.
- I been fine eating the food here, though felt slightly ill after eating salad in my university cafeteria. It might have been the tomatoes that were not great. I have avoided salad at other places, though did get salad at McDonalds which was fine. Some caution about eating raw fruits and vegetables is a good idea. Cheap tamiyya and koshari have all been fine.
- Alcohol is not difficult to find in Egypt. Stella and Sakara are brands of beer that are available here. There are plenty of bars and clubs around, as well a hotel bar is a definite place to find alcohol.
- Restaurants will include a service charge directly on your bill, but you should also leave a tip.
- I don't know that Egyptians really have the concept of "vegetarian" and especially "vegan" in the culture. That said, I don't think you will have much of a problem here. A lot of the dishes available here contain no meat. Koshari is vegetarian (though some macaroni/pasta contains eggs). Tamiyya (falafel) is vegetarian and vegan. Other vegetarian dishes (rice/vegetables/tomato-based sauce) are available at places that serve Egyptian cuisine. There are also places that specialize in Italian cuisine, Indian, and other types. The one vegetarian restaurant that I know of in Cairo is L'Aubergine in Zamalek (7 LE taxi ride from downtown Cairo). A good place for Indian cuisine is called "Kandahar" in Mohandesseen (10 LE taxi ride from downtown). Kandahar is a bit more expensive than other places in Cairo, but you can order dishes to split among people which helps with costs. With most places you eat, the staff will know should understand English just fine. Also, pretty much all places will have menus in English, except some of the really cheap tamiyya places. Nonetheless, it may help to know the word "nabatee" (vegetarian - male) or "nabataya" (vegetarian - female). Or you can say "ana nabatee" (I am vegetarian) or "ana nabataya", "mish akul lahm" (I don't eat meat) "wa mish akul bayda" (and I don't eat eggs).
- Western-style toilets are available pretty much most places, though some places (e.g. Islamic Cairo), you might find a squat-style toilet. When I arrived at the airport in Cairo, I had some difficulty figuring out how to flush the toilet. There is a knob on the toilet lid that you pull out and then push back in when finished with flushing. Some toilets just have a button to push.
- It's a good idea to carry some toilet paper or tissue with you. Toilet paper is usually available most places I have been, but not always. In some places, there is a staff person manning the bathrooms, who will give you toilet paper for bashish (tip). In some places (e.g. rest houses/stops on the highway), you will need to pay 1 LE or another amount to use the bathroom facilities. In places like McDonalds and other restaurants, as well as hotels, and certainly places like Bibliotheca, you don't pay to use the bathroom and they have toilet paper.
I have been to the Pyramids in Giza, Sakkara, to Alexandria, to Sinai (St. Katherine's and Sharm el-Sheikh) and will be in Luxor this weekend. I don't have a lot of spare time to organize these better, but I have quite a few pictures now posted on Flickr of Alexandria and other places in Egypt: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kmf164/ Let me know if you want sightseeing suggestions or advice.