When Yemisi Sawyerr took a work trip to Egypt, she realised how similar – in all the exciting ways – African cultures are. From camel rides to hibiscus tea, the executive shares a world she hopes to return to***
How would your describe you journey to Egypt?
Egypt was amazing! Life altering, even. I visit Cairo, and what an experience! Surrounded by all that history, knowing I was in the presence of structures that existed 1000s of years ago was mind-blowing.
Modern architects are still stumped as to how the pyramids were built. I saw the mummies of the kings and queens. That made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I was in the same room as people who were alive centuries ago and still being able to see their teeth and hair and skin and nails. Frightening but exciting.
Are there any racial tensions?
Racial tensions? I experienced the opposite. At the market I had random people stopping and asking to take pictures with me like I was a celebrity, which was pretty amazing. I didn’t feel any hostility at all. And even with people who didn’t speak any English they were all super friendly and nice.
I didn’t see a whole lot of black Africans, but I understand there are areas of Cairo where they are quite many; probably the hood. I couldn’t understand my novelty value at all. LOL!
What cities or villages did you visit in Egypt?
I could only visited Cairo as it was a work trip and I didn’t have time to go anywhere else. When I go back – and I plan to go on a proper holiday, I plan to go to Memphis and Alexandria
What’s the biggest misconception about Egypt?
From my observation, Fundamentalism and its application to women. It’s largely a Muslim country but it’s also a country of huge contrasts. From women completely veiled and burqa’d, to skinny jean wearing, extremely stylish young people. Even the really modestly dressed women are incredibly fashion conscious, and I saw a lot of couples walking around hand in hand, which really surprised me. Cairo is a 24-hour city much in the mould of New York; it really doesn’t sleep. 24-hour markets, whole families camping out by the Nile bridge, fishing at 11pm. Men and women alike chilling outside in western style Middle eastern cafés, smoking shisha and drinking green tea, with their kids running around, at midnight!
It’s a delicious melting pot of different ideologies and everyone seems to cohabit freely and in peace.
How are the men? Lol!
The men? Uber friendly and extremely cheeky. I got patted on the bum by our camel guide to the pyramids; after he spent hours convincing me to marry him. We were in the middle of the desert and I didn’t want him to leave me there, so I just let it go LOL!
What adventures did you experience?
The camel ride! Don’t be fooled; it’s scary! No one tells you just how tall those creatures are. And how cranky! For the first half an hour, I was praying not to fall off and break my neck on some desert rocks. But I was glad I successfully did something that was so out of my comfort zone, and finally did relax to enjoy it. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I still have pains from the camel experience though. Riding camels is equal to all 60 days of insanity workout combined.
It’s great to have those memories of exploit…
Definitely. I loved it. I’d go there again. Egyptians are incredibly hospitable. Every shop we went to, whether we bought anything or not, we were offered tea, water or Zobo (yes, they have Zobo in Egypt); I was shocked too!
I was in a famous market they call Khan El Khalili, where they sell EVERYTHING and are open 24 hours a day. I was at a jewellery shop pricing some gorgeous sterling silver jewellery, and the guy asked me if I wanted some “hibiscus tea”. I found out it was what we call Zobo back home in Nigeria. They have a sauce just like ‘ewedu’ that they eat with rice. It’s delicious.
Wow! Culture is something…
I tell you! I had cowleg in an Egyptian restaurant. Cool stuff. It all goes to show we are one Africa.