I have always had a personal vendetta against photography. Of course, I love looking at photos while listening to travel and adventure stories, and I spend an unreasonable amount of time looking at videos of places and adding them to my list of cities to visit in the near future. I design perfect itineraries with carefully chosen photos of attractions to visit, food to try, things to do. However, when I am told to to take photos is another story.
When I lived in Italy I was in elementary school and somehow convinced my parents to buy me my first phone, so that I could be “safer” on my school trip to Venice. My parents reluctantly agreed, and on my way, they texted me to “take lots of pictures!” I came home with a shaky video of a glass factory in Murano and a blurry image of a gondola. There was just too much activity and too much to watch, so I completely forgot to get my phone out and take pictures. This happened again in college on my trip to Boston, and again on my family trip to Mexico, and again every time I have visited Egypt – to the point that I have no photographic evidence to check whenever I tell my stories, whenever I’m unsure of a particular memory, or whenever I’m feeling nostalgic. I always thought I would be missing out on something more meaningful if I took my eyes off reality to look through a camera lens that probably wouldn’t even capture the beauty of what I really saw. Now that I look back, I realize my mistake.
Summer 2021 is when I realized the potential of photography. During my forties, I would often go back and look at photos from previous family vacations, but not a single one was taken by me. Despite being in some of the photos, I almost felt like these trips were someone else’s. Fresh out of quarantine, I decided to take some photos from my trip to Egypt that I could come back to later. It wasn’t a sudden change of mind I had about photography, but a gradual process. It started with a simple photo of the clouds when I was on the plane to get there, followed by one of the city of Cairo. After not coming back for five years, I decided to come away with a few photos to come back mainly because I had missed this city so much, but also because I feared that it would be another five years before visiting it again. . I hoped that having something to look back on would help me feel closer to home.
I did not expect these photos to be published. I took them for myself and now want to share them with you. Every time I look at them, I remember my home, and they give me a feeling of happiness and security but also of discovery. So I hope that through them you can also feel happiness and a little adventure. I am not a photographer; I take my photos from reckless angles, the daytime photos are too dark, the night photos are too bright, the sun hits where it wants and the street lights too.
I have been to Egypt several times already because it is where my whole family lives. When I was younger I used to visit every summer, but little by little those intervals became one year, two years, then three, then five. Even then, I spent the whole summer meeting distant relatives, reuniting with my aunts, uncles and cousins, and hanging out with friends. Although I did the same this summer, I also decided that I wanted to explore places that I had never seen before.
I had already written an article on the Arab Spring, made a whole project about it, watched documentaries and gathered photos taken by others, but nothing could have prepared me for the glaring differences between what I had. seen in my research and Tahrir Square before. my eyes. The old square was just a simple roundabout where people often sat down to chat, rest or wait for a turn. In contrast, the renovated version is complete with an obelisk in the center and four sphinxes guarding it. They are not replicas; they are historical pieces taken out of the museum and exhibited in the square. Many people have expressed concern about their preservation in the face of inclement weather, saying these pieces should not be left out to be damaged by air and pollution. The square is also guarded by the army 24/7 and is no longer open to the public to sit or even stand. I was lucky enough to take this photo before I was approached and told I had to stand further.
Another destination that I really wanted to visit was Muhammad Ali Mosque. The visit was rushed due to the heat wave that hit Egypt that week (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit!), But it was well worth it as the mosque is breathtaking.
There was an interesting dynamic inside the mosque when I visited, with tourists entering with their guides, laborers working on renovations inside, and people praying next to it. I was happy to see the mutual respect between each individual inside as tourists whispered not to disturb the prayer and people prayed to the side to give others the opportunity to sit in the mosque. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the interior in all its glory due to the renovations, but I’m so glad I decided to take the photos as the magnificence of the mosque cannot be described in words.
Of course, a trip to Egypt wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the pyramids.
No, it’s not just a tourist trap or an overrated destination. On the contrary, the pyramids are an out of this world experience. If you’re like me, you might have seen them in pictures before, and without having to google them, you probably instantly have a picture in your head of three pyramids, side by side in the middle of the desert. In fact, the distance between each of them is great enough – and even more noticeable in the scorching heat – that we had to drive (and ride a camel) to get from one to the other.
Seeing the pyramids from this distance also made it difficult to imagine how they looked up close. In reality, the pyramids are not smooth – they were built stone by stone, and although they were covered with a limestone casing, what remains today is the jagged layer below. Up close I could see every stone, each almost bigger than me. The perfectly formed pyramids that I first saw from afar have now taken their true shape.
When I first visited the pyramids, I was about seven years old. I was mostly bothered by the heat. I couldn’t walk in the sand, and all I could think about was whether or not I was going to ride a camel. I didn’t really plan on going to the pyramids again – since I wanted to visit new places in Egypt – until I heard my cousins say that they had never been there well. that they have lived there all their life. Back then I was wondering how what I was seeing was so great that foreigners and locals wanted to visit. But this time around, I felt it all at the same time: the feeling of wonder at the power of the pyramids – pervading the whole landscape – the feeling of vertigo that grew stronger as I approached and the regret for wasting my first time here. I was in a dreamlike trance with no more heat, no more sand, no more camels, because all I could think of was how to capture the greatness of what I was seeing.
I have to admit I struggled to look back at some of the photos I took. On the one hand, I didn’t feel like any photo I had taken accurately reflected what I was seeing and feeling, but on the other hand, I wanted to find a way to document the incredible views I took. ‘ve seen. The more I tried to find the perfect angle, the right lighting, or a time without people (or animals), the more dissatisfied I became with each shot. I quickly realized that the pyramids alone are not what makes this place magical. The place is only complete with vacationing families, workers, locals, tourists, camels and horses. Of the dozens of photos I took that day, these are the few that I think best capture the beauty of the place I call my home.
I still believe that the pictures do not do justice to the true beauty and magic of a place. But I couldn’t have explained the magnificence of these places without these photos. I took it easy, struggled with some, but I can finally say that I successfully documented my trip to Egypt.
MiC columnist Mariam Alshourbagy can be contacted at [email protected]