January 20 - 27, 2016
If you’ve played crossword puzzles long enough, you’ve probably seen “Cleopatra’s River” clue appear more than once. It’s the hey-you-got-this confidence boost we need to get through that Sunday crossword. I was waiting for my dentist in 2015 while I came across this clue again, which ultimately led me to Egypt. There were, of course, other factors.
Egypt was frequently in the news during those years. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 coupled with the 2014 terrorist attacks scattered across the country left Egypt no stranger to headlines. At this time, I was photographing more travel articles, so I paid close attention to the media coverage. The global news sources, Western news sources, along with local perspectives offered a variety of perspectives. I was left wondering: how do we collectively view the people of this county from afar? How do they see themselves? How should I interpret this diversity of information?
When I arrived in January of 2016, the socio-political effects of the Revolution could still be felt across this ancient country. With the addition of recent terrorist attacks, one bombing occurring the day I arrived, the tourist economy had taken a particularly heavy hit. I was confined to Cleopatra’s River, visiting Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, as most areas outside of the Nile were considered unsafe for travel.
Most of my guides hadn’t worked in several months. This was especially apparent in Luxor – a 3,400-year-old city that’s home to one third of the world’s antiquities. Widely considered the “world’s greatest open-air museum,” the local economy along the Nile is almost completely dependent on tourism. Needless to say, I was popular with my camera and unpreventable Americanisms. I was often the only Western tourist in sight. Strangers would approach me to welcome me in hope that I was a sign of more to come. Some even asked that I share my experience and tell the world it’s safe again. Although I was immediately awestruck by the power of these historic sites (that photos do no justice to), it was the interactions I had, the stories I heard, and the raw heart of everyone I met along the way that resonated the most. With the way mass media effects our perception of a given population, we need to be mindful of typecasting and stereotypes. Sometimes you need to figure it out for yourself.