An Egypt Travel Manifesto

The Abu Simbel Temples, Egypt – Photo courtesy of Rosanna Leung via Flickr.com

In a little over 24 hours, a not-so-well-traveled thirty-something female from the D.C. metropolitan area will embark on her first trip to the continent of Africa.

  • Destination: Egypt
  • Duration: Seven days
  • Companions: Three well-traveled gal pals
  • Origination: An irresistibly hard to pass on LivingSocial Escapes Deal
  • Motivation: It’s about damn time I did something like this

Other than a week-long trip to Buenos Aires and the Iguza Falls in 2008, and a few days in the Bahamas, my passport’s stamp collection is nothing to be admired. The globetrotting history of my Egypt travelmates includes Paris, Italy, Germany, Morocco, and quite a few other fabulous cities and countries.

According to the State Department, “Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and the second-most populous on the African continent.” And exactly three days following our arrival to this country of 82 million, citizens will cast their votes in Egypt’s first-ever contested presidential election – over a year after the country’s political regime was uprooted by citizen dissidence and its former President Hosni Mubarak resigned from office.

An excursion like this will probably happen to me only once in my lifetime.

So in addition to the to-do (secure tourist visa, buy linen pants) and packing lists (SPF 45, straw hat, international plugs, and 32GB SD card) I’ve been following diligently, I figured creating an Egypt Travel Manifesto – a declaration of what I hope to accomplish while I’m there would be a list to have as well. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • PHOTOS: Take between 50 and 60 photos per day. With a newly purchased Canon EOS Rebel T2i Digital SLR Camera (Thanks, Target, for the awesome sale); a borrowed extended lens from my ultra-generous photography mentor and coworker, John Taylor; and an ample number of landmark visits on the travel itinerary,  I hope to kick my photo-taking skills up a notch or two, and have a great portfolio of high-res digital photos to prove it.
  • CULTURE: Be a good representative of the U.S. and fully respect Egypt’s mores. No profanity, inappropriate attire, staring, finger pointing, or disrespectful behavior. I try not conduct myself this way on American soil, but hey, even I have an off day. In any case, this will be my first trip to Africa and the Arab Spring, and I will not give credence to the notation that Americans are not tolerant or willing to immerse themselves in foreign traditions, the Islamic faith or countries abroad.
  • LOCAL NEWSPAPERS: Pick up a few local newspapers the day after the presidential elections. Next week’s presidential election will be as historic for Egypt as the 2008 presidential elections were for the U.S. I purchased a copy of a few national newspapers following the U.S. elections, and although I can’t speak or read Arabic, I hope to do the same in Egypt.
  • NOTES: Photos are great, but journal keeping is good as well. Great photos of the pyramids and local residents will serve as a great record of this trip, but I also want to remember the intricate details and experiences that photos can’t capture. An interesting question that’s asked. A nice nugget about the local culture from the tour guide. A funny joke from a local businessman. These are memories that will definitely be the bookmarks of my trip and I hope to capture them in the written word.
  • FOOD: Don’t be afraid to eat the unfamiliar. The DC area has no shortage of restaurants devoted to authentic ethnic cuisine, but I’m sure none of these establishments can beat the palate pleasing experience of dining at an establishment in the heart of Cairo or along the Mediterranean Sea.
  • SHOPPING: Gotta buy stuff for the ones you love. Fresh spices, fabric, jewelry, and coffee are just a few of items and gifts I’m buying for family and friends while in Egypt. Hopefully I’ll be able to get everything through customs on the return trip and in one small bag. Traveling internationally with extra luggage is not cheap.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Don’t neglect Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. I’ve been shamefully neglecting these social media channels over the last few weeks — work, life and tweet balance. I’ll be solely dependent on WiFi whilst there, but hope to posts as many real-time updates and photos as possible. Thanks in advance to the Cairo area Starbucks I plan to camp out in for a few hours.
  • TROUBLE: Stay out of it. Most if not all of our itinerary stops will be in safe tourist areas, but if the unexpected protest, peaceful demonstration or whatever happens to occurs near us, I will resist the urge to take photos or grab a flag or poster in support – “if I know my place, I’ll stay safe.”

A long manifesto, but a simple one to uphold. If you have suggestions on what I should add to the list, please, please share. I welcome your ideas, especially if you’ve previously visited Egypt, Africa or anywhere in the Arab world. 🙂

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Elevating NMAAHC into the Stream of Black Cool

Yesterday’s New York Times piece on the reemergence of new museums and cultural centers showcasing the historical achievements of African Americans and their battle for civil rights caused me to flashback to an interesting period in my professional career and I hope what I’m about to write is never held against me by a hiring committee.

I was in a junior public relations position and my director at the time was actually a cool guy – intelligent, quick witted, a great task manager, and not too cranky after three cups of coffee sans any cream or sugar. However, without any initiation from me, he had an uncanny habit of routinely comparing the past plight of African Americans to that of his Jewish ancestors.

My cube was adjacent to his office and he started a conversation on this topic at least once a month. Over the course of thirty plus months, this amounted to one time too many.  I was young enough to be his child (possibly even his grandchild), the conversations were emotionally uncomfortable and endless discussion on the impact of Black slavery versus the Holocaust wasn’t helping me learn any new professional skills other than workplace tolerance.

Without getting into the exact dialogue of our conversations, I’ll just say they typically ended with he and I saying the following, respectively: “I can’t believe you’ve never been to the Holocaust Museum. You really should visit it.” — “I will. As soon as a national museum honoring the history and achievements of African Americans is built in Washington in a similar fashion.” We would then proceed to roll our eyes at each other and continue tip tapping away at our computers.

Fast forward a number of years later and that museum I dreamed of is actually being built on The National Mall and I couldn’t be more overjoyed. In fact, the National Museum of African American History and Cultural’s official groundbreaking will commence less twenty-four hours from now with President Barack Obama delivering remarks, but sadly I see one wrinkle.

At a recent book signing and discussion of Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, there was a constant reiteration of the unmatched ability African Americans have to remix the ordinary and make it cool, and their dominant presence, participation and influence on Twitter.

However, if one were to take a page from my former director and compare the Twitter following of @NMAAHC to the number of amassed by @HolocaustMuseum – 3,784  to 107,377 – the institution deemed with having the greatest social media influence would be the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In terms of Facebook, the number of likes are a little less contrasting with 12,883 for NMAAHC and 34,406 for the Holocaust Museum.

To be fair, NMAAHC started tweeting on May 1, 2009 and although it’s been hosting an impressive number of exhibits and events over the last few years at fellow Smithsonian properties in Washington and other cultural institutions across the country, its actual building won’t be completed until 2015. The Holocaust Museum has been tweeting since August 28, 2007 and next year will mark its twentieth anniversary, so the museum has had a lot more to tweet about and more time to do so.

In Rebecca Walker’s intro to Black Cool, she decodes the cool factor of a popular photo showing President Obama emerging from a black sedan. Walker deems the photo Black Cool and concludes that “it is made up of elements that can be traced back to a place, a people and a culture…”

These are definitely elements that are embodied by the idea of NMAAHC and its very creation is undeniably cool, but its social media presence needs to be remixed a little to get it to black cool. So how can the tremendous presence African Americans have on Twitter correlate into social media success for NMAAHC? Here are a few ideas:

  • Follow @NMAAHC & Live Tweet: Tomorrow’s groundbreaking event for NMAAHC is not open to the general public, but will be live streamed over the web starting at 10 a.m. ET. If you can, follow @NMAAHC, watch the ceremony online, and live tweet using the #groundbreaking2012 hashtag, and encourage others to do the same. There’s no reason so many us can live tweet a reality show, a celebrity’s funeral service, a professional or collegiate sports game and not do the same for a new Smithsonian institution dedicated to our ancestors.
  • Twitter Trending Topics: Today’s US trending topics on Twitter include Madri Gras, #AndYouWonderWhyYouAreSingle, and Rihanna and Chris Brown. For tomorrow, let’s help make NMAAHC, Smithsonian and #groundbreaking2012 part of this list. Here are some resources to get you started:
  • Post Photos & Videos of NMAAHC’s Construction: Social media enthusiasts can be very enterprising when they’re passionate about a cause (e.g. education, free speech, the digital divide, the development of DC’s Southwest Waterfront, and even, social media). I hope there are a few local residents that will take on NMAAHC’s success as a passion and over the next three years, post numerous photos and videos of the building’s development to their Flickr and YouTube pages to get folks outside the Beltway equally passionate about its success.

According to Walker and the other esteemed writers of her black cool homage, there are one thousand streams of blackness. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are not the sole avenues to increase NMAAHC’s black cool quotient, but they are essential tools. Let’s help bring all of these thousand streams together to elevate NMAAHC’s social media reach – starting tomorrow and beyond.