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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Visiting the White House: Ten Years Later

The White House South Court Auditorium

Exactly one week ago, a native New Yorker who’s resided in the Washington, D.C. metro area since 2002 took her first official trip to the White House.

Yes. I’ve lived no more than eight miles from 1600 Pennsylvania for the past ten years, and have even done numerous marathon training runs past the building, but had never actually been inside its marbled and columned walls until now.

Luckily, this was no ordinary visit. Thanks to the amazing work of Kori Schulman, I joined over a hundred lucky other attendees from across the country for the 2011 White House Holiday Tweetup.

In addition to the fabulous photos I snapped of the tweetup event and the White House Holiday Tour, here are the top five things I learned from the White House senior staffers who gave us a very engaging presentation and thoughtful discussion:

  1. The lovely illustrations in the White House 2011 Holiday Guide Book were created by students of Washington, D.C.’s Corcoran College of Art & Design. This school is actually located across the street from the White House and 2011 marks the second year Corcoran students have undertaken this project. 
  2. The White House online engagement and petition initiative – “We The People” – has had thirty petitions receive an official White House review and response. To attain this great distinction, a petition has to receive 25,000 signatures of support within thirty days of its creation. 
  3. According to White House Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses, President Obama’s favorite dessert is pie. So much so, that the President has nicknamed Yosses the “crust master” due to his astounding penchant for making the pie-filling accompaniment ever-so perfectly flaky and tasty.
  4. If you don’t plan to be bogged down with your own holiday planning next year and have a desire to help decorate the most famous house in the world, mark your calendar to apply for the White House Holiday Volunteers Program in March 2012. Information will be available on whitehouse.gov by that time and can also be accessed by calling the White House Office of Engagement. Volunteers are selected in September and October. I’m sure Michelle and Barack would love your assistance. 
  5. If you have a Twitter account and haven’t done so already, follow: Macon PhillipsJon Carson, Aneesh Chopra, and Joining Forces. You’re guaranteed to learn much more about the work of President Obama, Mrs. Obama and the White House’s four hundred employees if you do so today.