A BLACK WOMAN LANDS IN CAIRO...
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
After spending three days in Cairo, I traveled by a super short airplane ride to Luxor where I met a fantastic couple from Florida at the rooftop of my Airbnb/hotel. As we chatted, I listed all of the countries and cities in the world I visited as a solo traveler and the girlfriend‘s mouth gaped open when I mentioned the city of Cairo. With a look of admiration and respect in her eyes, she said “If you traveled solo to Cairo, you can travel anywhere. You are hardcore!”
I researched every article and read every blog I could find to prepare me for solo travel to Cairo. Most blogs painted Cairo to be a noisy city where female tourists are not required to wear a hijab, modest dress is highly recommended, and single women may receive unwanted advances from Egyptian men. All these things are very true but none of the blogs shared the experience that I had...not only as a female solo traveler from the United States but as an African-American female solo traveler from the United States. Because of this, I created a list of the TOP FIVE TIPS for visiting Cairo as a Black woman and solo traveler...
1. LEARN AT LEAST FIVE WORDS IN ARABIC OR PERFECT THE ART OF PANTOMIME
Before leaving for this trip, I watched every YouTube video I could find to try to learn at least ten words in Arabic because I knew, as a solo traveler, that I would need to learn some of the language in order to acclimate. The end result? I still could not speak a word of Arabic before arriving in Cairo. This made me super nervous because I knew that most people in Cairo did not speak English. During my five-day stint in Cairo, the only word I learned and mastered was shukran ("thank you")....thanks to my awesome tour guide Manar! I encountered some Egyptians, such as my tour guide and some of the shop owners, who spoke fluent English but many local Egyptians did not speak much English. Manar told me that shukran is a polite way to refuse something that is being offered to you. While in Cairo, I got offered to buy any and everything you could think of. Egyptians are very great salespeople and there are shops, clothing boutiques, and specialty stores at every turn downtown. As you walk down the streets in downtown Cairo, shop owners will try to coerce you to come into their shops and buy. Mastering only one word in Arabic, I needed to find another way to communicate and I did not have any internet access outside of the hostel to use Goggle translator. It is very frustrating when you want to say something and the language barrier gets in the way. I did the only thing I could think of....pantomiming....(rubbing my thumb, middle and index finger together to ask how much something costs or pointing to things I wanted). It worked and I was able to survive in Cairo but I would advise future travelers to at least learn five words in Arabic to include restroom, water, food...
2. EGYPTIANS WILL BE CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR BEAUTIFUL MELANIN!
Being not just a solo traveler but an African-American solo traveler, I got A LOT of stares from the local Egyptians, especially the men. I think it was mainly out of curiosity because I noticed that Egyptian women either traveled in groups or with their partners, especially as day turned into night. I did not see not one Egyptian woman walking the streets of downtown Cairo after dark by herself. So me, being a brown-skinned woman in a hijab, it peaked the interest of others. I am the adventurous type of solo traveler who ventures out for meals and groceries where the locals tend to go. I wore a hijab for the majority of my stay in Cairo and because of that, as well as my skin tone, most Egyptians would address me in Arabic at first glance. This made me feel culturally accepted because I could actually "pass" as an Egyptian. This allowed me to “hide”, in a sense, from the pressures of feeling like an outsider in the bustling streets of Cairo. But once I opened my mouth and spoke, local Egyptians realized that I was a local Egyptian by far. Some local Egyptians would ask if I was from Africa, although Egypt is actually located in Africa, and I would politely tell them that I was from Canada. I was born and raised in the United States but Manar suggested I tell any curious Egyptians that I was from Canada because to most people around the world, the phrase "United States" means that you have plenty of money to spend!!
3. WEAR PROTECTIVE HAIRSTYLES
I traveled to Cairo in mid-June and the temperature soared way above 100 degrees by noon every single day. It is very dry heat in the desert but very humid downtown and it will drain every ounce of moisture out of your skin and especially your hair because you are constantly sweating and your body loses water. I've been on my natural hair journey now for almost six years and prefer to wear a big curly twist out. Natural hair is definitely a full-time job for me and I wanted to be able to enjoy my trip without a "wash day", twisting my hair up at night, finger combing and styling before leaving for the day, split ends, deep conditioning, trimming, trying to locate hairpins (because they always seem to disappear), etc. Protective styling allowed me to enjoy Cairo without constantly worrying about my hair. I opted for long two-strand twists because they are versatile and super easy to maintain. The only maintenance this style required was oiling my scalp and applying a satin cap before bed. And another obstacle for wearing my natural hair in Cairo-where do I find Taliah Wajiid natural hair care products in Cairo???
4. MODEST DRESS/OPT FOR A HIJAB
While flipping through Instagram one afternoon, I noticed a women posing in front of the Giza pyramids with flowing hair down her back wearing a bright yellow spaghetti-strapped sundress, donned in beautiful jewelry, and colorful sandals. Me? I am never dressed elaborately in the middle of a hot and sandy desert in the middle of the day. However, everyone is different. I try to be very respectful when visiting countries where modest dress is recommended and I did not want to bring any unwanted attention to myself as a solo traveler in Cairo. I also discovered that it was easier to withstand Cairo's extreme heat and humidity fully clothed rather than half naked lol. I opted to wear long-sleeved cotton shirts, harem pants, and long and loose-fitting skirts. Being fully clothed shielded me from the sun because the rays were not directly beaming off my skin. When I walked around downtown, I always wore a hijab because it made me feel more comfortable and I did not get nearly as many stares as when I walked around with my beautiful braids flowing down my back! The hijab gave me the confidence to walk around Cairo by myself and not feel uncomfortable if people did stare. It can be a lonely city as a solo traveler and the last thing I wanted was to “stick out like a sore thumb”. Downtown Cairo is not as pristine as some other major cities throughout the world. It can be quite dusty in addition to hot and humid. My hijab greatly decreased the amount of dirt and dust I could have accumulated in my twists throughout my stay!
5. WEAR SUNSCREEN/SPF 100
Growing up in a household where your mother has discoid lupus, you are taught at very young age to wear sunscreen and protect your skin. I am a huge stickler when it comes to skin care and I have been told, despite popular belief, African-Americans can develop skin cancer. This is not a myth! This is a cold hard fact a dermatologist shared with several years ago. So traveling to a country like Cairo, you have to wear sunscreen to shield your beautiful skin from the very powerful rays of the sun. In the United States, I've seen and used sunscreens that are as high as SPF 50 but you can actually buy SPF 100 in you local Walmart prior to your trip. It shields your skin from up to 100% of the sun’s damaging rays. I prefer spray-on sunscreen because it is much easier to apply and I can be sure that my skin is evenly protected from all that glorious sun!
Thanks for reading and I hope these tips will help prepare you to venture out and explore the beautiful city of Cairo as a solo traveler!