By the time I got to Alexandria, one of the last stops on my 2007 tour of Egypt, I was ready for a change. It had been endless days of antiquities and ruins, the hieroglyphs and temples and statues all blurring together in my mind. Alexandria promised something different, something modern. I was so looking forward to it.
Although founded in 331 BC, Alexandria was an important part of 19th- and 20th-century society. It has an active harbor and a lively cultural life with opera houses, trendy cafes, and beautiful gardens. It is an African city with Western sensibilities, a wholly unique experience.
And yet, I felt exposed in Alexandria in a way I hadn’t anywhere else in the country. My friend and I were alone there, parting ways with the tour group for just a few days. And everyone in Alexandria seemed to know it.
As we walked along the city to admire the sights, we were constantly given the impression that we were unwanted. Anti-Western scowl peered at us from the windows of European-style buildings. My friend was shoved into oncoming traffic by a group of passing women. We constantly felt like we were being followed.
No matter where we went, groups of people always seemed to be watching, judging, menacing.
Tired of the wordless harassment, we sought shelter in our hotel. We watched Gothika and Anchorman and anything else airing in English, telling ourselves we’d just take the night off and sight-see some more in the morning.
But it was a struggle to make it to the Library of Alexandria. And even there, at a place of learning, grimaces were thrown our way.
When our tour guide finally picked us up again the next day, we were relieved.
Our hotel in Cairo felt like home. We wandered the local city streets without conflict, without abuse. I don’t know how we had wronged Alexandria, but clearly we were unwelcome. And I have no desire to ever see it again.