It started as a dream. I must have looked at pictures of Egypt on the Internet for months. One day I decided, I'm going to do this, I'm going to plan this trip and take my brother Tommy for his college graduation. So I booked it, went to Barnes and Noble and bought a bunch of books on Egypt and I made him a kindergarten style picture collage of all the beautiful places we were going to see and the tours we were going to take. I put it all in a basket and gave it to him on Easter.
His response, "Is someone going to Egypt?” To which I replied: "Yes, you silly!"
Tommy graduated from The University of Scranton on May 31 and as anyone who has graduated knows, it's stressful the last few weeks -- finals, parties (what a tough life!), and saying goodbye to the people who have been there for you the past four years. Needless to say, he was a little run down.
The next day we were set to board a plane bound for Egypt! Only one thing was slowing us down -- he didn't feel right. My mother, a nurse, insisted he get checked out just to be safe. Turned out he had a little fever (and when I say little, I mean point 5 over the normal body temperature) so once they prescribed some antibiotics we were finally set to go.
We couldn't wait to get there, we felt like kids at Christmas. After a full day of travel, we finally landed in Cairo! We were steps away from the beautiful Egyptian paradise, but one thing stood in our way – a health screening. You see Swine flu has yet to enter the country so officials are taking special precautions to keep it that way. So, they stood us in front of a heat-sensing camera and guess what it picked up? Tommy's fever!
Before we knew it, we were in an ambulance -- sirens blaring and all – making an hour-long trek to the public hospital. The officials took our passports and we were stuck. No where to go, nothing to do but sit and say "DID THIS REALLY JUST HAPPEN? SERIOUSLY?"
To say that the hospital was a little dirty is an understatement – bugs, filthy bathrooms, spotty sheets and walls. Needless to say, I demanded to see that the needles they were using to take blood were sterile. We were told the results could take about six hours to come back, then someone else said no, it will take 14 hours. We had no idea. What little English was spoken at the hospital was hard to understand and we felt like we were not getting any of our questions answered.
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They put us up in a room and wow, was it was nasty! I bet prison cells are better. The bathroom was the best – just look at the pictures. The toilet ran the entire time and didn't have a full seat. It also didn't have a lid on the top and had bugs crawling everywhere. It's a good thing we had tissues because, again, no toilet paper. There was something that looked like a shower above the toilet but really? Would you shower above your toilet with bugs crawling around everywhere? The sink was full of dead gnats and every time I brushed my teeth I felt sick looking at them. We have never been so scared in our lives.
Before we attempted to get some sleep that night, the Egyptian nurses came in and tried to give my brother a shot of something in his tush. They said it was antibiotics, the problem was -- we didn't see them unwrap the needle. So of course I go into defensive mode and start arguing to get another needle so we can see that it is sterile. My brother finally said he'd just take the needle because if we refuse treatment we didn't know what could happen to us. That's when I kept my mouth shut and prayed to get out of there soon.
We were wide-awake at 5 o'clock the next morning just looking to hear any news…good or bad. By now, I had gotten some pretty awful bug bites. I don't know what bit me and I don't want to know, but the bites are still on my arm! (That can't be good.) That morning the US Embassy got involved and they got permission from the Egyptians to perform their own tests on us. We had to wait a few hours to get their results back so they told us to sit tight, keep quiet, and do whatever the Egyptian doctors say. That's what we did.
We heard later that afternoon that my results we negative, which we knew, and we heard that my brothers we "undetermined." What does that mean?? Secretly, we were told they were negative, but because he was on medicine from the U.S. upon arrival, they found it suspicious and requested further testing.
In Egypt, prescriptions are not as easily available as they are in the U.S. so they found it strange he was on medicine when he didn't have much wrong. The scariest part of the whole experience came when Egyptian nurses came in our room and said " come with us." We kept asking where but got no response. They led us out of the hospital, down a dirt road into another building. We were so frightened and could do nothing about it. Turned out we just had to get chest X-rays. A sigh of relief for a moment.
As the stress mounted and tears continued to flow, visions of our wonderful vacation started to diminish -- we yet again waited in our room.
FINALLY! Our release! Nearing the end of our second day in the hospital, officials from the U.S. Embassy as well and Egyptian doctors came to our room and said all tests are negative and we are free to go! They apologized and welcomed us to the country.
At that point, we didn't care what happened we signed the release papers, grabbed our bags which we packed at 2 a.m. and we called the tour guide to get us out of there as fast as possible! The hour drive to our hotel seemed to take forever! All we wanted to do was shower, and that's the first thing we did. Our hotel overlooked the Pyramids and we were finally in the heaven we had been dreaming about for months.
We ended up missing our trip to Luxor entirely, but we stayed in Cairo for a few days and saw the Pyramids, the Sphinx, we went to Memphis and Sakkara and saw the museum, which holds all of King Tut's valuables.
Did you know his name is actually pronounced "Toot" not "Tut?" Interesting. We then flew to Sharm el Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula near the Red Sea. It was amazing! We relaxed, took a snorkeling trip and climbed Mount Sinai, or as the locals call it, Moses Mountain – it was my favorite part of the vacation! We rode a camel around the base of the mountain (and no, it did not spit on me!) We then climbed for 3 and a half hours to the peak which is nearly 7,500 feet tall. We reached the summit minutes before sunrise and we watched the sun come up over the mountain range. It felt very spiritual and humbling up there, and as we took in a deep breath, we realized everything we had gone through at the beginning of our trip was nothing compared to this experience.
I'm sharing this with you in hopes that you learn from our misfortune. Before you go away, to any other country, make sure you do all of your research. I did months of research, we visited doctors and asked questions but still, it wasn't enough.
Since Swine Flu has now been declared a pandemic, check to see what precautions the country you are going to is taking. We never expected that infrared machine to ruin the first few days of our trip.
If you have questions, make sure to ask your doctor and get all of the answers you are looking for. The US Embassy was extremely helpful in our situation -- make sure you always have its number when you travel. Find out the policy in the country you are visiting if you are caught with a fever, or a cold and they take control of you like they did with us, find out what can happen.
Once you are in their custody, chances are you will not be released until they say it is okay. Be smart, be informed, and be healthy! I hope you don't suffer the same misfortunes we did, but have a great trip wherever you go.