What kind of mad compulsion drives even the most normal minded people to act like absolute lunatics while on holiday? Not that I can claim to be normal minded, but I had to wonder why, when facing the great pyramids of Giza, I had the overwhelming and embarrassing desire to “walk like an Egyptian”. You know the pose, standing at a side profile, arms bent at right angles and one bent leg in the direction of your stationary movement. Admittedly, my pose was heavily flawed, more from a lack of practice than trying. There I stood; behemoth, antiquated structures reaching for the sky right beside me, with the grave concern of an ill formed pose creasing my brow. This is the part where I tell you that this was not the first pyramid I had seen in Egypt or on that day, and try to recover some of my dignity, but in truth I am a stupid tourist. And in even greater truth, I kind of love being a stupid tourist.
Seeing my first pyramid was like taking a step back in time. Not thousands of years back, but maybe a few decades to the innocence of wonder in the world, to the innocence of childhood. My entire being filled with excitement, the kind of grimy fingers pressed against the inside of a car window kind of excitement. My face pressed too close to the window, the reverent whisper “Oh wow” is carried in a breath before it settles on the window in front of me. The feeling rouses contradictions within me; I need to free myself and run towards the pyramid and at the same time I want to stay exactly where I am in wonder and awe. It is an almost scary kind of excitement and my fingers yearn to feel the rough, brown surface of the weathered pyramid. It is as if through touch I would convince my mind of the truth that my eyes saw. Perhaps I needed to be grounded by my senses, to make sure that this was more than just a seductive fantasy. Ali, our tour guide, manages to bring me back to the present when he opens my door telling me with a smile “You know the air in Dahshur is so good, whenever I come here I feel like I can take another wife! This air is good for the body.” He inhales deeply to illustrate his point and laughs at his joke even though I am still to spellbound to respond. Cool air greets me as I step outside the car to find that we are in fact alone at the pyramid. There is something wonderfully precious about the solitude, the silence of the desert and the cool crispness of the air. There is something precious in being given the opportunity to experience this moment alone, allowing myself the leisure of wandering thoughts that form loosely and dissolve without ceremony in wind.
Ali is excited and understandably invigorated by the fresh Dahshur air and when he announces that we are going to go inside the pyramid, I’m sure that I have not heard him correctly. “Inside?” claustrophobia increasing the pitch of my voice. “Yes! Inside! I will carry all your things and wait for you outside. You go!” Oblivious to my mounting fear, Ali happily leads us up the uneven footpath towards the entrance of the pyramid. In equal measures, indecision, fear and my penchant for laziness, hamper my ascent and when I finally reach the top, Ali is waiting for me with a broad smile and an outstretched arm to hold my bag and camera. I look to Husband, hoping to find some signs of reluctance in his demeanour so that I can cowardly use his fear as a mask for my own but I come up short as he returns my eliciting gaze with a smile. I look at the child size opening before me, a poorly lit path continues indefinitely into the depths of the pyramid and the voice of panic tells me that I’m going to die inside this pyramid. It is that voice that glues my feet to the ground and shortens my breath. It must have been the magical winds of Dahshur that carried the voices of adventure and her sexier sister, stupidity, when I heard the whispers of “You’re going to die anyway, might as well see what’s down there” cajoling me out of my inertia and fuelling me with adrenalin. It is an uncomfortable duck walk, with our knees close to our chests and our heads bent low, before we reach the bottom and without the wind to carry comforting thoughts, the shrill voice of panic begins to thicken the air and close its hands around my throat. I try shake off the cloying, debilitating fear by reminding myself that there is much to see and explore and this provides a momentary respite before the panic sets in again. It is Husband’s voice that brings calm, although his words do not comfort as he expresses his eagerness to leave the still, cavernous depths. We begin the crouch walk up towards the light and in my eagerness for escape, my steps are hurried and heavy on the wooden slats beneath my feet. Before we are finally released, the man who stands guard at the entrance insists on taking a picture of the two of us and even though I am convinced that I shall go mad spending one more second in containment, I oblige and hand him my camera. Pictures done, I burst from the opening, taking greedy gulps of the fresh Dahshur air, hands clenched around the wooden railing preventing a steep fall down the front of the pyramid. In the span of less than an hour I had come to love and hate Dahshur.
Perhaps I was a bit jaded then when we arrived in Giza to find crowds of people just as annoying as myself trying to take the perfect picture. My mind and imagination had already been fuelled by the pyramids of Dahshur and Saqqar, where the quiet, open spaces allowed me time with myself as well as the imposing structures from an ancient world. But, of course, The Great Pyramids are as their name suggests- great. They are still magnificent to behold, even if all you’re doing is taking a stupid picture in front of them.