I’m not trying to brag or anything, but the Dowds just returned from our First Foreign Vacation since giving birth almost exactly one year ago. Our destination? Cairo – exotic, vibrant, and most importantly, a short non-stop flight from our current residence in Kuwait City. Perhaps we were cheating a little, dipping our big toe in the pool of infant travel, by choosing a city with which we were already familiar, where we spoke the language, and where some of our closest friends happened to be living.
Despite these clear advantages, we faced a healthy degree of skepticism from some of our friends and family. After all, they said, he won’t remember you took him there. He won’t remember the Pyramids.
That is certainly true. I barely remember what we did this morning. I don’t expect him to look back on his visit to Giza as the defining moment of his infancy. In fact, there are things I’m hoping he forgets – like how we kind of lost our tempers at the EgyptAir desk when they lost his reservation, and how we only stayed at the Pyramids long enough for pictures because it was hot and we were exhausted.
But adding to the memory bank, or checking off the world’s wonders, are not the reasons we decided to pack up our little bundle of squealing enthusiasm and cart him and his many belongings to one of the world’s most ancient cities. We won’t deny that he’ll get more out of the experience when he’s old enough to be scared of mummies, and political landscape allowing, we’ll certainly be back.
We took Connor to Cairo because we think he’s old enough to start seeing how big the world is. I know the finer aspects of air travel and timezones are probably still lost on him, but he heard a new language in Egypt. And he saw people who look and dress differently than his parents. He tasted new food, smelled new smells, and tried to unfold the brightly-colored hijab of the friendly Egyptian woman seated next to us on our flight. He explored the twisting streets of Khan al-Khalili Souq perched safely above the fray on his dad’s shoulders, and ate bread while the adults drank too-sweet tea at a local coffeehouse.
His parents learned a little too, from that first trip. We learned that you don’t have to create a detailed replica of your child’s home sleep environment in order for them to go to sleep, despite what we had read. Darkness, a full tummy, and a busy day are more than enough (this also works on adults.) We learned that some babies – or maybe just this one – are completely unfazed by heavy traffic, constant honking, and the general dull roar and near-pandemonium of Cairo’s busy streets. And, once we accepted that no amount of hand sanitizer or baby wipes was going to keep the dust at bay, we learned that letting Connor touch all the things he was seeing made the experience more real for all of us.
Cairo has always had a special place in our hearts, given our previous visits. There is something about how alive the city is that we’ve always found addicting. Sure, we returned to Kuwait infinitely more exhausted than when we left, covered in dirt and grime, relieved to be home. But all that hustle and energy stacked on top of thousands of years of humanity – that’s worth weathering a little chaos. We’ll see you soon, city of minarets.