I have been very privileged in the trips I have been able to take, but more so in the people I have met. I would like to introduce you to one more very significant #Journeymaker in my life. Thanks to American Express for asking and for helping me share those Journeymakers who inspire travel.
I have stopped counting how many times I have visited Egypt. Suffice it to say as often as possible. I have been there through the tourism heyday of the 80s and 90s and the exuberance and disappointments of Arab Spring. Each and every trip, I have met many, many Journeymakers who inspire. From the former Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zaazou , the camel drivers at the pyramids, to the lone guard protecting the tombs in the Western Desert, everyone in Egypt is involved in tourism and protecting their unsurpassed cultural heritage.
But my most memorable and inspirational friend in Egypt is someone born in Pakistan and educated in the U.S. and U.K: Salima Ikram. Her bio is impressive and her work even more so, but her ability to inspire and her passion for Egypt and protecting the past motivates many worldwide. Here is a link about Salima and her work with animal mummies.
I first met Salima when she agreed to be the study leader for a Smithsonian tour through Egypt in 2002. She was highly recommended by the Provost of the American University of Cairo, John Swanson (another #Journeymaker) where she taught. It was one of our first tours returning to Egypt since the tragic Luxor massacre of tourists in 1997 so tensions were still high, but Salima quickly replaced tension with passion. During our first lecture, I turned around and instead of discussing the timeline on the screen, there was Salima, flat on the floor. Isn’t that the only way to show someone the process of mummification? And the warmhearted drama continued from there.
We all relaxed, reentered the time of the ancient Old and New Kingdoms but also met her favorite spice seller in Aswan and the guard who loved her at the tomb of Ramses VII in the Valley of the Kings. Salima taught us about ancient Egypt, but more importantly, she showed us the joy of living day to day with the warmest, most welcoming people on earth. She knew everyone and she made sure to introduce us to all her friends throughout the country, at every archaeological dig and shop. By the end of the trip, we had all “adopted a mummy” to support Salima’s ongoing project to protect the animal mummies at the Egyptian Antiquities Museum.
Our friendship and her inspiration have continued and Salima is always the first person I reach out to when in Cairo. One of my visits was as a delegate with the U.S. Business Mission to Egypt in September of 2012. I was to speak about the importance of Tourism in restoring the economy. A lunch with Salima gave me the real insights to share with these business and government leaders. Despite these very challenging times, Salima continues to share her vast knowledge to inspire a love and respect for Egypt’s culture and heritage. You may see her on the Discovery Channel explaining her finds with great enthusiasm and passion. If you are very lucky, you might get to meet her in person, in Egypt.
So what is a Journeymaker? For me, it is someone who not only shares their own passions and expertise, but also invites you into their world. That is Salima and I wish I was sipping tea with her right now in the Khan el Khalili bazaar in Cairo. Soon…..Inshallah.
I am honored to partner with American Express in celebration of their 100th Anniversary to recognize a few of the amazing people I have met during my travels who have made my travel memorable… even transformational. As always the opinions and writing are my own, but I am thrilled to give these “JourneyMakers” a wider audience. They deserve it. Who were JourneyMaker’s in your travels? Here’s to the Journeymakers, please share yours here!