In the summer of 2016, I went to Egypt for a volunteering exchange with an international student organisation. As someone who actually loves the rain and cold temperatures, I chose to travel to Egypt for 6 weeks because I wanted to challenge myself, both mentally and physically, and to experience a country with dramatically different cultures and traditions. The relatively labour intensive work in Egypt was also a refreshing change from my normally inactive lifestyle. Of course, the sights in Egypt also drew me there as well, from the vast empty deserts to the bustling streets of Cairo.
The preparations required for the trip had me worried. Government websites, along with my GP, gave me a rather long list of recommended vaccines, and also told me to rely on bottled water throughout the entire journey. As someone who’s spent most of my life in countries where rabies and hepatitis A are extremely rare, it was not exactly the most comforting time of my life. In addition, rather significant portions of Egypt were not recommended for travel by the FCO, raising concerns for the safety of the exchange. Thankfully, extra research and preparation eventually eased my concerns.
The entire project involved more than 200 volunteers from around the world, lasting 4 months in total, with the ultimate goal of building Egypt’s first ever bottle school. My 6 weeks in particular were spent surveying the local areas, filling bottles, and preparing the foundations of the school. Work was tough under the sun, made slightly more difficult due to lack of food during Ramadan, but the enthusiasm of the other volunteers and the local children there made it bearable. As I’m writing this very sentence back in Edinburgh, I have just received news that the bottle school has been fully completed, and everyone on the team is absolutely ecstatic, even though we are spread around the world, connected only through social media.
As for the sights, I had the best time of my life travelling around the country. I will never forget the sunrise that greeted me after a 4 hour hike in darkness, and nor will I forget the vast deserts that used to be underwater, with whale bones and coral fossils lying across the desert floor. I do not regret going to Egypt whatsoever, and have already begun making plans for travelling this winter with my new friends I met there.