Egypt is a bucket list destination for just about anyone. You don't have to be an avid traveler to have ever dreamed about standing between the pyramids, kissing the sphinx, or riding camel back over orange-colored sand dunes. The scenery alone lends itself to the imagination and you could easily begin to picture what the days of Ramesses II must have been. History is all around you at all times and well-preserved which immediately ties you to the proud heritage of Egyptian people.
Fast forward to modern-day Cairo, and things are very different but still reflective of the significance of the past that is etched into Egypt. Cairo is the largest city in Egypt and a bustling shock to the system that hits instantly. This city sits at the banks of the famed Nile River, and boasts a population of about 20 million people. Egypt alone has a population of approximately 105 million people. It is a predominantly Muslim country but still seems more progressing than I expected in its views and diverse in its current culture. If New York City is the city that never sleeps, then Cairo is the city that never blinks. There are people in every corner, there are shops everywhere you look, many languages being spoken in the same conversations, amazing smelling food and spices and of course sweet-smelling shisha. If there is one thing I can say about Cairo, much less Egypt, I felt surrounded by a robust culture that is steeped in history and pride.
Egypt is so big and there is a lot to take in all at once. Here were some of my top 5 favorites:
The Pyramids & The Sphinx
So, small confession I really only came to Egypt to see these two things. By the time I left though, I realized how much apart of a bigger, grander tapestry of history they actually were. These two sets of structures were one of my earliest memories of me and father bonding over travel. I knew that being in their presence would be awe-inspiring. The Great Pyramids and the Sphinx are located in close vicinity to one another. You can purchase a ticket at the ticket office and proceed through several security stops before walking into the main historic area. Once you are through the gate, you are literally standing at the foot of the first of three Great Pyramids. Be prepared because it will take your breath away.
Off in the near distance, you will be able to see the other two pyramids against the desert background. It is possible for you to go inside the first pyramid but that ticket must be purchased at the gate or you are out of luck. If you choose to venture inside the pyramids, be cautioned, it consists of crawling through a small tunnel while crouching to traverse both inclines and declines until you reach the final room. Here is where a tomb was found but is now located in the Egyptian Museum. The walk is not for the faint of heart and is very hot due to little ventilation. Honestly, you can skip that and instead take a walk around each pyramid. It is possible to climb up the first set of stones to take a photo and get up close to each pyramid.
A short walk down the road that winds between the pyramids is where the Sphinx is located. It is a separate structure with a complex all its own. Upon first glance, it almost seems small until you walk through the purification chambers and exit along a pathway that puts you right next to the head of the Sphinx. Here is where most people take their iconic photos kissing the Sphinx, holding the chin of the Sphinx or any other creative way to capture this wonder of the world. A few tips while visiting this area: go early and not on Friday, it gets crowded quickly. If anyone offers to take your photo be prepared to tip them. Pay for the camel rides, there are a lot of fun and you get great photos from the other side of the pyramids. Lastly, make sure you stop for a moment and take it all in.
Visit The Mortuary Temple Of Hatshepsut
A little background history to Hatshepsut for context first: She was the fifth Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. She was the second confirmed female pharaoh at the time. Now, you might be wondering if she was a woman, why was she not the Queen of Egypt? As the story goes, when she rose to power, she decided that she was going to rule Egypt in the same manner as the men who preceded her. This involved creating her own narrative and establishing herself as the God's Wife of Amen. Hatshepsut called herself a pharaoh in her story and even used male pronouns to refer to herself in her written story. In physical depictions, Hatshepsut is seen with the royal false beard and wearing a pharaoh's royal garments in many statues surrounding the temple, as well as in drawings on the temple walls.
She is regarded as one of the most successful and accomplished Pharaohs of her time, ruling for longer than any other female in Egyptian history. Her temple sits on the West Bank of the Nile River in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. It is carved into a cliff with a grand staircase leading to the central level of the temple. Here, you can see many statues of Hatshepsut as well as many columns and rooms for purification. On the top level is the chamber for the tomb that also showcases stories about the female Pharaoh's time in power. It is one of the most prominent structures in the area. The Valley of the Kings is known for the 60+ tombs that were found, including King Tut, but the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is the most prolific structure standing. Her story is one that shows the power of women leaders and is inspiring to women in today's society.
Hot Air Balloon Ride Over The Valley Of The Kings
Hot air balloon rides should be on everyone's bucket list. Personally, I hope to do this in as many countries as possible. However, I am glad that I got a chance to do it first in Egypt. I wasn't sure what to expect but the end result exceeded my expectations. This particular hot air balloon ride started in a large open space on the West Bank of the Nile River. Our projected flight path was over the Valley of the Kings. One unexpected feature of our balloon aircraft was the size of the basket. Originally, I thought the aircraft would consist of small baskets with 6-8 people in each. The reality is, the aircraft is a large basket that holds about 20 people with even splits on both sides of the balloon pilot.
Even still, takeoff was smooth as we rose to 700 ft above the earth. This was coupled with the exact moment the sun rose to reveal a kind of beauty that could only be seen at that height. There is a moment of quiet calm that happens at cruising altitude that can only be described as tranquility. This was truly a highlight of my trip and a must do in any country offering this experience. If you really want to turn up your experience, pop a bottle of champagne while in flight and cheer to a beautiful life.
Cruise The Nile River
One of the most famous rivers in the world, the Nile River, exists in Egypt and has a 5-star cruise industry. The Nile River is a north flowing river and is arguably the longest river in the world, coming in at 4,130 miles (6,650km). It covers the length of 11 African countries and empties out in a large delta to the Mediterranean Sea. The highest populated cities in Egypt, including Cairo and Aswan, are located along the banks of the Nile River.
Cruising the Nile River can be done in many different ways, from luxury cruise ships to the shorter felucca rides. Most cruises in Egypt take place between Luxor and Aswan, visiting cities such as Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. Each stop gives you a look into some of the oldest structures still standing from ancient Egypt. It also is an excellent opportunity to see the stark contrast between ancient Egyptian buildings and the more modern-day apartment buildings, hotels and restaurants. The Nile River itself is a rather wide river with amazing scenery that changes from mile to mile. You can easily go from city scape, to mountains, to small village, to lush farmland in a matter of minutes. The luxury cruises are the way to go with a smooth ride down the Nile while being hosted by amazing staff that provide the comfort you need to relax and enjoy the jewel of Egypt.
Visit The Nubian Villages
Before traveling to Egypt, I did not know much about the Nubians. So, this was a welcomed surprise! The Nubian people are a part of one of the oldest civilizations known to Egypt, and are descendents from areas in modern-day Sudan and Egypt. Currently in Egypt, the Nubians live in what is considered ancient Nubia. They are farmers, shop owners, or they travel to work a variety of jobs in other Egyptian cities. Their buildings are brightly colored stucco structures stacked neatly together against the mountain side. Almost reminiscent of Mykonos but will more vibrant flavor. The people are welcoming as soon as you set foot on the Nubian soil, saying things like, "Wow you look like me, are you Nubian?" The goods sold here reflect the African culture from which the Nubian people derive their skin tone and heritage. The tiny streets are filled with shops selling local artwork depicting the deep-toned people of Nubia, spices, teas, and more. Camel back is the transportation of choice, and the Nubians traverse the small winding streets with ease. It doesn't quite feel like home but it feels familiar. This is a must-see and shop stop on any Egyptian itinerary.
So, that's it for my top five things to see and do in Egypt. I want to also give honorable mention the city of Alexandria. The ancient city contains a lighthouse called Pharos, which is regarded as one of the ancient world's seven wonders. I did not get a chance to visit but here are a few things to check out there: Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Montaza Palace, Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa and the beaches. Also visit the bazaars and perfumeries in Cairo. A few tips for the bazaars: know how much you want to spend on any item; most things are very cheap so haggle, haggle, haggle; if they won't budge leave and watch you spend exactly what you wanted.
These are my suggestions but Egypt is a big country, so there is much more to explore and discover.
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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