One of my favorite finds during my travels is a unique piece of jewelry. While I tend to gravitate toward earrings, I think one of my favorite pieces is the cartouche I purchased in Cairo, with my name on it in hieroglyphs.

Cartouche

Cartouche from Cairo. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The story surrounding my quest for jewelry in Egypt is as much a part of the appeal as the actual necklace. When I first arrived in Cairo, my guide took me to a tiny shop that we reached after winding our way past all the aggressive vendors at the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar.

I sat in this tiny shop – smaller than my bathroom at home – with the July heat baking me, and looked at an assortment of cartouches. I wanted a real piece of jewelry. Not a fake piece of metal that would fall apart. My guide assured me this was the place. I picked out my necklace, checked that it had the markings indicating it was sterling, and with more than just a bit of trepidation, paid for my necklace. I was to pick it up on my return to Cairo in six days.

I spent the next few days on a Nile River cruise from Aswan to Luxor. There was a small gift shop on board and I found a ring I liked that had hieroglyphs around it. I decided to purchase it and arranged to collect it the next day. Sure enough, my ring was ready as promised and I loved the way it looked. Perfect fit. I was thrilled – until it turned my finger green where the “silver” touched my skin.

My guide on the boat, different than the one in Cairo, assisted me in returning the ring and then arranged for me to purchase one from a jeweler in Luxor. He called ahead, made all of the arrangements, and told me it would be in Luxor when we arrived.

It sounded simple. When we docked in Luxor, my guide told me to bring my cash and follow him. We took off through the winding back streets of Luxor – my young Egyptian guide, a fellow US female journalist, and myself – and met up with another young man on a nondescript street corner. There, we exchanged our cash for little packets containing jewelry. It was all very clandestine and I was certain the authorities would arrest us at any moment.

However, we made it safely back to the boat. By the time I arrived back in Cairo, my “genuine” ring had already lost the hieroglyphs. I could only laugh at my own stupidity and wondered if I’d ever see the necklace I ordered earlier, and if it would fall apart.

Urban Egypt

Street corner in Egypt. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

On the ground in Cairo, our original guide met us and informed us that, due to the increased fighting in central Cairo, we would have to take the long way back to the hotel. He explained that we would stop long enough for him to run in alone to pick up my necklace. Great. Now we were dodging protesters in the middle of a bloody revolution to pick up jewelry. Fortunately, he made it back to the car safely, necklace in hand, and we eventually arrived back at the hotel.

I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful necklace. I could only hope it would last. I left Cairo the next day, tossing my ring in the trash can as I left.

I was thrilled when I returned home and a jeweler confirmed that, indeed, my cartouche is sterling silver and excellent quality workmanship. I never wear it that someone doesn’t ask me about it and is eager to hear about my travels in Egypt. Every time I put it on, I still laugh about my crazy jewelry adventures in the Middle East. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that the rewards of those memories are worth every moment that I spent trying to find just the right treasure to take home.

Who says souvenir hunting can’t be an adventure?

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