I wrote this email to friends in 2007. Egypt was different prior to the changes that would occur in the coming years. Blissful memory of walking amongst ancient history. The joy of typing out emails from my Blackberry keyboard. I do miss it. Please check out my Facebook page as well. I literally just made it and have zero likes so far. I'm not reaching out to family or friends; I haven't even made announcements to them. I'm just curious if anyone cares or reads my posts. So, maybe you'll be the first or the second. Subscribe as well. I opened a Mailchimp account, which by the way, is also empty. Not lonely, but just want to see how the power of social media sans family and friends will play out. A social experiment if you will. I enjoy interacting with random strangers—one of the must traits for a vagabond traveling alone. Anyhow, hope you enjoy my raw report from Cairo. Cheers to you and all of us who dare to step out of the rat race, even if for a moment!
Arabic weekend is Friday and Saturday so it's "thank Allah it's Thursday...TAIT!" After a crazy day and I'm sure the last time at the great pyramids of Giza, for this trip anyway, an Austrian PhD student, Patrick and I decided to take a walking tour of local mosques in a very old Egyptian (bit redundant) neighborhood.
Walking along the street near the Citadel and the many mosques along the way, it is still amusing. Traffic lights are rare and I think the best way to sum up the interaction between pedestrians and cars is that of a matador and a bull. The cars will stop short of hitting you, but it takes time internalizing the trust. I generally position an Egyptian- women and children are the best- between myself and the traffic then follow their lead across the street...very cowardly of me, I know. The trick is being decisive when alone and better to almost not acknowledge the oncoming car and pass the responsibility to the driver, but always keeping the traffic in the periphery. Ole!
The Iban Toulon Mosque is incredibly peaceful and it's high walls are efficient in keeping the noise out. Graced with a beautiful day, minimal crowd (all at the pyramids), walking around inside the walls of the Mosque is a serene experience.
Egypt is truly where the West and the East are fused into a daily existence with modern arabs passing the more conservative Arab women in their full burkas with only their mysterious eyes piercing out. What do they wear underneath? Enjoying fajitas last night at "Chilis", I found fascinating how a woman in a full burka covering ate. She lifts her front face covering then carefully from underneath, sips her drink and eats while another would slightly pull down her cover and feed from the top. Really an extraordinary sight.
We did take a detour into the slums of Cairo walking through probably the poorest neighborhood I've seen. Patrick thought it might be a good idea to put away our big SLR cameras so as to not look like a tourist to which I replied "I think it's going to take more than that to not stand out." We were not accosted nor held hostage at gunpoint or even robbed. Patrick even bought several oranges from a street vendor for about $.50 and children smiled and looked on curiously as I navigated around the streets making sure to not step on donkey shit.
This isn't Iraq or Afghanistan. I have been telling everyone that I am an American living in LA to which they respond pointing to my slanted eyes and explain I am a unique warrior race from Norway, further confusing them.
Coptic church sits along next to Mosques here and to my chagrin, my dry cleaner is Christian...meaning he doesn't work today, Sunday, so the usual one day service is a two day wait. Just have to wear my socks and underwear, my last clean pair, for an extra day...too much info?
The traffic is crazy, I cannot stand the constant asking and peddling for money when even the minor service is offered thereby making one more suspicious of Egyptian hospitality, treating every situation differently, you meet some of the nicest people.
Hamza, a media student helped couple lost tourists find their way, not before inviting us to his office where he is training the poor in carpentry, offering tea before walking around the neighbor where many of his students live. We sat down inside a local restaurant to have a very authentic Egyptian meal with cats, and they are everywhere, to add to the ambiance begging for food underneath the table. Price for the meal was $1.50 for the three of us, the same meal that costed me $15 back in my Zamalek full of diplomats and expats. He walked us to our street where I gave him the only meaningful gift of writing his full name in Korean and promising to email our photos.
Taxi back to Zamalek to enjoy some Arab sweets and tea. Later to meet Sara, Egyptian Uni student, at my favorite hangout in Cairo, Diwan cafe/bookstore to attend a play at the American University.
Cairo with it's traffic, peddlers, traffic, conservative customs, traffic, et al, is still wonderful. I am on a budget staying at a very spartan hotel, but you can easily come here, stay at the Hilton/Marriot, go on group tours, eat well and cheap ($10 is expensive), never mingle with the locals smoking the hookah and still have a wonderful time. I think to be deterred to see Egypt because of fear of "being an American" in an Arab nation is something the media has and continuously and irresponsibly stirred into us. Egypt in particular is exciting, unlike the very bland Dubai, cheap, and a very progressive Arab nation. Keep in mind Saddat and Egypt is the first Arab nation to have recognized Israel and he paid the ultimate price for it! My relatives in Korea who only lives 30 miles from the most heavily armed border in the world related to me they're not worried about North Korea. You will find in Egypt many Europeans touring, living, and working here.
Malaria? Ok, Don't have to worry about malaria in Cairo, but will have to in parts of Kenya and Tanzania and all of Mozambique and Botswana. For the record, the camel I used for my first guided tour is kept by the Brits and treat their animals well, unlike the clown who jumped in to the taxi and guided me to hustle a stable of obviously abused horses. Children seemingly being exploited to make Egyptian carpets blind-sided me. I bought nothing. Having said that, the children learning the trade were doing lot better than the shantytown ones I saw yesterday with litter along every street.
One realizes even with a year, I can only cover some of the world so ever superficially, but even the brief flash in the pan has earned lifelong friendships and at minimum challenges one's conception of being and thoughts on world order. You just don't see things so black and white any longer and sitting next to a French diplomat at a cafe discussing the Super Bowl (which I missed) is an odd but fun experience. A Kiwi couple, here for two years to learn Arabic for the New Zealand Embassy, just emailed to apologize for their absence (they got food poisoning after eating last night).
I am sitting in the most picturesque of cafes across from the French embassy owned and operated by a Franco-Lebanese, typing or plucking away on the Blackberry and studying few Arabic phrases using my rough guide.
As for the street peddlers and "hello my friend" merchants asking "where you from?" I reply in Portuguese "Nao fala ingles, eu Brasilero.". I don't speak English, I am Brazilian. Usually leaves them with a funny shocked look on their faces. We'll send photos soon.
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