I spent last weekend in Cairo, also just called Egypt, or the Mother of the World. The trip was a little too boggled to be able to do the ancient city justice, but I of course must share. Cairo is hard to wrap your mind around. It's huge, both geographically (it took us over an hour to drive across it) and population-wise (20 million), so it's just hard to conceptualize in words, or even feelings. Its many neighborhoods, each with a story, dialect, and stench, don't seem to form one city. I didn't like that; even in New York, where each neighborhood has a distinct character, it feels like one city. There is just so damn much to see in Cairo that it's a little overwhelming, I guess, especially topped off with the smog that makes your boogers black, the trash and crowds lining the street, and the scantily-clad foreigners. I have to admit that I welcomed Alex's peaceful confidence upon returning.
The first day, I went to the pyramids with my team, which included our Egyptian driver and good friend Karim, and my girls Amanda and Chelsea from Middlebury. The pyramids are as magnificent as you imagine, I promise. Nothing could detract from their glory. I kept imagining Africans in the Pharaonic times piling those ginormous stones on their backs and lumbering higher and higher until before them loomed a masterpiece. Standing on the base of one of them was a surreal moment that I am still not sure actually happened.
Then the Egyptian police who get paid to sit on their asses and guard places started yelling at me to get down, then I was offered a ride on a camel named Michael Jordan for "very special price", and then I remembered I was in Egypt in 2009. We saw the sphinx, too, which despite a broken nose, was still wondrous. Everyone I was with was generally in a great mood, how couldn't we have been?!
Then I toured the neighborhood of Zamalek, with its European feels and many foreign consulates. Hip neighborhood, don't know much about it. Then I went off to watch the sunset on the River Nile... no big deal. For 7 guinea each, my closest friends and I sat on pillows on a felucca on the sooty river, with the pollution mixing with florescents to give us a show for the end of the day. And I fell more in love with Egypt.
Then followed dinner at a stellar Lebanese restaurant. As long as it's not at my dorm, I love eating in this country. Tablespread of appetizers, hummus, falafel, tabouleh, baba genoug, pita, other things I can't name, and just arms reaching, mouths stuffing, MMMM!!
My only other legitimate cultural experience for the next two days was a visit to the old souk Khan al-Khalili, with narrow alleyways of shops and their keepers yelling "Kashmir scarf, you look Egyptian, you want to buy?!" It felt very authentic, especially after eating hemmem, a little pigeon stuffed with rice.
What did I do for the rest of the time? Let's just say it included clubs called Latex and Ritmo, techno, beer, smoke, Egyptian party boys, drunk Egyptian party boy getting hit by car, third-world hospitals, and sleeping. Needless to say, I need to return to Cairo to taste more of its cultural and religious flavor, get a better feel for its people and attitude, and maybe hit up one more club (what, it's hard to party in a Muslim country!)
Meanwhile, I continue to be outrageously happy in general. It is fascinating to mix my intellectual curiosity with my personal/emotional experiences here. I am stimulated daily by conversations in Arabic about gender relations and Islam here. I laugh every day with the loving people around me who I am smitten with, or at the ridiculous paradoxes sometimes found here. I am about to get on a 9-hour busride that will leave me in the Siwa Oasis on the Libyan border for 2 days. More to come about that, as well as a more serious post about being a woman here.
Get your passports and wallets out, and come be with me. Yullah!
مشي، مع سلامة