Sunday, October 24, 2010

Land of the Pyramids and Sphinx

Well I'm in Cairo! Have been for nine days now. Cairo is one of those cities where the people are wonderful, but the sites Once you've seen them, there's not a whole lot to do during the day. Nighttime is a different story. THe trip started out with not having Egyptian pounds, it being a weekend so banks were closed, and no one speaks English, even taxi drivers. After persuading the bus driver with 500 tz shillings (the equivalent of 30 cents) and 2 dollars I managed to find my host's house. It was soooooo good to see Claire (a friend from back home!). We spent the weekend mostly catching up, trying Egyptian food, and learning about the Christian side of Egypt..Coptic Cairo. Despite the fact that now the country is 93% Muslim, Christianity has a huge history here, including Egypt being the first place of monasticism. We went in a museum that housed textiles from the 3rd century and pages of the BIble in Arabic from probably the 8th. You gotta love old stuff if you come to the 1st civilization.
My first day solo was spent at the Egyptian museum which was so cool to see the limestone slabs with hieroglyphs on them. The museum did a really good job not putting everything behind glass. The consequence-no cameras allowed. So you'll have to go see King Tut's tomb, animal mummies, and amazing artifacts for yourself. Apparently, the short nights in Dar due to a concert then waking up early to run a 9k and then an early flight caught up with me, cuz I went "home" to sleep..for 5 hours! We were invited to a Spanish dinner and met some more CSers over Spanish tapas.

The citadel wasn't super impressive, but it was definitely an experience to enter a mosque in what looked a Monty Python hooded cloak and see lots of old buildings. I learned how militaristic Egypt is and about the Oct. War when Israel tried to take Sinai. The citadel is much more beautiful at night when it is all lit up and there is a FREE jazz festival going on, which is what happened that night! One of the bands was doing a compilation between Egyptian and German artists so I saw instruments I had never seen before-a khanoun (like an oriental slidy instrument, sorry for the technical term ;P) and oud (looked kinda like a lyre). THe other band played some jazz classics. It was so good we went again the following night and had COMPLETELY different jazz;Ukranian vocal acapella, american hardcore sax, borderline rock, and Latin jazz. The people I met there truly became real friends. Egyptians are such nice people and are so proud to show you their city.

TUesday was spent shopping at the large bazaar here. I've heard attempted gimmicks at getting me into the store such as "I don't know what you're looking for but we have it." "Welcome to my walmart""99% off""Almost free" etc etc etc. Quite amusing, though definitely got tiresome after awhile. I found quite a few souvenirs and bought a poof as they call them here which can serve as a cushion or footrest. Then I went to some beautiful gardens and the most green in Cairo by far. It made me realize how desperately TZ needs and lacks gardens, parks that can be walked in, and beautiful viewpoints of the city (even if it is covered in smog, 22 million people here!). Wed. was a quite disappointing day, walking to various sites that were closed and none of the locals seem to know that. But I will tell you briefly about the one productive hour of the day followed by a fantastic night of Sufi dancing, walking down a street of lit mosques, and cafe/shishah sampling. I went to a museum about THE Arabic diva, Om Kolthoum which was really cool to see women in the spotlight FOR A CHANGE! To give you an idea, there is even a women's train car, and men and women never do things together unless they are married. It's been interesting to see guys kiss on both cheeks as a greeting, hold hands, and walk with arms around each other. The Sufi dancing was incredible. Called the Whirling Dervishes and accompanied by Egyptian music, these men spun for 1/2 an hr without stopping taking off the equivalent of tops in clothing form. Amazing and again free!
Thurs wins the unexpected award. I went to Alexandria for a change of pace, a chance to swim in the Med Sea, and see one of the oldest cities, now a city of 5 million. After an hour delay of the train's arrival and almost getting on the wrong train due to punctuality issues, a guy on the train who I casually talked to hands me his phone telling me it's his wife and she wants to speak English with me...hello? Apparently she's been to MN and wants to meet up...okay, why not? You're welcome at my house anytime...thanks, bye. Wait, my uncle wants to talk to you..okay..I'm from London. If you're ever there my house is available anytime...okay thanks. We were going to meet up for drinks later. I see an old fort and receive another call from the uncle asking me where I am. He and his niece meet up with me and I explain I'm sightseeing. They're welcome to join.."Just give us a call when you're finished." Uh..okay. We went to the library (2nd biggest in the world) and I saw an original page of the Iliad (dont worry Paideia, I took a picture).The uncle calls again and tells us to come to his house and meet his family. He's prepared a dinner for us..I arrive with intention of going to a 2 dollar orchestra concert and hr and a half later knowing full well to kiss that idea goodbye upon arrival. The house is 5 stories, and the furniture is all gold leaf. The food was exquisite: prawns, shrimp, hummus, baba ganoug (not ganoush like we say in the states), 2 types of fish, and salads. Egyptians sure know how to eat! THe 8 and 9 yr old practiced their English with me and the somewhere in his twenties and his friends took me to the man on the train's house so I could meet his wife and see his two 40 day yr old twins and then go to a cafe. I love the cafe environment here. So chill. A cafe here is the equivalent of a bar since Muslims can't drink. I will miss the fresh squeezed fruit juices SO much! After swimming in the Med sea, another HUGE breakfast, more food, more food more food, and a long car trip detour to the airport, I arrived back in Cairo and took a Felucca ride on the Nile and met more nice Egyptians.
But I think the most memorable thing about the trip was the Race for the Cure at the Pyramids. Muslims in headscarves under the free breast cancer hat, long sleeves, usually pink, and quite the gamut of shoes from ballet flats to sandals to completely impractical and not suitable for running. After an hr delay and breakdancers and music to get everyone pumped up, 12000 people set off to run or walk the 2k. Yet, the tour buses, camels, horses, and chariots continued and it became an obstacle course of don't get hit by the various modes of transportation. And running on desert sand makes even 2k and 90+ degree weather quite tiring! After no information in the solar boat museum but a huge model of a boat excavated and of course the Sphinx and climbing around the ruins of the pyramids, we went to retrieve our free lunch tickets. More like a free snack, but that is a scene I will never forget. A section for breast cancer survivors, and music from Arabic to English, all the people on their chairs, with enthusiasm that I hate to say, but you'd only see in the US with intoxication. The energy was incredible! I must say the Sphinx is not how one imagines it, large and glorious. It's quite small really.
So those are the eventful parts of my trip to Cairo. Oh and Zumba, an aerobic dance, is AWESOME!!! One thing this trip has made me realize is how badly I need to be a part of the community when I return to Arusha. I've been living without much community involvement and I need that. I'm going to join the older women's bible study and try to find a cultural role model and practice Swahili and hopefully build a base for myself. Even for ten months, that is such an essential part.

K if you're still reading I'm impressed. I think I'm gonna walk to the Hindu temple and have one last bowl of Koshiri (noodles, tomato sauce, garlic sauce, chick peas, lentils, and fried onions, SO GOOD!) and fresh fruit juice before I leave for the airport. Thanks for reading and as they say here, Salaam. I've managed to pick up the very basics of the Arabic language even if I can't write it.

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