Sunday, July 17, 2005
Well, holy shit. So I found a free wifi access point in Cairo, of all places. In Zamalek, at the Café Tabasco at the intersection of Marashly and Ahmed Hishmat streets (though taxi drivers only seem to know nearby Ismail Mohammed street). So. Ah. I’m spending my Sunday afternoon drinking lemon juice with mint and catching up on some various web things, like putting up a few more days worth of photos (including Pyramids).
So. Whew. I’m experiencing a bit of travel fatigue. I’m enjoying it out here, but have definitely crossed that threshhold where I’m ready to come home and get on with my own life. It’s good, I suppose. I’ve satisfied my nearly-insatiable travel impulse (for a while). I come home in about three weeks.
My visit to the medieval Arab suuq last ngiht (Saturday) nearly killed me. The suuq (typical, cramp, bustling Arab marketplace) winds through northeast Cairo, starting near Al-Azhar University (founded 988AD) and spreading over a network of narrow corridors and wider avenues maybe fifteen blocks long and who knows how many blocks deep. Narrow corridors, maybe ten or fifteen feet wide, packed dense with scrambling Egyptians — hocking wares, buying wares, moving goods from here to there, and everything else. Everyone’s short over here, thankfully, so I could see to navigate myself through this confusion (to my western eyes, at least) and could enjoy looking at the scene as much as I could. Fine for about a half-hour but then I got lost (heh) and as far as I could tell, taxis had been prohibited from picking people up in this area (lest they clog the streets even further, I suppose) and the busses were packed — people cramped inside, hanging off the sides, sometimes on the roof. And they didn’t move too fast, either. Not that I knew where they might be going. And stopping to do something like look in my guide book made me an instant target for salespeople, though just walking around I heard an unending chorus of “Hey, hello! Where you from?” calls. (Asking where obvious foreigners are from is the big opening line in Cairo. Initially I just admitted “America,” though I’ve found I get better reactions saying “Texas.” Not everyone’s aware here, for one thing, that Texas is in the US. As I got more annoyed by this question, I branched out. “Canada.” Soon I’ll probably get more experimental. “Ireland.” “Norway.” “Japan.” “The Sudan.” I’m sure I’ll be surprised at how many Egyptians consider Norway to be their favorite place. But I digress.)
The constant entreaties to buy something got rather repetative, but I did have a few odd experiences. At one point, two teenaged girls were walking behind me decked out in the headscarves that all women wear around here. They must’ve been learning English, because they got into a funny little discussion between themselves about prepositions. “Welcome in Cairo?” “Welcome Cairo?” “Welcome at Cairo?” So I stopped and smiled and said “Welcome TO Cairo.” They found this hugely amusing. A good little moment. Egyptians are quite friendly, as most people are, I think, and it’s a shame that I (like many tourists, I imagine) have to feel suspicious of anyone who tries to speak with me in public. So many of them just want baksheesh or couldn’t care less about where I come from as long as where I go is with them to some shop or off-the-map “museum.” And people on the street, people who seem perfectly nice and helpful, will completely lie — flat-out, 100% lie — about what’s open when and where things are in order to misdirect you to their place (or the place that gives them a commission). And it’s a shame, because it really disrupts relations between the tourists and the locals (and probably reinforces the opinions of many westerners that all Arabs are little beggar scam artists).
Anyway. One other encounter will stick in my mind. Lost, like I said, I tried to work my way back to the University (where I, at least, knew taxis could stop). So I accidentally wound up in a very tight, very labyrinthine fabric and clothing shop. I just looked totally out of place with my height, blond hair, and clunky tourist camera. Not a tourist spot at all. And everyone just stared. Like I had walked into K-Mart with no pants on. One older woman in a head-scarf stared at me as I walked by as if she’d just seen the Devil himself, wide-eyed, mouth agape, shocked. Erm. Very, very weird. To say the least.
So I finally figured my way out of all of this after a couple of hours. With everything intact (though at points I felt like I might be attracting enough attention to actually be putting myself at risk of some sort of physical attack — not to wear my stereotypes to obviously on my sleeve, but I’m aware that some younger Egyptians dislike westerners — Americans, especially — as I’ve been shoulder-checked on a couple of occasions and several times just walking around little kids have yelled who-knows-what at me (I don’t respond) and there are bumper stickers here and there that express anti-American sentiment. (Like this one, which has a sticker that says “Don’t Buy American Products” right above a sticker advertising “U.S.Robotics.” Oh well.) And I’m not saying I think all or even many Egyptians have issues with an American in their presence, but it just takes one. And the fact that a possible affiliate of the London mass-transit bombers may live in Cairo has been a big news item over here lately.
To backtrack… The first thing I did in that part of town was to visit the Mosque of Al-Ahzar (attached to the University). Which was gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. I’ll have some photographs of it up soon, but that visit is definitely a highlight of the trip thus far. This week I plan on visiting more mosques. The weather’s so hot and I’m hesitant to spend my day in long pants (can’t go into mosques in shorts). So this may be an evening thing.
Okay. Enough of this babble.
I'm Josh Knowles, a technology developer/consultant on a variety of mobile, social media, and gaming projects. I founded and lead Frescher-Southern, Ltd. I grew up in Austin, Texas and currently live in New York City.
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