Monday, July 30, 2012

Cairo, Egypt

 Thirty six hours in Cairo- go! That was my plan after deciding to make my layover in Cairo long enough to see the Pyramids. So after my last night in Dar es Salaam, saying goodbye to Caitlin and a sleepy 5 hour flight, I arrived in hot, crazy Cairo. The taxi ride into downtown took over an hour in stop and go traffic. Covered in sweat and seasick from the drive I was relieved to meet my couchsurfing host Cesar at his office. I dropped off my bags and headed out to see some of the city on my own. Man, was I a walking target.


  That first afternoon was full of getting taken advantage of, learning that the Egyptians are probably the best con-artists in the world and feeling very tired and ill. It wasn't all bad, just quite a learning process. I got swooped into a shop for chai by a sweet man who told me the museum wasn’t open for another half hour and to see the long history of his family in Cairo, to realize after a while they were selling me perfume. So I bought some perfume. It was a very pleasant experience aside from realizing that they just flat out lied to me. I did make it to the museum after more attempted to tell me it wasn’t quite open (now I’d heard that one before).  The National Museum, is amazing and so full of ancient artifacts it feels surreal. Next I got roped into doing a favor for someone. He helped me get painkillers for my headache and then insisted I come into his office for coffee. I followed, fully aware that there would be a catch. We had a very pleasant conversation with his co-workers about Egypt, the revolution and travel over a cup of really delicious coffee. In the end the favor he asked was to buy him whiskey at the duty free shop using my passport for the discount. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at this ridiculous situation that truly was a cultural experience. Later though, sitting in a cafe I started to panic that I'd done something illegal. My heart started to race and my mind wondered to being detained at the airport, thrown in jail and getting my hands cut off. Luckily Cesar, a lawyer, shortly arrived and assured me it was all fine.


  The second day, however, was full of love and being taken care of by a new friend. Nada is from Alexandria and is a friend of Cesar’s. Frustrated by the way tourists are haggled at the Pyramids, she’d vowed to not let any couchsurfers go alone. After staying out all night she retrieved me from Cesar’s and took me to the Pyramids. I'm so grateful for her, it makes me tear up just thinking about her kindness. My time in Cairo, had I stayed in a hotel, would probably have been blah and frustrating if not scary, but my host Cesar and Nada made it the experience of a lifetime. Nada and I rode a camel(!), climbed to the top of one of the small pyramids, learned about all the tombs and kings and queens, and then hung out at her family friend’s house- a 200 year old home just next to the pyramids. The family welcomed me in and gave me chai and then made up a room for us to rest in out of the sun. They were chopping up an entire goat to make stock for Ramadan. How else would I have ever had this glimpse into Egyptian life?! I had many moments of not believing my life. The Pyramids were awe-inspiring. I tried to picture them new and shiny, covered in white marble. I’d always wanted to ride a camel (my alma Mata’s mascot strangely enough) and it was amazing. He didn’t seem as thrilled as I was though and tried to bite me whenever I got down. A school group was curious about me and excited to try out their English. Girls surrounded us asking me my name over and over again. Nada decided to give them a little history lesson about the Pyramids and they all gathered eager to learn. 

 Cairo is the blackness to the right

 view from on top of small pyramid

 School kids


Bela and his 200 yr old house


 In a caf√©

  That night Cesar, Nada, a few of their friends and I took a feluca (sailboat) ride on the Nile- a nice break from the heat. We tacked back and forth in what felt like a different Cairo from during the day. We walked to dinner on sidewalks of sand. They told me that during the revolution the sidewalks were ripped up and used as the people’s only weapon. Revolution graffiti decorated the city walls, but my friends felt that the revolution didn’t change much (the US made sure of that). You could hear the pride in their voices, however, when they spoke of taking the streets. 

 Feluca ride


  Cesar and I stayed up until 1am speaking French and talking about the world. He then carried my bag as far as possible into the airport and hugged me goodbye. I can’t thank or my new friends enough. One day early the universe gave me one hell of a birthday present. 

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