Cairo - Day Six

Sunday, July 17, 2005


The suuq.

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.

Where are you from?

Posted Sun, July 17, 2005, 7:02pm EST by kirk

I found in the few countries I've visited recently ( UK, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Canada and Mexico ) and while abroad meeting people from other countries, when I say that I am from Texas people will say "that is where Bush is from" sometimes as a sad statement or question. My response is "unfortunately" and try to change the subject. I never leave home without some sort of Canadian apparel just in case I come across people who hate America for its freedom.

More photos up, now...

Posted Mon, July 18, 2005, 5:39pm EST by Josh

Starting here.

Just like Freedom, Josh's camera's on the march.

Two more days...

Posted Wed, July 20, 2005, 5:02pm EST by Josh

Here (Heliopolis) and here (The Citadel).

Yes, I found a bug in the little photo album scripts I wrote, so some of the the navigation may be screwy. I'll probably have to wait until I get home to fix it... Sorry.


Posted Sun, July 24, 2005, 6:40pm EST by bren

you're still alive, right? how are people dealing with the bombings over there?

hope your flight was ok

Posted Mon, July 25, 2005, 8:45pm EST by Haley

hope i dont embarrass you before you can read this and delete it, or embarrass myself with my horrible punctuation, but night is spelled wrong in paragraph three.

dont worry, cairo is still plenty hot. i went to the suuq tonight. got a black scarab and managed to chip it while getting out of the cab at Alfa market. the washing machine, which thankfully we were not even using, flooded the kitchen and hallway with water and black soot. hope it gets cleaned up tomorrow, before we go to Giza.

hope to see you in italy!!


Posted Mon, July 25, 2005, 9:06pm EST by Josh

This is exactly the kind of crap I won't let stand on my website.

Yup, back in Berlin. The city smells like sweet roses after Egypt. Sorry about the chipped scarab beetle. Have to say, though, that's one of my favorite Pharaonic symbols. Have fun at Giza. Take some holy water or something. You know how mummies like to run around and howl and scare the shit out of people when you go into their tombs...


Posted Mon, July 25, 2005, 11:16pm EST by Majora

hey josh glad your allright. When r u coming back to the ATX. Also can oyu create a gallery that is just of haley eating at various places in Europe, there should be enough for at least a full page of photos :-)



Posted Tue, July 26, 2005, 3:04am EST by bren

Ok, good to hear. I'll be back actually earlier, on Sunday. You know the numbers.
Vienna is rainy.