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Celebrities in Cairo

January 10, 2011

I just saw on my blog that my post from Saturday morning, about Friday night, did not show. I will have to write about that later, as our time here started eventfully. But today I am writing about Saturday.

Now we have been in Cairo for three full days, and what an amazing time we have had so far. Although this will be a long post, if I wait until I return to Ukraine, it will be three times as long.

On Saturday, we decided to try the market at Khan Al-Khalili – or in that general area. We left the hotel around 10 a.m. and everyone was pretty much just starting to open their doors, but then again most of the stores are open until midnight. We learned on our first night here that people really start venturing out to stores and such after 8 p.m. We do not have that great of a map, as we quickly found out. As we live in Ukraine, there was no way to get an English-language map of Cairo, and we thought perhaps we could do it here – no go. So we got one when we got to the hotel and found it is missing the names of many of the streets, and some other things on it are incomplete. Ah well, it is better than nothing.

So we were walking along, trying to follow a suggested walk. We found a patisserie, and got gelato (real gelato – wonderful). Found the first synagogue (of two in the city, neither of which is actually used anymore). To enter the synagogue, we had to hand over our passports to the guard. Inside the synagogue is a sign that says “No Photo, No Video.” I asked “no photos?” and they said well, for a price. I asked the price, and she said 20 pounds for one photo. I said no, put the camera away. Then comes a guy, asks if I want to take photos. I asked how much, got to take 5 photos for 20 pounds. Fine with me, though not as many as I wanted. When I got outside, however, and crossed the street to take a photo, I was quickly approached by the tourism police, told I cannot take photos. I said the other guard said I could, and now the other guard was going crazy, saying no no no. Hmm. They did not ask for money – something a person finds out very quickly here is that no police people of any sort will let you take a photo if they are to be in it. So I did not get any photos of the whole exterior of the synagogue. At the end of the block, Terry tried to take one and the guards went crazy again, so we gave up.

On to the market. We started in the Egyptian part of the market (or, as someone told us today, the “Turkish market.”). As we were walking, and pretty much the whole time we have been here, people said “Welcome to Egypt”. I was rather amused at some of the other things people said – two lines stick out in my head. One guy said “Let me tell you how I can take your money,” and the other guy said “I don’t know what you are looking for, but I have anything you need.” I laughed out loud at those. As we neared the tourist bazaar, the hawkers got more aggressive (one even touched me) and the streets wider and cleaner.

Yet, I did not like the tourist bazaar, and when we were looking for lunch, we went back into the Egyptian part, into some back alleys. There we were treated as celebrities, and we also found falafel sandwiches for one pound, and koshary for two. Much better than the 25 pounds the tourist restaurants wanted for the koshary!

Something I found very interesting in those back alleys, however, was that at one point, a woman came up to me and touched my butt. I gave a little yelp because I was so surprised, and then realized it was an older woman who touched me! Wha?? We got a good laugh out of that as well though. I also got stared at quite a bit. I was wearing pants that stopped at mid-calf, and the funny thing is, the men were generally staring at my feet, not at my face! Most of the stares were curiosity, but some were not friendly. I was far more covered up than most of the American tousits who come through here! The staring has continued though.

Another thing I have noticed – cats, cats, cats. Pregnant cats, Tom cats, adorable kittens, they are everywhere. A lot of calico and tortoiseshell cats too.

So onward we continued, reached the South Gate of the city, and climbed up the miniarets. You may or may not know that I have a slight issue with heights – not enough to be a paralyzing fear, but enough that being on an unsecured high place with the wind blowing bothers me a bit. Yet I climbed up the tower (part of the stairway was pitch black) and took some photos. What a fantastic view! So different than being say at Notre Dame in Paris or on one of the hills of Rome because all of the tallest buildings were mosques and their towers.

Getting directions, which we need to do with some frequency because of our poor map, is always fun. People will say left and direct their hand right. I figured that means right, and that is usually the case. We usually ask the tourist police but sometimes a helpful person will tell us. Usually we do not need to pay these helpful people, contrary to popular opinion.

People are generally really friendly and welcoming here. Except for the men who disapprove of how I dress. After tea and an interesting bathroom experience (in a mosque, public restroom), we went down the fruit and vegetable market, down the street of the tentmakers. One guy was selling carrot juice, or so I thought. I went and tried to order some but…his juicer was missing. No carrot juice for me!

The next guy was the guy who sold Terry some baklava – I wanted to take Terry’s photo with him, then Terry turned the camera on me, and the guy laid his head on my shoulder for the photo! It was a fun time. And we still aren’t done with Saturday!

We ended up seeing the Sufi show, the ones that people call “whirling dervishes”. One word – amazing. I have to cull through the photos I took to determine which ones are actually usable. After that, we had a snack on our way back to the hotel – some meat sandwich, I don’t remember what it is called. And that was that for Saturday!

This was a long post, but had I gone into detail, it could be much longer. I am keeping my time down because the guy here at the hotel is nice enough to only make me pay for Internet time, and I am composing this in MS Word. More later!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Heidi permalink
    January 10, 2011 12:47 pm

    Sounds fantastic Karin… I am at the very least, jealous of the heat. 🙂

  2. January 11, 2011 12:15 pm

    Be careful out there:

    (AP) CAIRO – A gunman boarded a train in southern Egypt and opened fire on Tuesday, killing a 71-year-old Christian man and wounding five others, including a woman, security and medical officials said.

    The attack could spark a new wave of Christian rioting in a community still traumatized by a New Year’s attack on a church that killed at least 21 worshippers as they were leaving Mass.

    No motive was immediately known for the shooting which came less than two weeks after the suicide bomber blew himself up outside the church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, sparking three days of fierce riots by Christians.

    The officials said the gunman boarded the Cairo-bound train at the town of Samalout in Egypt’s central Minya province and opened fire on the passengers.

    The train originated in Assiut, home to a substantial Christian community and a famous monastery

  3. January 16, 2011 1:46 am

    Well, we were in Cairo and completely safe the whole week. Look for a bunch of blog posts about my trip!

  4. January 16, 2011 10:35 am

    Did you listen to music from Amr Diab? He’s got a great voice.

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