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Africa » Egypt
August 9th 2008
Published: August 13th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

Dahab seaside restaurantDahab seaside restaurantDahab seaside restaurant

The restaurants along the shore were wonderful places to eat and chill! Beautiful clean water!!
Well it's about time I write again and give you an update of our
whereabouts and dealings. We recently flew from Cairo to
Istanbul Turkey for I think the last leg of this trip, after spending
almost 3 weeks in Egypt. We had not intended to go there so it's
interesting that we ended up there. And I must say that the whole
experience was rather a 'mixed bag' for us in that there were
some great highlights and also some real hassles. To most of you I
would say, if you want to go to Egypt TAKE A TOUR!
and go at a cooler time of year!! On balance though, if you
aren't really into ancient Egyptian history or the middle
eastern/egyptian dance world don't bother going!

We had a disappointing experience at the pyramids - partly our
own fault for getting there later in the day - and no sooner had we
walked onto the site than they started telling us it was all
closing. We were pissed that they sold us the entry which was 20
dollars a piece. We were not able to get the fee back upon
leaving and did not go back... now that
Crowds waiting to get ferry to EgyptCrowds waiting to get ferry to EgyptCrowds waiting to get ferry to Egypt

This was such a scene and so dirty as people had been waiting for days outside the ferry building and dock. Apparently one of the boats had broken down too making the situation worse.
is anti-climactic isn't it?? No
camel ride, and no impressive woo-woo experiences here though we
did ooggle over the size of these things! We were also surprised
to see that the city of Cairo was built up so close to the Sphynx
and Pyramids... hotels, restaurants etc. Only two sides of the
site had nothing behind it but more sand. The Pyramids is a big site and
we weren't able to walk much of it in the 20 to 30 minutes we had, not
to mention that the "tourist police" were after us because we
started to go into an area near the second pyramid that was
already closed. This was not a pleasant time even if one
discounts the great heat still present at 6:30 p.m. and of course
no shade anywhere in sight! Also, I was still weak with an intestinal problem.

Besides kind of "missing" in a manner of speaking, the pyramids,
we also ended up not going on an adventure recommended to us by some
Aussies we met because of the heat. After the wonderful
snorkeling excursions we had in dahab on the Sinai peninsula of Egypt (which
I already wrote to you about) we
Alaska hotel in DahabAlaska hotel in DahabAlaska hotel in Dahab

This was a new and economic hotel where we stayed. The brothers who owned it were really friendly and did make us feel very at home.
were going to head for Luxor and
Aswan which is "Upper" Egypt (that's UP RIVER) but down south
where it is even hotter and desert land. We were going to do the
recommended Falluca cruising on the Nile in Aswan for a few days
and possibly visit some of the ancient sites in Luxor but we
nixed it all when we saw the UN-AIRCONDITIONED bus we were going to be
riding for 5 hours to get there. We are turning into pussies but we don't care! A dirty, unairconditioned bus while waiting in the heat of a dusty hot (well o.k. kind of disgusting) town just doesn't appeal when in the midst of a sick tummy syndrome!

See, as nice as Egyptian people are, and really they are... even
with some undesired attention from the men, I really like them
too... but many Egyptians just have some really unhealthy living habits. So, many places in their country are terribly littered and they just don't seem to care. Many parts
of Cairo and some other cities were filthy and had garbage
everywhere. Hurghada, a big tourist city was aweful but seemed
to be under going a lot of changes so
Inside the Cairo MuseumInside the Cairo MuseumInside the Cairo Museum

Mondo stone relics of Pharoes were among the many amazing, large things in this place.
there was lots of
building rubble around. And it looked like there may have been abandoned building projects (resort condos mainly). Buildings and streets in this city were in great disrepair & overall there is the sense that Egypt is struggling economically as a nation.

From there we took the first air conditioned bus
we could get on to Cairo. The downtown of Cairo was no better.
And here it was also very hot and humid.
But we had some fun exploring the old parts of the city and a
fantastic highlight here was a free performance we saw of a male
Sufi dance/whirling Dervish group of the Mehvlevi order.
Their live music, dancing and spectacular, skillful whirling was
really impressive! It was performed in an open air coutyard to a
packed audience one evening and left us quite exhilarated. About
half way through the show one man whirled alone to all the others'
musical accompaniment and moving some around him - he whirled for
a long time in an ecstatic state and gradually gave over the
tambourines and then the skirts. We thought that would be it for
the whirling but then after another musical interlude three
others came out and whirled and did other amazing feats and at the end
whirled while twirling their big, mandala looking skirts over
their heads and in front of themselves. If you have never seen
this, you really ought to somewhere, someday!

We saw two other shows while in Egypt, one a folkloric dance show
with works from the renowned Mahmoud Reda dance choreographer
accompanied by a 21 piece orchestra playing traditional Eqyptian
music. This was a great show. We saw this in another outdoor
theater in the wonderful city of Alexandria on the mediteranean
Sea. This was a cooler, breezy, though still quite humid part of
Egypt. 'Alex' as it is referred to has 5 million people and is
really spread out but was the cleanest place, besides Dahab that
we visited in Egypt. The Med Sea in Egypt (as elsewhere I'm sure) is
really beautiful - the blues of the water so clear and in some
other areas west of Alex there were some really nice white sand
beaches. We only stayed in Alex 2 nights but had a lot of fun
there and connected again with an Egyptian lady that we had met
in Dahab. We could talk with her fairly well as her english was o.k.
which allowed us to ask her some burning questions we had about
Islam and the women here....
Egypt has such a different environment compared with even
Asia...we didn't feel so strange in Asia (although Bali has some
really different customs) but here (the women) dress so differently,
it is hard not to feel out of place. Most people are muslim and
for the women this means they must wear the traditional head
covering or be considered not of the faith. So all women wear
this all the time. Well, our friend told us that this wasn't always
the case. Five years ago she said she didn't wear the scarf. And
increasingly, there are women, young and old wearing the complete
black garb which may include covering the face (these are the
married or engaged women) and even black net or chiffon over the
eyes. These women kind of look like spooks walking around - and
I don't say this to be judgemental - but they are kind of spooky
looking. And they don't like to have their picture taken but
William has managed to sneak a few and one night
Falluca on the Nile in CairoFalluca on the Nile in CairoFalluca on the Nile in Cairo

We "sailed" for an hour in one of these but actually... it didn't sail much! A better trip on one of these would be down in Aswan we heard.
in Cairo he got
a picture of me posing with a women who had her face covered. She
and her husband wanted to know why he wanted a picture and when
William explained she consented but the husband didn't want to be
in the photo with her for some reason.

Our friend in Alex - Hanna - said her oldest daughter dresses
like this out in public now because she has been convinced that since
she is so beautiful she should cover herself (to be safe I guess)
but Hanna herself could not really explain it either.
However, most women just cover themselves in public in fashionable ways so that
no arm or leg skin is ever showing. And the head scarf also
covers the neck and upper chest. The women in black sometimes wear
black gloves also. We saw one woman eating in a restaurant near us and
she kept on her gloves and moved her face covering only slightly
to bring her food to her mouth. We never saw a thing! It is all
so amazing to me! And I wonder about it, what it would be like
and what their beliefs are about it all. Here
Walking into Khan El Khalili market placeWalking into Khan El Khalili market placeWalking into Khan El Khalili market place

This was in the old part of Cairo and very touristy but around the edges were narrow twisting alleys to explore
is an insight I
have about it from my observations: In their culture it is the
women who bear ALL the responsibility of controlling their sexual
nature for the benefit of the men whereas in our culture both
sexes take the responsibility for this. I believe it also
contributes to the women feeling safer and less vulnerable to the
sexual desires of men which could be a freeing thing rather than
a limitation on freedom. So, we can't automatically assume that we
are free and they are imprisoned in their culture. It isn't so
simple. But I think their lives are made simpler by their rules
and that may be a blessing for many. Don't think I would trade
places with any of them for long though. The double standard
still exists and there are lots of divorced women who have been left
behind for another woman by their husbands - that was Hanna's
situation - and she was about to go through a divorce. Men! she
said, "they're all the same".

The Latest sheik fasion for the women is something straight out
of the 1900s! In many of the store windows mannequins wear all
variety of long skirts from modern blue jean styles to more old
fashioned styles with matching upper hip length jackets. Many
young women wear layers of clothing and ladies - I'm sure this is
where the fashion trend started for this - blue jeans or other
pants layered under skirts and dresses with long sleeve shirts
under. Some of the outfits are even sexy, but most women don't
seem to take it there. In fact, while there are some really
beautiful young women in Egypt a lot of people in this country
are large and the middle age and older people do not look healthy. We
don't wonder why as their diet is somewhat limited and not too
good. In a restaurant we ate in we saw a number of people who had
meals that consisted of: beans, white bread, tahini, french fries,
soda pop, and some tomato/cucumber salad. Veggies available are
mostly from the nightshade family, trouble for some people.
We had to leave cause we couldn't stand the food anymore! Nuff
said about that.

We did see a belly dance show - cost us a whopping hundred dollars
each which was a discounted price William negotiated and included a
nice dinner
Khan El Kahlili shop keeperKhan El Kahlili shop keeperKhan El Kahlili shop keeper

We had a great conversation with this man who had a small shop selling many handmade antique silver items like hanging lamps. I was drooling over some of them!
(at 1 am! but fortunately, I was hungry and hadn't
eaten all day). The show started at 2 a.m. which is typical here.
But this wasn't just any show - it was Dina's show - the most
currently famous belly dancer in Egypt and I had to see her as she
is one of my own favorites.
I will write to my belly dance colleages about the show in detail
but for now I'll just say that she had a wonderful 21 piece
orchestra and we enjoyed her show and all her costume changes!
(something she is known for).
In Egypt the professional belly dancers (very few) are sanctioned
to, in a manner of speaking, give "turn on" and feminine energy to
people. Dina has taken in this respect full license to do this to
the max and has pushed it in the culture by being more sensuous
than most of the dancers of the past, but she alone may have
earned the right to do it in the way she does OR she may have
even paved the way for others to take it as far as she does. She has
become wealthy in her stardom and become a
This is one example ofThis is one example ofThis is one example of

items he had in his shop but not the most exotic
film icon as well like
the Egyptian dance stars of the 40s and 50s.

Another highlight of our experience here has been that of
observing a wedding that was happening on a Friday night in the
Nile Hilton just after we had finished eating there and another time,
participating in the wedding party at a location in Alexandria.
This was really fun and interesting for us to see what they do
which is very festive. They completely welcomed us to participate
and see what they do in both cases. We had a great time both of
those evenings. I'll describe this in more detail later to those who are
interested.

Another thing I want to tell you about Egypt before I go is the
interesting street scene of Cairo, Alex and the other cities in
the summer months where, because of the heat masses of Egyptians
take to the streets. They walk around, shop, sit at outdoor cafes
with family, even young children till the wee hours. Great time
to people watch and quite a scene to observe. In the earlier hours
of the evening some of the streets are completely packed with
people. We also saw many
The antique silver dealer and meThe antique silver dealer and meThe antique silver dealer and me

standing in front of a very old silver door. He showed us for a bit through some back alleys
places where the men hang out together
after dark smoking hookas. You DO NOT see the women doing this - at least not in public! At the Dina belly dance show we went to there was also a family there with a
young (maybe 8 yr old) boy. He was up till 4 in the morning! I
don't think he was too interested in the show but he did not
complain. An example of how they often do thing all together. And
it is so hot in the summer here, it is easy to see why they are
out at night where the cool breezes can be felt.

We don't know if we will ever come back to Egypt but if we do
there are a few places we would go, and the people are by and
large really great and welcoming. If you can get past the 'tourist
harrassment' - really no different than in many other places -
taxis wanting to give you a ride, guys wanting you to eat in their
restaurant (this not so much in Cairo), etc. it is interesting to
talk to people and we had many occasions to have very interesting
conversations with a variety of people...
A nubian taxi driver in Alex with a wonderful attitude and
exuberant energy engaged with me in a diverse conversation while
he drove us across town to find a Sony store where we could buy a
new camera battery charger. Another was a 21 yr old guy who
worked in the hotel we stayed in Cairo - a very nice young man
with some serious goals for his life - I talked with him for a
while and exchanged e-mail addresses. Its a window into their
world without having to actually live here - something I don't
think I would ever do - but I think it is valuable to be able to
learn about their culture and understand more about how they
think. I also had the opportunity to speak with a man from Iraq
who is a university professor on sabbatical. THAT was an
interesting conversation which I won't get into now!

I am glad that we came to the middle east as we now have a better
sense of the geography of the area and a sense of the atmosphere
over here. It is just a whole different 'kettle of fish' than
anywhere we have been, to say the least!



Well, that's it for now. Soon I will send out my report about
China and another about Turkey. For now, love and peace to you
all!

Christina


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Men drinking tea and smoking hookas togetherMen drinking tea and smoking hookas together
Men drinking tea and smoking hookas together

Day and night we always saw men doing this everywhere. They often looked rather bored or apathetic. Women don't hang on the streets like this.
Dervishes whirling on the outdoor stageDervishes whirling on the outdoor stage
Dervishes whirling on the outdoor stage

where we saw them perform for free in Cairo
A store window in downtown CairoA store window in downtown Cairo
A store window in downtown Cairo

Some of the latest fashions for women: very stylish long skirts and jackets. Though I don't think the mannequin in the foreground is fully attired! Some stores sold racier clothing for women to wear at home only!


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