Valentine's Day in Egypt

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February 14th 2008
Published: February 27th 2008
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Mohammed Ali MosqueMohammed Ali MosqueMohammed Ali Mosque

Ottoman-style mosque
Assorted memories from my first day in Cairo...

Nibal is the wonderful guide we have contracted to spend the first day with. She picked us up at the Grand Pyramids hotel and took us to the Citadel of Salah-al-Din by my request. I have just finished a book about the 3rd crusade and I am a great admirer of the man we call Saladin. We visited the Mohammed Ali mosque within, where Nibal briefed us on the 5 pillars of Islam. I knew them of course, but it is something else to hear them from a Muslimah, while standing in a mosque.

I think it was good for my parents to learn about Islam, since we don't hear much about it in the states as a religion. We only hear about "Islamicists" and "Radicals", but here you can see that Muslims are not that much different than Christians. Although there are differences in how they pray and live, and those are fascinating. I admire their 2.5% charity thing, which is the reason you do not see many homeless people in Egypt. I also admire the honesty of the people in Egypt. Strong moral values can be a good thing.
Pyramids in the CityPyramids in the CityPyramids in the City

Pyramids against the backdrop of the city.
Overall, I felt very safe and respected in Egypt, and I think Islam is partially responsible for that.

Later we went to the Sultan Hassan mosque, which is more like a fortress. Inside, we met the Imam, who sang a prayer for us. It was so beautiful and transcendant. We could have recorded it but I didn't want to do anything but take in the moment. It was really special to have had that opportunity. I hope he knew how much we appreciated it.

Across from the Sultan Hassan mosque, we went to the El Rifaee mosque. This one was interesting because of the people buried there. The Shah of Iran has his own room, with his tomb, and all the marble there came from Iran. An Iranian man was there, touching the tomb, obviously very emotionally moved. We also saw the tomb of King Farouk. Some people really liked King Farouk, feeling things were good under his rule. Others feel he squandered the country's wealth. Either way, monarchy is a thing of the past for Egypt, which makes it stand out in the middle east (along with Iran, which is also a democracy now). But I'm not
Coptic ChurchCoptic ChurchCoptic Church

The coptic church dedicated to St. George, patron saint of England, but also originally from Palestine.
sure of the democracy in Egypt. Both of our guides in Cairo hinted that the people's votes do not matter.

Then we went to the Khan El Khalili. I imagined it being much smaller and darker. Really, it is quite filled with light and is a very pleasant place to shop. It beats the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul! Our first stop was the famous Fishawi's, where I tried my first Karkaday tea, hibiscus flower tea. Delicious - they make it the BEST at Fishawi's. We also had taamiya, fuul, and baba ghanoush sandwiches from a place around the corner. I was so proud of my stepdad for trying the Egyptian food. We sat here for a while and talked. It was one of the most enjoyable times on the trip.

We have talked a lot about American politics. Nibal said she couldn't imagine a female president. It's hard for me to hear a woman say that, especially a woman who runs her own business. But I too am a Barack Obama fan, not because Hilary is female, but because I believe he is the better candidate to lead the way forward for our country out of the darkness we are now in.

Across from Fishawi's, there is a small music/video kiosk where I bought some new CDs and VCDs of bellydancers. The CDs have been great, but the VCDs did not all work out so well.

Afterwards, Nibal took me to Mahmoud's 4 floors of bellydance costumes and accessories. My mom stayed with me, while Alli & Scott went off to see more of Islamic Cairo. I tried on many costumes but only one of them looked really good. It was the red dress that I ended up buying! I also bought some inexpensive and very original hipscarves. I could have spent much more money but I was overwhelmed by the selection. I will regret that when I return to the states and remember what the prices are like there.

In Coptic Cairo, we saw 4 churches. Nibal didn't accompany us all the time, because she said she didn't know a lot about the churches. She isn't a Christian after all, but she does have a Coptic friend. It was strange being in churches, after all those mosques. They were very very old, and we learned that early Christian iconography was based on the funereal portraits on sarcophagi from the Ptolemaic times. Nibal was an art history major at university and knew these things. Coptic Cairo is very peaceful, quiet, and the churches are all close together within easy walking distance. Our final stop was the synagogue, which Alli counted as a highlight. I had never been inside a synagogue before, as far as I can remember. It was similar to a mosque and a church, but more like a mosque. I wished we had a guide to tell us about it because I think only Alli understood what we were seeing.

We could see the City of the Dead from the road when we drove back to Giza. Fascinating. Everyone says it's really dangerous there.

At the end of the day, we went to a papyrus shop. The factory store thing is just something that happens on every tour. It was cool because I actually wanted some papyrus. I wanted to find a scene of musicians and dancers, and I did. My parents bought a huge papyrus of Isis. Mine is a bit smaller, but not too tiny.

Valentine's Day must be big here. There are signs and decorations everywhere, and everyone is wishing eachother Happy Valentine's Day. My guide even told us that she was planning on going home to celebrate it with her husband and had bought a special dress to wear for it. In a Muslim country, Valentine's Day! I guess everyone needs love. In honor of the holiday, I suppose, my stepdad asked our guide all about courtship and dating in Egypt. We learned how you really have to express an interest in marriage to the father before courtship can begin. Then the girl must give her consent. After this, the pair will spend time together with a chaperone. It is quite a conservative culture. It is very different from ours, needless to say.

We were very tired and didn't get to see a bellydance show, as it was sold out for Valentine's Day. We ended up meeting up with our tour group and then going to bed after dinner.

Valentine's Day dinner was celebrated in a big way in the hotel restaurant. Red roses were given to all female guests. Love-themed dishes were served. A violinist wandered the restaurant, even playing "Alf Leyla Wa Leyla" on the violin! This sent me into a wonderful spasm of music appreciation.

I've also learned that no one here likes Dina. She is the Paris Hilton of Egypt. She is blamed for sexual assaults that happened, known for her sex tape (made without her knowledge and released against her will, but that doesn't matter here).


29th January 2009

thats awsome
i really like how egypt looks .back when they were building the pyrimds they were smart but strange at the same time.i would LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE to live in egypt. how is it there?is it fun there?be sure to send me back and be sure to answer my quistions.
2nd February 2009

responding to bellamy
Oh I don't live there. But it is really fun in Egypt - a really interesting place to visit.
11th February 2010

i,m egyptian girl i love egypt so much egypt in my heart

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