Cairo, Protests and Socials.

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November 2nd 2011
Published: November 5th 2011
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The Lift to the HostelThe Lift to the HostelThe Lift to the Hostel

Handily you can only use the lift to go up, they have removed all the buttons to prevent anyone from being lazy enough to also go down in the thing.
Ahlan everyone!

I wrote most of this yesterday before our Halloween so apologies if the timeline is a little squiggly.

Time is flying by and my blogging rate leaves much to be desired i know. As usual, my apologies. Em and I had the sudden realisation yesterday that we don't really have all that much time left before we are back at the airport leaving the country. The strangest thing is, that despite all my bitching, i will really miss it and i can't quite wrap my head around the idea that the next bit won't be with emma...

However we still have 5/7 weeks here respectively and so i won't take up any more space with that stuff just yet. It is an absolute abomination on my part that exactly 3 weeks ago today em and i, along with a few others got on a train for a long weekend in Cairo and i still haven't managed to tell you all about it.

So here we go.... CAIRO.

The largest african city. It incidentally also claims the most inhabitants of any city in Africa or the Middle East. Which means crowds. Lots of them. Just so many people. And the traffic is truly horrific... moving at quite literally 10m per hour. Luckily we didn't have to take too many taxi's as we managed to nab a very centrally placed hostel. We were in fact just a few minutes walk from the Nile, The Egyptian Museum and Tahrir Square. The latter wasn't a massively reassuring snippet of information for my mother, especially as we headed off only 2 days after the news reported huge clashes with the police and 42 were killed protesting. However, at no point during our 3 day stay did my security ever feel threatened. Not even mildly once, so my main advice to anyone considering Cairo as a holiday destination is: go anyway. Obviously don't be stupid and take pictures of any protests you do see... and probably avoid Tahrir Sq on friday's immediately after prayer (around midday). But we had a fantastic few days being proper little tourists so there is no reason why you can't - you don't get much more inconspicuous than a bunch of western girls wandering around together, a good portion of us blonde or very fair.

The only drawback to Cairo that we really discovered was that more people speak english there and so more men approach you and try to strike up conversation. This is because they can actually say more than "wow, i love you." I am sure some of them were lovely people who just wanted to practice their english, however i am just as certain that at least 70% of them just thought they might get lucky with the blonde girls. Actually it's an awful truth but we have actually found ourselves smiling more widely at fairer/more western looking people on the street, exactly as the egyptians do! Although ours is more out of empathy than the desire to sow some wild oats. I still feel a little guilty disliking the egyptians for paying us more attention and then hypocritically doing exactly the same thing. On that note, every so often, upon seeing women with naked shoulders or legs Emma and I catch ourselves glancing at each other as if to say "well she is just asking for trouble isn't she" (which isn't a huge jump to 'the little hussy' and we have only been here 6 weeks!) It is easy to see why people who have lived their entire lives here perceive us the way they do. The glance quickly turns to horror at our own hypocrisy i might add, and then mental berating swiftly follows. Nonetheless it is gonna be a bit of a shock to come back to England and see girls in hotpants and boobtubes as a matter of course! This adjustment period will probably last about 24hrs, before i gleefully throw off all of my clothes and join them jubilantly in semi-nudity... i am a terrible person i know.

Anyway the hostel was lovely. It was called the Meeramees, and was located on the 5th floor of a building. Emma and i both thought that the taxi driver was leading us into a trap/brothel when he led us into the rickety old lift and pressed 5. In fact em stood really close to the door to make her escape easier if it should prove necessary and i spent the whole ride up with clenched fists, just in case i needed to come out swinging at our masked kidnappers. As it turned out, the taxi driver was on to something and led us into our very nice abode for the next 3 nights. It was cheap,
Koshiri at Abu TarikhKoshiri at Abu TarikhKoshiri at Abu Tarikh

I was really quite excited at this point!
incredibly so, really clean, a basic breakfast was included, the staff were great and my favourite part... the high ceilings. It was a really old building and our room had huge bay windows and a fireplace (well it was a dummy one/blocked but the thought was there) - so i was a very happy meg.

We managed to fit so much into such a short space of time:

* The Khan Al-Khalili market - a bit of a disappointment as it is filled with touristy baubles but the teahouse Al Feshawy is pretty damn good and our complete disinterest in the henna lady meant that we accidentally haggled her down to 5guinea/50p for pretty patterns on our hands, at which point it seemed almost churlish to refuse.

* We ate the best Koshiri (a kind of pasta dish mixed with tomato sauce and altogether scrumptious) in Cairo at a place called Abu Tarikh and found a gem of a restaurant called Abu Sid which had a phenomenal atmosphere - low chairs, darkish with that kind of soothing flickering light that reminds you of candles, just the right amount of smoky, not enough to tear at the back
Abu Sid!Abu Sid!Abu Sid!

The door... admit it's pretty damn good for a restaurant door...
of your throat but enough to make it seem mysterious. Carpet hangings on the walls and the hugest and most exciting front door ever. The food was really good as well. I remember sitting and feeling like i had just dropped into a 1920's Bedouin HQ- where the head honcho of the desert takes his luncheon. Well, how i envisage a rich, bedouin centre might look if they weren't a nomadic people with little to no material wealth. Apologies to any historians i have just massively offended with my dreamy inaccuracy.

*We wandered around incredibly old mosques, churches, even a synagogue. We visted the ancient citadel and took a felucca ride for an hour one evening, which was an incredibly relaxing experience. Our boat was perfectly quiet as it glided along, the only noises were occasional splashes, the fluttering of the wind in the sails and the grunts of the extremely aged felucca captain as he turned the boat. It was a very nice moment - other bigger boats with belly dancers, fairy lights and blaring arabic music provided us with entertainment as they motored past, but not at any point would i have swapped our boat and our wizened old sailor for one of those. It was just a serene experience, silly as that sounds and i'm glad i have it under my belt!

*We of course stopped off for a couple of hours at the Egyptian Museum, which was really interesting and definitely worth it. It contains so many impressive things and every so often it dawns on you that you are staring at something which you have read about elsewhere, perhaps in a history book, the description of which is normally followed by the caption "this priceless artefact can now be found at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo." We scrutinised the shrunken, mummified skull of Ramses II, one of the greatest and longest-reigning Pharoahs and we wandered into so many different halls that we stopped paying attention to their descriptive entry signs. It is in this way that we managed, after casually perusing some fantastic gold jewellery for over 5 minutes, to turn around and be stunned into silence by King Tut's face. We couldn't have been more surprised to realise that we were in Tutenkhamun's domain than if his remarkable burial mask had yelled "SURPRISE" and then winked at us. We obviously felt a little sheepish at our own lack of observational skills and then had to go and relook at all the jewellery with the proper awe and respect.

*Whilst touring Le Caire we mostly managed to avoid trouble but there was one minorly distressing situation involving the Egyptian metro. I should have expected as much as the metro tends to confound me whichever continent i find myself on. In Paris, for some unfathomable reason, the Metro doors open a good 3 seconds before the train halts. WHY? Do they not realise that a small child (or anyone remotely clumsy aka myself) could easily fall out of a gaping hole in that time? Especially in rush hour. My late ex found it very funny how disturbed I was by the prematurely opening doors but i genuinely can't work out how they got it past Health and Safety. Actually that concept may well not exist on the Continent, which would explain many, many things. Anyway - the egyptian metro does not have this issue, it flashes lights at you and make a noise similar to an air raid siren when a train approaches but it's doors remains firmly shut until it is time to alight. However the doors have their own peculiarities and therein lay our problem. As with everything in Cairo, there was a crowd of people pushing and shoving to try and get onto the train. Little did we understand the need for such haste until the doors closed...with absolutely no warning. No funny beeping noise, nor a woman telling you to 'mind the closing doors.' They closed in a way i can now liken to a crocodile's jaws when his trap is being sprung; woe betide anything that gets caught in between. This would have been funny, except that on this occasion, they closed with Ems and I on different sides. We must have looked comical, the look of horror as we realised that we had been separated and were now standing alone, each flanked by at least 8 suspicious looking egyptian men. It was actually mildly entertaining for me, because i, being the person left on the platform, realised first, and so when emma whirled around with panic written all over her face and plastered herself against the door in the vain hope it might re-open, i managed to look very calm and as if the situation didn't phase
With a CamelWith a CamelWith a Camel

I was being horrendously hounded here - my facial expression pretty much says it all...
me in the slightest. The fact that i had just readjusted my face to calm and peeled myself off of what turned out to be an incredibly dirty tube door (as the black marks on my top later attested) was irrelevant. Emma never needed to know. I just nodded and calmly indicated we would meet at our destination, 2 stops down the line. From there, apart from 1 marriage proposal, we were reunited with minimum hassle, thank the Lord. Luckily emma's mum rang her 2 minutes after our reunion so there was no need to cause panic by declaring that she was alone and lost on a metro platform somewhere in Cairo.

*A trip to Cairo could not, of course, be complete unless the last remaining Ancient Wonder of the World was duly visited and photographed. The pyramids are fantastic. They are, it is almost impossible to comprehend their age, or more importantly, how one man managed to amass enough wealth and influence to command their construction whilst the rest of the world, well Europe at least, were still running around in forests wearing face-paint and loincloths. However, the huge number of tourists milling around the Pyramids and sphinx
The Picture The Picture The Picture

This picture is the moment i felt really small and young in the face of these monuments.
at Giza do sometimes make it difficult to feel the history of the place. Only when everyone was leaving, when we were hiding behind some ruins and the dying sun was creating a strange mist did i feel any kind of awe there. They look much as they do on postcards but can be somehow diminished when you have men with black, broken teeth trying to sell you tea towels in front of them and hordes of people trundling about, babbling in various tongues and wearing highly inappropriate clothing. On the other hand, the pyramid at Dashhour was phenomenal. We were the only people there. And when you are practically alone staring at something that huge and old, it is easy to feel why they are so revered. We went inside that one; very indiana jones esque, a 300m long descent down a square corridor about 1m sq to cavernous rooms with low oxygen levels. My legs hurt for days afterwards - i wasn't the only one, we all winced every time we stood up or sat down for the rest of the trip. So at least we all looked strange unanimously. The one thing i do wish, although i
Our clothes for MosqueOur clothes for MosqueOur clothes for Mosque

Apparently the BACK of my top had too low a neckline... and em's top was too see we had to dress like this..
completely understand why this is no longer the case, is that it was still possible to climb the pyramids. It was apparently a must for all 18th Century visitors and i can imagine that would be fantastic dragging yourself up them, even just for the view. Never mind hey.

As far as my memory serves me, that constitutes the best parts of our Cairo trip, something i'm sure pleases everyone as it means i may shut up soon.

I do however think i should just say a further quick word about the protests over here. Although i don't feel at all unsafe, things are hotting up a bit in preparation for some elections in November. Alexandria Library has closed on strike, the Muslim Brotherhood are playing propaganda tapes in public spaces at rallies and nearly all of our lessons at the uni are interrupted by student protests. Someone always employs a loudspeaker right outside our window just as the teacher explains something particularly complex. At least i have a scapegoat when i return to England with very little usable Arabic!! Actually one of our centre's students got caught taking photos of the demonstrations - Magda, our director was duly informed, they were fined and "asked" not to do so again. I only mention this because Magda called a meeting for all of us afterwards which would have been hysterical, if it hadn't been serious. The warning to not take photo's was followed by this gem of a sentence - "They won't kill you and they won't torture you, but they WILL take you and i won't know where or for how long." Reassuring news.

Other than that we haven't been up to all that much. Had exams recently and have had a fair few birthdays in the last month so lots of dinners and drinking. We even found a dancefloor one night. A semi-miracle with disastrous consequences for me. In france i turned/ almost definitely broke my ankle, which is just about recovering now. In egypt... i fell off of a bar stool. This sounds inconsequential but it hurt, a lot. And was apparently hysterical. Being mildly tipsy at the time I convinced myself that this stool was the best platform for photo-taking. I obviously failed dramatically at climbing onto it; putting all my weight onto my right knee thus speedily tipping the stool over. This in
On the DancefloorOn the DancefloorOn the Dancefloor

Alex isn't all bad...
turn had the unwanted effect of catapulting me through the air. You know when you you yank the end of a loo roll really hard and the round body of the roll leaves the floor momentarily, executes some fantastically fast mid-air spins and then bounces to the ground... that was me. I saw the floor approaching at speed, mentally yelled at myself TURN and so i ended up with a huge lump on the back of my head, mild concussion and a destroyed elbow. I believe I did in fact manage to bruise the funny bone... so I couldn't move it for 24hrs or touch it without flinching for a good week. I shudder to think which body part Russia will claim. Please God nothing irreparable.

That is all folks. Will write again soonnn. Sorry it is so long! Meg xxxx

p.s if one more person asks me what my halloween (2 days late) costume was, i will be distraught. I was quite obviously a magic broom. What else has twigs sticking up out of it's head? AND i had to pick those twigs up off of the street so i am upset that this hard work isn't being correctly appreciated! It earnt me several funny looks and an awkward explanation to an older man who thought i was hoping to grow plants from the dead branches (obviously i look stupid.) I corrected him...i think. Unfortunately he also left with the impression that i would later be attending a party dressed in just twigs, my attempts so explain 'costume' in Arabic falling flat. At least i can't think of anything else that would explain why he suddenly looked horrified and literally jogged away from me. Nice to see i'm fitting in and making friends....


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