backsheesh and other bothersome burdens

incident report day 27: alex has a blister on his right foot, and believes the protective athletic tape makes his foot look kung fu cool.

oh no, you might gasp, his precious, blockish, pedis! we’ve certainly tested the strength of our first aid kit these first few weeks, but it has not been in vain. cairo is a city for walkers and gawkers, but not for the weak-kneed or club footed, as there are no safe street crossings only successful ones. death we have defied many a time, once the local advice of ‘close your eyes and pray to allah’ really sunk in. while cabs are not expensive in USD terms, the process of haggling and inevitably being ripped off really drags on a gung-ho mood. a taxi dependent foreigner has 2 choices: exit the car into oncoming traffic and drop a wad of money on the passenger seat and run, or ask a price, agree on a price, and still find yourself standing outside of the cab as the driver jumps out to scream at you in arabic. it’s at that point that i generally leave alex standing ineffectual and walletless in the street.

so, it was as gradually groomed  street warriors we ventured out to enjoy voyeuring at a people watcher’s daydream. islamic cairo wiggles when it walks, laughs when it talks. the khan el khalil bazaar strikes a full senses attack on its visitors, first the sight, then the smells, then the sounds. oh the sounds. wading through spices and silver and perfectly balanced heads of bread, it was impossible not to giggle. each vender seemed quicker and funnier than the last; each one ready with his one line of english. spread as a labyrinth through the working remains of slightly AD mosques, the soundbites were a lesson in comedic capitalism. as relations between men and women can be immodest at times , i tried best to make eye contact with cloth and not people, but alex sure collected some comments. “hey cowboyyyyyyy! where’s your horse?” “where are you from, alaska!?” “i can help you spend money.” “do you know how much? free.” “hassle, 10% extra.” and the always popular “oh hello, you’re a very lucky man.” originally, we thought that was in reference to me, but as it turns out it was due to his flashing, dashing complete set of pearly whites. i was, however, worth 6 million dollars for about a minute. since then, my street value has dropped to 7 camels, leading me to believe it’s time to do laundry.

we eventually sought afternoon shelter from the heat, hussle and hassle. the al-alzar mosque (translated to mean the radiant) claims to be the world’s oldest university and lived up to its name sake. once inside, there was an ambient din that seemed to lull people into the shadowy corners perfect for casual napping. after taking pictures with a family, i found myself in one of the prayer rooms, listening to a lesson. the only arabic i speak is the phrase “thank you,” but the man speaking spoke with such charisma and allure, that i sat through his entire piece. my fly on the wall status was quickly shattered when the call to prayer sounded, and all non-muslims were asked to leave.

but no worries, the wonders were yet to end. accompanied by our friends for the day, a british expat oil lawyer named sarah and an aussie couple who teach in kuwait, we nabbed seats for the best free show in town: the whirling dervishes. now, i have dreamed of their twirls since i read a collection of poems by rumi back in high school, so my little girl hopes were pretty high, and certainly not disillusioned. i’ll avoid all the clichés about the indescribable for the moment, and simply say that i cannot believe human beings can spin around for over an hour and not vomit everywhere.

hoofing to our new shared home, run by couchsurfer paul and pals, we slept very well that night and into the next day. twas here we hit a block; perhaps it was being in the comfort of a home again, being fed homebaked, nutella stuffed cookies by flatemate mel or simply too many footfalls for one week, but we spent 2 days in cairo thoroughly unmotivated. sign signaled and received, we took this opportunity and free wifi to plan our next move in egypt, as well as to enjoy the relaxation of a noncommittal lifestyle.

while cairo can entertain for endless days, we ventured back to khan el khalil for a taste of its nightlife. paul showed us the other side of the bazaar where egyptians shop and we were genuinely treated to a bit of hospitality. rather than haggle, the venders used us to practice english and share with us the pride of their crafts and country. one man insisted on giving us his soda and a free scarf. sitting on the street, a woman walking with a baby stopped so the little girl could shake my hand and kiss me on the cheek. a delightful dichotomy to this backdrop was the bumpin’ arab club music coming from 6ft tall speakers. winding our way through, we found many similar set ups along the usually deserted fairy land lights, concluding that we must have come across some sort of festival. inquiring with local egyptians later, no one could confirm or deny the street festival, so all i can confirm is that egyptians like their music loud and their hips moving fast.

i think most people would use negative adjectives to describe cairo, and no doubt be right. but, for a city of 30 million people to constantly coexist, it’s going to fight like a family. yet, adults and children alike stop to say hello to us, take our picture and shake our hands. and yes, everyone we talk to reminds us that the police will always side with a foreigner over an egyptian, proving that imperialism continues to undermine the law. but beneath the blue fumes and urine wafts, is a people working to get by, and still managing to do that with a smile.

or so, methinks. 😉

shiny shisha

shiny shisha

dear allah, make me a bird, so i can fly far...

dear allah, make me a bird, so i can fly far...

whirly dirly

whirly dirly

i'm not egyptian size.

i'm not egyptian size.

abeebee, aboobie.

abeebee, aboobie.


3 Responses to “backsheesh and other bothersome burdens”

  1. I so enjoy the big smiles on your faces. Glad you are finding the good and the kindness that the people of this world have to offer. Carry on and stay safe. Love Dad.

  2. Megan, your words are like magic! I continue to miss you.

  3. Aunt Patsy Says:

    I liked the afternoon prayer picture. Carry on!

    Love, Aunt Patsy

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