Friday, July 13: This morning, the first day of our weekend, I send an email to R about last night’s adventure and about my week at Al-Azhar.
Hello SM (soulmate),
I am writing early before I head to the Coptic Christian area today to explore — also possibly the Egyptian museum. I called my Egypologist friend Ahmed last night and we both agreed to go the hash tonight. I wonder if I will see Mohsen there. I still have to tell you that story.
Another misadventure last night. I don’t know why I keep throwing myself into these situations. I planned to go shop at Khan el Khalili by myself, but then got a call from a shopkeeper down there named Mohammed who has been after me since I met him two weeks ago. He asked me to meet him at Al-Hussein mosque. I don’t even know this guy and I agreed to meet him. Am I insane?? Anyway, I feel totally safe in public with people because the society is so chaste and you can’t get away with anything untoward anyway. So I met him and he walked with me up to Al-Azhar park. It was a beautiful oasis on a hilltop in the center of Cairo. Lovely breeze, well manicured, clean, quite lovely — so unlike the rest of filthy Cairo. We walked and walked and sat and sat for several hours. Come to find out he’s 25!!!! He guessed I was 35! Are these people insane here??? His English is bad and he talked and talked and I hardly understood anything he said. Of course my Arabic is more pathetic than his English, so it was a tough conversation. However, he is totally attracted to me and kept saying he wanted to kiss me, but of course that is impossible here (which is good!) He was very sweet and kind though.
The funny thing is, while we were sitting on a bench talking a couple walked by; the young man had his arm around his girlfriend’s waist. The park police approached him and yelled at him about touching his girlfriend in public. He made the mistake of arguing with the police and continuing to touch his girlfriend. Then more police appeared, in
droves. By the time we walked out the gate of the park, the police were taking away the guy and I’m not sure what they were going to do with the girl. It was fascinating. Mohammed was explaining to me what was going on — he’s seen it all so often. He seems incredibly frustrated by the way society is here. I’m telling you, everyone wears the hijab and covers up completely here, even in this heat. So….don’t worry about me. I can meet whoever I want in public and know I am perfectly safe from any advances of that sort. Besides, I cannot deal with these 20-30 year olds!
But most of all, I can’t think of anyone else in that way except for you. So you can rest assured that I am safe in that regard.
One other funny thing about the society, especially Al-Azhar, where I study. It is an ultra-conservative Islamic university. I only brought short-sleeve shirts. I was told no tank tops and that was the only guidance I got. However, every woman here wears long-sleeve shirts and skirts to their ankles or long pants. My arms are always bare, and that draws many condemning stares. Also, I wear the scarf, when I wear it, very loosely, so that you can see my hair in the front. I just put it around my head, cross the ends across my neck, and toss the ends down my back. Well the other day at Al-Azhar some total stranger (woman) came up to me and tugged at my scarf so that it covered my front. I had a v-neck t-shirt on so you could see my neck and the top of my chest. She pulled my scarf down to cover my skin, jabbed her finger at my bare arms and said, “Harram, harram.” She was upset with me. Harram means forbidden — this is forbidden in Islam. I said, “ana la musleema,,” (I am not Muslim) to explain my wayward attire, but she wasn’t satisfied by that. Apparently since I’m at Al-Azhar, I should be non-harram!
Anyway, just more stories to bore you with. I hope you don’t think badly of me for getting myself into the situations. I look at it as merely adventure for adventure sake. My heart is still back home with you. So rest assured, my soulmate, that all is well in that regard.
You said you wanted every detail, so I’m giving you that. I think it’s kind of strange that you want to hear all of this. If I heard the same from you, I think I would be feeling heartbreak. Maybe you don’t really care???
Take care and write back. I’m sorry this e-mail is all about me. Tell me about what’s going on with you. What are you doing this weekend? How is your book and your preserved writing time? How is your Spanish coming???
I was amazed at myself having a rather long (and torturous I might add) conversation with the taxi driver last night all in Arabic. He corrected my pronunciation with every word. But at least I was trying. Hey…gotta give me that.
Take care, you!
Old Cairo encompasses the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, the Greek Church of St. George, and many other Coptic churches and historical sites. Coptic Cairo was a stronghold for Christianity in Egypt until the Islamic era, though most of the current buildings of the churches in Coptic Cairo were built after the Muslim conquest of Egypt (Wikipedia: Coptic Cairo).
The Church of St. George is a Greek Orthodox church in Coptic Cairo which dates back to the 10th century (or earlier). The current structure was rebuilt following a 1904 fire (Wikipedia: Church of St. George (Cairo)).
The Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church is supposed to mark one of the resting places of the Holy Family on its escape from King Herod, according to Lonely Planet Middle East.
The church is dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus, who were soldier-saints martyred during the 4th century in Syria by the Roman Emperor Maximian. The most interesting feature is the crypt where Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus are said to have rested.
The Church was built in the 4th century and was probably finished during the 5th century. It was burned during a fire around 750. It was then restored during the 8th century, and has been rebuilt and restored constantly since medieval times; however, it is still considered to be a model of the early Coptic churches (Wikipedia: Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church).
A Greek Orthodox cemetery is found on the grounds outside the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.
After visiting Coptic Cairo, I stop to look around in some of the shops and a little boy helps me to find a cash machine, which is quite a trek away.
After exploring Coptic Cairo, I take a taxi back to Muquttum, where I rest a bit before heading out for the Friday evening edition of the Cairo Hash House Harriers.