Category Archives: Cairo

last day in cairo: exploring small art museums, mosques and a modern shopping center

Monday, February 15:  Today, once again Ahmed has to go to work, so I have him drop me off in town so I can explore various places.

Someone has told me about a small art museum, so I go there.  It’s a small and quiet place, a kind of oasis in the middle of Cairo’s maelstrom.  I wish I could remember the name of it.  In one room, a beautiful film shows continuously; here is a pretty pathetic shot of it that sadly conveys neither its beauty or its emotional impact.  Maybe because I am quite smitten with Ahmed, this place seems to echo the state of my heart.

a beautiful film in a Cairo art museum

a beautiful film in a Cairo art museum

Later I head to a big mosque where I am to wait for Ahmed to pick me up after his day at work.  Hordes of Egyptian children surround me and happily pose for a picture.

children near the mosque

children near the mosque

Then they agree to pose with me for the picture as well.  I feel so happy today, yet I’m also sad that I have to take off for Korea tomorrow morning.

surrounded by Egyptian children

surrounded by Egyptian children

Ahmed comes to pick me up after work, but only after a huge hassle with my phone.  When I try to call him, I find that my phone has no more minutes on it.  This has me worried because if I can’t contact Ahmed, we can’t find each other.  I run around frantically trying to find a place that will sell minutes to add to my phone.  Finally, I find a taxi driver who lets me use his phone to call Ahmed.  It takes a while for us to find each other, but we finally do.

Ahmed drives me up to Muquttum, where I show him the flat where I stayed in 2007.   While on Road 9, he stops to buy a bunch of oranges.  That’s good because I don’t want a repeat of Saturday night’s diabetic attack.

Ahmed loves his oranges

Ahmed loves his oranges

Ahmed buys some oranges

Ahmed buys some oranges

Later we head to a modern outdoor shopping mall, where we have a lovely dinner at a restaurant there.  It’s quite nice, especially by Cairo standards.  It’s such a lovely evening, and I feel happier than I’ve felt in a long time.

Ahmed Salem

Ahmed Salem

Ahmed Salem

Ahmed Salem

me

me

Ahmed and I having dinner our last night together

Ahmed and I having dinner our last night together

 

This is our last night together and I have a wonderful time.  Ahmed seems to be happy too.  We enjoy each other’s company on our last night together.  Early in the morning I take off for Korea.

If you’d like to follow my adventures in Korea, you can check out catbird in korea.

It’s too bad that everything falls apart with Ahmed after I leave Egypt. 😦

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cairo, day 3: a brief visit with mohsen, a felucca ride and a valentine’s day dinner

Sunday, February 14:  This morning, Ahmed goes to work again and drops me at one of the big hotels to use the internet.  After checking my emails, I take a taxi at 10:30 to Mohsen’s office at #6, Road 214, Digla Office: Progress 2 in Maadi.  It’s been 2 1/2 years since I last saw Mohsen in Cairo and I want to say hello to him while I’m here.

me and Mohsen in the Progress 2 Office

me and Mohsen in the Progress 2 Office

He’s quite busy at work, so we just have a cup of tea and chat for a bit, after which time he must go out for a meeting.  It really is nice to see him again after 2 1/2 years, even if only briefly.

me with Mohsen outside his office

me with Mohsen outside his office

I remember one of my favorite things to do when I was here in 2007 was to take a ride on a felucca on the Nile.  I rent the boat by myself to go out on the river.  It would have been quite peaceful, but another Egyptian named Khaled, whom I had also met on Facebook, calls me and wants to meet me while I’m here.  I’m free during the days, but in the evenings I have committed to spending time with Ahmed.  That is the whole reason I came to Egypt after all.  I tell Khaled I have time to meet him this afternoon, but he has determined he wants to take me out for Valentine’s Day.  I tell him I’m seeing Ahmed, who I’ve already told him I came here to see, tonight for Valentine’s Day.  He won’t let it go and keeps me on the phone during almost the entire hour I’m on the felucca, arguing with me about how I should spend Valentine’s Day with him rather than Ahmed.  The whole thing is so ridiculous since he’s known the story from the start.  Finally, I tell him I have to go, that he could easily meet me anytime this afternoon or tomorrow, but he insists he wants it his way or no way.  I finally just hang up on him, infuriated by his inflexibility.

the felucca captain

the felucca captain

me on the felucca, for old times' sake

me on the felucca, for old times’ sake

felucca on the Nile

felucca on the Nile

me on the felucca

me on the felucca

the felucca and Ma'adi

the felucca and Ma’adi

Ahmed picks me up around 3:00 and we head to the Carrefour.  We wander around the Carrefour buying food so he can cook me dinner tonight for Valentine’s Day.  I am a little disappointed because I was hoping we’d go out.  But it turns out to be quite a lovely dinner in the flat and I’m impressed by Ahmed’s cooking abilities, despite the kitchen being quite disgusting.

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, Felucca, Ma'adi, Middle East

second day in cairo: lunch with a flight steward from egypt air, whirling dervishes & a nightmare in al azhar hospital

Saturday, February 13:  Today, Ahmed has to go to work.  He drops me in an area of Cairo called Zamalek, near a phone store so I can get a SIM card with an Egypt number.   After, I walk around the neighborhood and take some pictures.

Zamalek is an affluent, and exclusive district of central Cairo encompassing the northern portion of Gezira Island in the Nile River.   The island is connected to the river banks with three bridges each on the east and west sides of the island.  (Wikipedia: Zamalek).

hot and sultry Cairo

hot and sultry Zamalek in Cairo

view of the Nile

view of the Nile

Streets of Cairo

Streets of Zamalek in Cairo

Streets of Cairo

Zamalek

the Nile

the Nile

I text Alaa, the Egyptian flight attendant I met on my Egypt Air flight, asking him if he’d like to meet for lunch in Zamalek.  I’m surprised that it’s so hot and sultry in Cairo in early February, and, when Alaa arrives,  I’m even more surprised that he is wearing a heavy wool sweater.  He is very serious and it is quite awkward to be around him.  Of course I keep thinking of Ahmed and wishing he wasn’t at work.    He walks with me to the Cairo Marriott Hotel, where we sit and talk for a bit in the lobby.  Alaa wants me to spend more time with him, but I get bored and impatient quite quickly and tell him I have to go to meet Ahmed.

After I leave Alaa, I find an internet cafe, where I write to two of my girlfriends back home, regarding Ahmed:  He’s very sweet.  In person, his voice doesn’t bother me at all.  He’s much more shy in person than in his chats; that takes a little getting used to.  He really is so sweet and is looking out for me so nicely.  He’s also very serious and prone to long political, historical (Arab world), and religous discussions.   I’m very attracted still, but I’m also having a little trouble reconciling his playful chat self with his real shy and serious self.  I’ll write more later; my time is running out..

When Ahmed gets off of work, he picks me up near the Egyptian Museum and we head out to do various things in the city.  It turns out to be quite a traumatic night.

Ahmed and I are exhausted, him from work and me from jet lag, etc.  After work he drives me out to a new city where his family has a house under construction.  We go to a papyrus gallery where I end up buying a beautiful papyrus to take home.

We then drive into the Khan al Khalili Bazaar area where we get stuck in sweltering traffic for nearly 2 hours.  During this whole time, I have to go to the bathroom desperately but there is nowhere for me to get out and go and no possibility of escaping the traffic jam.  I’m sweating and miserable, and more than a little panicked, until we finally are able to escape the traffic jam a bit and find a bathroom in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

We then head to the Citadel to see the Whirling Dervish show.  At the show, Ahmed, keeps falling asleep; I say, come on let’s go home, I’m tired too.  But he keeps saying,  No!  I think he is just being determined that I should see the whole show from beginning to end.  But every time he says that, he falls back to sleep. When the concert is over,  I can’t get him up.   He is all groggy and losing his balance and I have no idea what is wrong with him.  I lead him outside and keep asking him what’s wrong, but he can’t say; he is out of it and disoriented.   I make him sit at a cafe, and he falls asleep again.  I hail a taxi to take us to the nearest hospital, Al Azhar Hospital, which is horrible.  The sheets on the bed are disheveled and filthy.   The doctors (if you can call them that) listen to his heart and take his blood pressure.  They say he is “well;  it must be a psychic event.”  This is the only doctor who speaks English.  I am terrified.  Ahmed is curled on the bed in a fetal position.  I look on his phone and try to call one of his family members, but I don’t recognize any names except Sophia, his sister.  I call and try to tell her what’s going on, but we can’t understand each other.

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes

Finally, I call Basim, the neurosurgeon I met when I was in Cairo in July 2007, and the docs tell him in Arabic that Ahmed is fine, it is a” psychic event.”  Basim wants to come pick me up immediately, but I don’t want to leave Ahmed.  Though I know the address of the flat,  I have no idea how to get there.  Also, he has a lot of keys in his pocket and I don’t know which is the key to the flat.  I keep crying and I have no idea what to do.  I can’t leave Ahmed because my two bags for my whole year in Korea are in the flat and I don’t want to lose them.  Finally, after a couple of hours, Ahmed finally starts regaining awareness. He wanders to a little juice shop and buys a bag of oranges and starts eating them one right after the other.

When he finally becomes more aware and coherent, which is still some time after he eats the oranges, he explains that he was having a diabetic attack.  He is diabetic and takes insulin every day.  I don’t know if I should believe him because the doctors kept saying it was a “psychic” event.  He begins to seem more normal.  We seek out the car and when we finally make our way out of the chaotic city, Ahmed drives us like a maniac back to the flat.  When we finally return, he shows me the kit he uses to give himself insulin.  The whole night is incredibly traumatic.  I am so upset and afraid because I didn’t understand what was happening.

Back at the flat, we talk and talk, and I begin to feel more comfortable with him.  I can’t help thinking during all of this night’s fiasco that he is trying to scam me in some way, but I can’t figure out how he stands to benefit in any way from this incident!

The Whirling Dervish show was fabulous, except for the fact that when this evening was said and done, I felt like a Whirling Dervish myself.

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Filed under Cairo, Citadel, Egypt, Khan el-Khalili, Middle East, Whirling dervishes, Zamalek

cairo: meeting ahmed

Friday, February 12:  I arrive in Cairo in mid-afternoon and have to go through an extensive customs inspection because I am carrying two huge suitcases for my upcoming year in Korea.  It takes quite some time for them to inspect my luggage; they ask me why I’m carrying so much for a 4-day stay.  I explain that this is just a stopover on my way to work in Korea for a year.  I’m worried Ahmed will grow impatient with the delay and will give up waiting for me.

I’m also nervous that Ahmed won’t turn out to look like he does in his photos and on the webcam; I’m also afraid I won’t recognize him in person.  Another thing is his voice.  When I’ve spoken to him on Skype or by phone, I didn’t think his voice matched his body and face; it was so quiet and soft-spoken, even slightly effeminate, while he looks like he’s a bit of a tough guy, especially in one video he sent of himself working out at the gym.  But as I pull my two stuffed suitcases into Arrivals, I pass all the waiting Egyptians, searching for his familiar face.  Only when I reach the end of the line of people do I see him standing off to the side by himself, his arms crossed over his chest, smiling away at me.

It’s a little awkward meeting for the first time someone who you have chatted with extensively every day for months.  I have developed feelings for him online and so of course I’m afraid he won’t like what he sees.  I’m also afraid I won’t like him in person.  But I find he looks just like his photos.  He’s wearing glasses and a lopsided grin and he gives me a big hug.  Then we go out to get into his decrepit Volkswagen; it’s quite stuffed with junk and we have a hard time fitting both of my suitcases in the car.

As we drive along, he tells me I’m much better in person than in my pictures, though he’s always loved my pictures.  I feel relieved, but also a little awkward around him.  He is also better in person, with his charm and cute sense of humor.  Surprisingly, he also seems quite serious, which is so different from the impression he gave in our chats.

It turns out he has found an apartment to rent outside of the city.  The apartment doesn’t have a doorman, which is the reason he rented it.  Inside it’s fully furnished but rather shabby.  The kitchen looks much like the kitchen in our Muquttum apartment when I was studying Arabic at Al-Azhar University in 2007.    It’s just full-out disgusting.  Oh well, hopefully we won’t stay much in this dump of a place.

We put my bags into the apartment and go out to grab some chicken schwarma for dinner.  We take a drive through parts of Cairo where Ahmed shows me one of the hospitals where he works.  Then we come back to the apartment and relax and talk.  It’s so lovely to finally meet him.   Since I missed out on arriving here Thursday night and having the whole of Friday to spend with him, I won’t have much time with him.  He will have to go to work tomorrow and I’ll have to find something to do to occupy myself during his long workday.

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“i love egypt” on facebook, a young doctor, two blizzards, & a detour to cairo on the way to korea

October, 2009 to February, 2010:   In October, 2009, two years after spending a month studying Arabic at Al Azhar University in Cairo, I joined an “I LOVE EGYPT” Facebook group.  Suddenly, I had friend requests from over 30 Egyptian young men.  I was still so enamored of Egypt after my time there, that I added them all.  Some of them started chatting with me.  Irritatingly, I found many of them were looking for someone to marry to get a U.S. passport.  Some of them just became friends and others I never really talked to at all.  But one young 26-year-old doctor, Ahmed, started chatting with me in late October.  I enjoyed our chats so much that I ended up talking to him by Yahoo or Skype or MSN messenger nearly every day, from late October through early February, when I left Virginia to go teach English in Korea for a year.

I liked Ahmed so much, from his looks to his personality, his sense of humor, and his persistence, that I fell a little in love with him.  It was really ridiculous, considering our huge age difference and our geographical distance from each other.  Despite that, I determined that on my way to Korea, I would make a stop in Egypt and meet him in person.  So, the ticket I bought took me to Korea via Cairo for four days.

During our many chats, Ahmed sent me pictures of himself.  One Sunday afternoon, he sent me YouTube videos of Egyptian composer Omar Khairat.  He had recently been to see Omar Khairat in concert with his friends and he also sent pictures of himself, with his friends and the famous composer.  I remember that November day, sitting in my room with a cool breeze coming through the open window and pumpkin and squash-colored leaves rustling in the wind to the melodies of Omar Khairat’s music.

Ahmed worked at a hospital and a private clinic, and every time I talked with him, he seemed to be at one of those two places.  I determined that I would arrive in Egypt on Thursday afternoon, February 11, so that I could spend all day Friday with him.  Friday is the holy day in Egypt and it was Ahmed’s only day off.  He would have to work the rest of the time I was there, but he would try to get off in the evenings.  I didn’t mind because I knew people in Egypt I could visit and I was familiar with Cairo from my time there in July 2007.

I was due to arrive in Korea on Wednesday, February 17 for the EPIK (English Program in Korea) orientation.  So I would have to leave Egypt by Tuesday, February 16.

Friday & Saturday, February 5-6:  In Virginia we had two blizzards in a row.  The February 5–6, 2010 North American blizzard, referred to at the time as Snowmageddon, dropped 20-35 inches of snow across southern Pennsylvania, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and southern New Jersey, bringing air and Interstate Highway travel to a halt (Wikipedia: February 5-6, 2010 North American blizzard).

My neighborhood in northern Virginia on February 7, after the first blizzard.

My neighborhood in northern Virginia on February 7, after the first blizzard.

view to the corner from my house, February 7

view to the corner from my house, February 7

my house with piled up snow

my house with piled up snow

our border collie Bailey and his frisbee in the snow after the first blizzard

our border collie Bailey and his frisbee in the snow after the first blizzard

the woods after the first blizzard

the woods after the first blizzard

Tuesday & Wednesday, February 9-10:  The second blizzard, the February 9–10, 2010 North American blizzard was a major winter storm and severe weather event that afflicted the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions of the United States, affecting some of the same regions that had experienced a historic Nor’easter three days prior. This storm brought 10 to 20 inches of snow across a wide swath from Washington, D.C. to New York City (Wikipedia: February 9-10 North American blizzard).

Thursday, February 11:  I had bought a ticket to fly out on Wednesday night, February 10, but as all area airports were closed due to the blizzard, I was delayed a day.  It turned out I didn’t arrive in Cairo until late Friday afternoon, leaving me little time to spend with Ahmed on his day off.   Sometimes it seems that life conspires against our best-laid plans.  Often these things that go wrong are a sign that something is amiss, and it turns out I should have heeded those signs.

On the flight to Cairo on Egypt Air, a flight attendant named Alaa, 42 years old, flirted with me constantly on the overnight flight.  At that time I could speak a little Arabic and he seemed greatly impressed by this. He gave me his number and invited me to call him while I was in Egypt.  I didn’t think I would since I would be with Ahmed, but I noted the number, just in case.

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Filed under Americas, Cairo, District of Columbia, Egypt, Middle East, Oakton, United States of America, Virginia, Washington

from cairo to new york city

Wednesday, August 1:  This morning, Lisa and I FINALLY get on a plane for our flight home.  I doubted it would happen after yesterday’s debacle, but Dr. Jones does manage to succeed.  I think some of our group is left behind to wait for later planes.  This Al-Ameen Associates program has been very poorly managed overall.

me with Lisa on the plane in Cairo

me with Lisa on the plane in Cairo

Lisa wants to drop by her old apartment in New Jersey before heading to Pennsylvania, so we decide to rent a car together from New York.  I will drop her in New Jersey and then she’ll make her way back to Pennsylvania from there.

we pick up a rental car in New York City

we pick up a rental car in New York City

It takes us a good long time to make our way out of the city, especially as I don’t know New York at all and I’m driving without any sense of where we’re going.  At one point, we see this guy selling hot pretzels and pull up to the curb to buy some.

We stop along the road in the city to get a couple of bagels from this guy

We stop along the road in the city to get a couple of bagels from this guy

Finally, we manage to wind our way out of the city and into New Jersey, where we make it to Lisa’s house.  She tries to convince me to spend the night, but once I’m on a road trip, I just want to keep driving.  At one point, I stop at a rest stop and sleep for about an hour.

Thursday, August 2: I finally arrive home at 2:30 a.m. after a long day and night of travel.  Once I get settled in, I will immediately begin to move out of my house to live with two young women, one of whom, Jenn, is in my Master’s program at George Mason and who went on the Mexico Study Abroad trip with me.

When I get home, utterly exhausted, I get this email from R:

If you get this, just let me quickly say– CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU.
PLEASE CALL AS SOON AS YOU CAN.  WELCOME HOME!!!

I write him back in the morning.

Dear R,

I want desperately to see you as soon as possible.  However, I know the weekend is coming up and you will be off-limits.  Tonight I guess might be our only possibility.  I have to take the rental car out to Dulles, meet Jenn at the house in Arlington to see how much space I have to fill, and then I might very well be free, if you are.  I would love to see you, but let me know if or when you can.

I didn’t get home until 2:30 a.m.!  I was exhausted and had to stop an hour north of Baltimore to sleep for an hour at a rest area.  Before that I just caught myself drifting off and edging off the highway.
Love,
C

Later in the day, I hear back from him.

C,

Me too.  It’s worse than you think as I have to go to S.C this weekend to see my sister.  But I may have a plan if you’re flexible today/tonight.  I’ll call you.

R

And so begins the continuing saga of  a relationship between R and me that lasts until the day after I arrive back from my Singapore and Thailand Study Abroad trip on January 22, 2008.

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Filed under Al-Ameen Associates, Americas, Cairo, Egypt, Middle East, New Jersey, New York, New York City, Oakton, United States of America, Virginia

the “haram” doll, a day of frustration at the airport & a night at the hotel novotel

Tuesday, July 31:  Lisa is an ESL teacher in Pennsylvania.  On this trip to Egypt, she brings a doll she made.  She photographs the doll in various locations in Egypt, such as in front of the Pyramids and other landmarks.  When she returns home, she will show the pictures to her students, who get great enjoyment from seeing the doll in places where Lisa has visited.

the doll that Lisa brings on her travels

the doll that Lisa brings on her travels

This doll reminds me of the rabbit Felix in the amazing children’s book series that began with Letters from Felix: A Little Rabbit on a World Tour.

At the end of a vacation something terrible happens: Sophia’s cuddly rabbit, Felix, disappears in the airport. This is very, very bad, because Sophie and Felix are inseparable. But when school starts again, suddenly a letter for Sophie arrives from London – a letter from Felix!

the fabulous children’s book: Letters from Felix

Our roommate, Souhaila, is a serious believer in Islam and believes the doll is haram, or sinful.  Every time she sees Lisa’s doll lying around the apartment, she turns it face down or she asks Lisa to remove it. Now, Lisa is Muslim too, but she doesn’t see it this way.  She sees it as a plaything for children, and something they enjoy, especially when she brings back pictures of it in front of landmarks throughout the world.

Here’s what the Metropolitan Museum of Art says about this idea: The Islamic resistance to the representation of living beings ultimately stems from the belief that the creation of living forms is unique to God, and it is for this reason that the role of images and image makers has been controversial. The strongest statements on the subject of figural depiction are made in the Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet), where painters are challenged to “breathe life” into their creations and threatened with punishment on the Day of Judgment. The Qur’an is less specific but condemns idolatry and uses the Arabic term “musawwir” (“maker of forms,” or artist) as an epithet for God.

HOWEVER, says the Met:  Although the often cited opposition in Islam to the depiction of human and animal forms holds true for religious art and architecture, in the secular sphere, such representations have flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures (Metropolitan Museum of Art: Figural Representation in Islamic Art).

I am just a bystander in this disagreement between two Muslims, but I have to say, I find Lisa’s take much more moderate and reasonable.  Besides Lisa has a fabulous sense of humor and I can’t help but laugh as she decides, on our last morning in Cairo, to take pictures of the doll in various places throughout the flat, including on Souhaila’s bed.

the doll on Souhaila's bed

the doll on Souhaila’s bed

We have some fun with the doll in the flat before we gather up our belongings to head to the airport.  After we take a number of pictures and have a lot of laughs about the whole situation, we load our suitcases on the bus and head to the airport.

Lisa and her doll

Lisa and her doll

me with the doll

me with the doll

When we arrive at the airport, we find we are all on standby for a flight home.  Dr. Jones is scrambling around trying to get us sorted out.  While we’re waiting, Lisa and I play around in the airport, laughing our heads off and acting goofy, as we have from the first minute we met at the beginning of July.  I push her around on a baggage cart and then she pushes around some Egyptian children.  We laugh and laugh, acting like little children ourselves.

Lisa and me at Cairo Airport

Lisa and me at Cairo Airport

Lisa and me at Cairo airport

Lisa and me at Cairo airport

I push Lisa around on a baggage cart

I push Lisa around on a baggage cart

acting like goofy kids

acting like goofy kids

more goofiness

more goofiness

Lisa and some Egyptian kids

Lisa and some Egyptian kids

Finally we get a little tired from all the energy we’re expending acting goofy.  Irritation starts to set in.  It seems this situation with our flight is not being resolved.  Dr. Jones and his Al-Ameen Associates are so disorganized; it appears we will not even get on a flight today.  As the hours tick by, we get increasingly impatient and annoyed.  Finally, after about 6 hours in the airport (!!), we find we will not get on a flight after all.  We are transported out of the airport to the Hotel Novotel Cairo Airport to spend the night.   We will try to get on a flight tomorrow, insha’allah.

This extra night gives me another chance to see Basim.  I call him and he comes to visit at the Novotel, but he can only stay for a short time because he has to attend a birthday party for someone in his family. It’s okay, I’m happy to see him one more time.

Basim and me at Hotel Novotel Cairo Airport

Basim and me at Hotel Novotel Cairo Airport

After he leaves, Lisa and I have a light dinner in the lobby restaurant.

me at the Novotel having a light dinner

me at the Novotel having a light dinner

I go to bed early, exhausted from our ridiculous day at the airport.  At this point, I’m ready to go home, and I am keeping my fingers crossed we get on a flight tomorrow.

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, Hotel Novotel Cairo Airport, Middle East