Category Archives: Khan el-Khalili

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

a farewell walk in wadi degla desert protectorate

Monday, July 30:  Today is supposed to be our last day in Cairo, and we spend the day mostly packing and gathering things together.  

When I check my emails this morning, I find this one from R, written yesterday afternoon from Virginia:

C,

Absolutelynothing to talk about, but that I felt like writing anyway. Spent the day with a house full of in-laws and kids.  Repaired the rest of the toilets, graded papers, finished a few performance evaluations, and sent some emails tending to tasks long overdue.  Just another Sunday in suburbia.  Enough already.  Taking my nieces to “Shear Madness” tonight.  should be fun.  I’ve not seen it in a long time, and always enjoy the theater (except when there is something much better to do).

Hope all is well in Cairo.  Looking forward to your return.  Good luck with it.  Hope it doesn’t involve any camels or long stays on tarmacs.
MU.

r.

I write him back: 

Hi R,

I have absolutelynothing to talk about either, but I wanted to write to let you know I believe all is on for my flight back Tuesday. As of yesterday afternoon, there were only 3 people confirmed on the airplane, and I wasn’t one of them.  But last night at 10 pm, Dr. Jones called my cell to let me know I am on (Insha’allah!) We will see about that.

I had to transfer money to my account on Saturday because I was down to $6.  Hopefully I will be able to access it today, because I need to do some shopping for people back home.  I thought I’d get the boys each shisha pipes; they can be decorative for now, but they can take them to college and smoke them later if they feel like it.  They are just so cool.

Anyway, I am so looking forward, with some reservations re: family, etc., to my return and especially to seeing you again.  I hope it will be very soon after my return.  I hope you can get all your papers graded, etc, so you will have a little time for me.

I hope you enjoyed Shear Madness with your nieces.  I can’t even imagine being back in such civilization where people go to theater, etc.

I am going to miss Cairo terribly, however, and it is difficult in many ways to think of my life back in the old U.S.A.

See you soon,
Love,
C

I go shopping one more time at Khan al Khalili because I want to buy some gifts.  I buy my daughter several pairs of earrings and each of my sons a hookah, an Eastern smoking pipe with a long tube passing through an urn of water that cools the smoke as it is drawn through.

Basim wants to see me one more time before I leave.  We go in the late afternoon to Wadi Degla Desert Protectorate for a hike.  This was the place where I went to my first Cairo Hash and where I first met Basim.  It’s a hot day, with no shade in sight, and we climb up to the top to get a grand view of the Wadi.  We have a lovely time laughing and walking and I can’t help but feel really sad that I’ll probably never see him again.

wadi degla desert protectorate

wadi degla desert protectorate

Basim at Wadi Degla

Basim at Wadi Degla

me at Wadi Degla

me at Wadi Degla

at the top of Wadi Degla

at the top of Wadi Degla

me at the top of Wadi Degla

me at the top of Wadi Degla

As he’s driving me back to Muquttum, I take a picture of a pretty mosque along the way.  I am starting to feel nostalgic about Cairo already, despite the fact I haven’t even left. 😦

mosque in Cairo

mosque in Cairo

mosque in Cairo

mosque in Cairo

I am really so sad to be leaving Cairo.  And believe it or not, I will really miss Basim.  😦

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Filed under Cairo, Egypt, Khan el-Khalili, Middle East, Wadi Degla Desert Protectorate

exploring islamic cairo with an egyptian brain surgeon: al azhar mosque, khan al-khalili, & bab al futuh

Wednesday, July 11:  This morning, I head to class at Al Azhar University, as usual.  It’s the same old miserable experience except that today it’s worse than usual because I get poked and prodded and told that I’m “harram.”

Al Azhar is an ultra-conservative Islamic university.   Before I came to Cairo, I was advised that I should wear no tank tops.  That was the only  guidance I got.  Because I knew it would be hot in July in Egypt, I only brought short-sleeve shirts.  However, every woman here wears long-sleeve shirts and ankle-length skirts or long pants.  My arms are always bare, and that draws many condemning stares.  Also, when I wear the scarf, 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.

Today at Al-Azhar a random woman, a total stranger, comes up to me and tugs at my scarf so that it covers my front.  I have a v-neck t-shirt on so you can see my neck and the top of my chest.  She pulls my scarf down to cover my skin, jabs her finger at my bare arms and says, “Harram, harram.”  She is visibly upset with me.  Harram means forbidden — this is forbidden in Islam.  I say, “ana la musleema,” (I am not Muslim) to explain my wayward attire, but she isn’t satisfied by this.  Apparently since I’m at Al-Azhar, I should be non-harram!

Shannon at Al Azhar today

Shannon at Al Azhar today

After classes, the bus takes us to the Carrefour for groceries.  While at the mall, I buy a couple of head scarves from a tie shop.  When I return home, I waste a lot of time on the computer, reading and answering emails.

I get another email from R.  He says:

Sorry I couldn’t call.  Much H breaking loose and couldn’t get free.  But MUMchly and thought I’d feel better if I could at least say so  this way.  Hope you have a great day and night. (Well, pretty great.)

Off to meet a Mexican from the embassy.  will report back later.

I write him back immediately:

Hey there, was just getting ready to sign off the computer when your email came up!  Glad to hear from you, of course.  Hope your meeting goes well with the Mexican.  Think of me when you see him (& try not to think of young Alfonso!)

We’re heading back to Khan el Khalili.  I should be studying but I can’t seem to sit still.  Hope to talk to you soon.  Tomorrow is the last day of our week!

MUMUCHLYtoo.
Your favorite Egyptian faker (I hope)

After messing around on the computer, I go out to Road 9 in Muquttum and take a taxi to Al Azhar Mosque to meet Basim, the brain surgeon.  Al Azhar Mosque is one of Cairo’s earliest mosques and the world’s oldest surviving university.

Basim, the brain surgeon

Basim, the brain surgeon

We hike all though Islamic Cairo, around the northern section of Khan al Khalili, through the medieval thoroughfare and home to clusters of Mamluk-era mosques, madrassas and caravanserais.  We come upon the old northern wall.  The recently restored ancient gates here include the square-towered Bab an-Nasr (Gate of Victory) and the rounded Bab al Futuh (Gate of Conquests).  These were built in 1087 as the two main northern entrances to the new walled Fatimid city of Al-Qahira (Lonely Planet: Middle East).

Sweat is pouring off of me and I am in pure misery.  Basim seems to be on a mission to show me all of Cairo in one night.  We probably walk for 3-4 miles.  Because we are so busy trekking, we hardly have time to speak.

the gate to the Citadel

the rounded Bab al-Futuh, or Gate of Conquests

Basim is protective and gentle with me though.  He keeps grabbing my hand and pulling me out-of-the-way of traffic.  Finally, we stop at a cafe and I drink a mango juice while he sips tea.  He gets his shoes shined at the cafe.   He tells me he’s an only child and lives with his parents, or rather they live with him in Ma’adi.  His mother does everything for him.  I tell him he’ll have a hard time finding a modern-day girl who will do everything for him.  He responds that all he cares about is work and doesn’t feel like taking care of mundane household tasks.

me, finally able to sit down, have a drink and relax

me, finally able to sit down, have a drink and relax

Basim at the cafe

Basim at the cafe

The evening seems awkward all around.

When he drives me home, he doesn’t even shake my hand.  He says he will call if he thinks of anything crazy.  I figure it is the last time I will see him.

When I return to the Muquttum apartment, I find another email from R.

So glad I caught you.  Fabulous lunch.  Super scholarly-kinda dude who wants to learn all about America.  Got his PhD at San Diego, but needs to know about east coast and other ‘real’ stuff.  Already enlisted him  to teach a class for me in the Fall.

Meanwhile, I’ve a few hours alone– oh, soo alone– to spend prepping  for class.  I plan to do it at the Liberty Tavern, sipping, reading,  and reminiscing.  Siiigggg! 🙂

I was so bummed yesterday I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and I  hopped a freight train.  Just my luck it was heading to Union station,  so I walked back to my office; pissed. And yet I feel so kick-ass  today.  I must be bi-polar.  It’s really wierd from inside where I see  it.  I’ll have to explain it to you someday; or at least try until you get scared enough to excuse yourself and never return.  I’m getting ready.

In the meantime, I want to reiterate yet again how special it is to have someone to be completely honest with.  I just can’t say that too  often because it is such a wonderful thing.  I love it.   And I miss  it.  But I’m truly enjoying the vicarious thrill of your adventure.  Please keep me in the loop.  I need the fix to make it through my hum-drum existence.  All the sordid little details please; it’s like reading someone’s novel as they’re writing it.  Maybe you should:  CATHY’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.

Stay well, stay safe, and maximize each moment.
MUM
~ R

p.s. Best to Lisa.  (Frankly, if I was from NJ I’d say I was from Pa too).

Feeling a little depressed, I write him back right away.

Hello there again,

I’m glad you feel comfortable being honest with me.  I hope you will continue.  I’d love to hear more about the inside view of your bipolar existence.  I hope your preparation at Liberty and your class go well tonight.

Tajweed class was another joke; Lisa and I, and even teacher Mona, were in a crack-up mood.  This time they both laughed as I tried to mimic Mona’s face forming the Taa sound in Arabic.  I must have made a hilarious face, because neither of them could stop laughing.

I was planning to go to Khan el Khalili again tonight with Clint and Kevin, but since they’re going to Alexandria tomorrow night, they decided to bag it.  Instead I went to the streets of Old Cairo with the brain surgeon.  His name is Basim.  Although he’s only 34, he’s a very conservative and serious Muslim; he seems older to me than I am!  It seemed very awkward with him tonight and I doubt I will see him again.  Again, there is nothing to worry about here.  I just returned and now will go upstairs to study. 

I had to make a decision quickly today about whether I would go to Alexandria with Clint, Kevin, Tarik and Shannon.  At the last minute they decided to leave Thursday and come back late Sat. afternoon.  That clinched it for me; I decided not to go.  I still have much to see in Cairo and didn’t want to spend a whole weekend in Alexandria.

I would love to go to the hash again on Friday night, but we’ll see.  I had a weird experience with Mohsen last weekend and I don’t know if I feel comfortable going. (I’ll have to tell you about it sometime).  Besides that, the brain surgeon will be there.  We’ll see.  I’m trying to be open, but I don’t really want to be all alone on Friday and Saturday night exploring Cairo (although I will do it if necessary).

Oh well, of course none of my little problems are of concern to you.  You will have a good weekend, per the usual, I’m sure.  I don’t know how I will be changed upon my return, but I do feel I am changing in some way…  I just don’t know how at this point in time.

It’s funny, but I have rarely given Mike or the boys a thought since I’ve been here.  It seems so weird, and sad, to me, as they have been my family for the last 18 years.  I could so easily stay here if some amazing opportunity were to arise.  But I have no idea what that might look like, or how it would possibly unfold.  I am just going with the flow and will go down whatever paths open up for me.

I know I’m sounding philosophical and all — I don’t know why.  Pensive and sad a little, I guess.  I’m sure I will feel better tomorrow.  I wish you were truly free to be open to me; maybe that’s what’s making me sad.  Or maybe it has something to do with stuff going on here.  I don’t know.  Right now I’m probably just tired….

So, goodnight, dear lover,
Keep happy,
C

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Filed under Al Azhar Mosque, Bab al Futuh, Bab an-Nasr, Egypt, Islamic Cairo, Khan el-Khalili, Middle East

an evening at al hussein square & khan al khalili bazaar

Tuesday, July 10:  Today, another day of class at Al Azhar.  After class, I do a lot of homework, do a load of laundry and read emails from my friend Patty and my son Alex.

R calls to hear my voice.  He tells me he’s lucky because his life is good.   I say to him, “Your life is good and mine is fun here.  So you should stay there and enjoy your life, and I should stay here.”  He says that would be less than ideal.  He tells me he will be on American Idol soon from dance classes he’s taking, but he needs somewhere to practice.  I tell him how Lisa is great at speaking but not at writing or reading, and how I’m good at reading and writing but not at speaking.  I tell him that she wants to drop out of the program.

He tells me the only thing missing is me not being there.

Somehow at the end, the conversation is disappointing as neither of us says “I love you” or “I miss you.”  It’s sad that I don’t really know where we stand.  He says we’ll need to talk about all that when I get back.

On another front, I text Mohsen: “Hi.  Hope you are well.  Dusharufna.”  I never hear a word back.  Neither do I hear from Basim the brain surgeon.

I go to take a shower before heading out and find there is no water.  Another of many annoyances in Egypt.

I head back to Al Hussein Square and to Khan al Khalili to shop with Kevin, Clint, Amina and Howa.  I wear a red headscarf, loosely draped over my hair.

Al Hussein Square in Cairo

Al Hussein Square in Cairo

Al Hussein Square

Al Hussein Square

Al Hussein Square

Al Hussein Square

me in hijab at Al Hussein Square

me in hijab at Al Hussein Square

At Khan Al Khalili, I buy two scarves, a perfume bottle and a silver ring with lapis stones.   As we are walking through the bazaar, I hear someone call my name.  I turn around and see it is Mohammed, the guy from the pink scarf shop, who I met briefly on an earlier visit.  At that time he had given me his card and Deena had taken it away to “protect me.”

Khan al Khalili at night

Khan al Khalili at night

When I go back to speak to him he says he’s tried to call the apartment five times and no one has answered.  He asks why I haven’t called him and I explain that Deena took away his card.  I give him my new cell phone number.  I am surprised he remembers me from a week ago.  It’s especially strange because my hair was totally covered last time, and this time it’s more loosely covered and some of my hair is showing.

me with Howa at Al Hussein Square

me with Howa at Al Hussein Square

Amina, me and Howa at Al Hussein Square

Amina, me and Howa at Al Hussein Square

We lose Clint and Kevin early on, so we catch a taxi back to Muquttum by ourselves.

When I return home, I do more homework copying dialogues on houses and furniture.

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Filed under Al Hussein Square, Cairo, Egypt, Khan el-Khalili, Middle East

arabic assessments, romance in the carrefour, and hemp tattoos in al-hussein square

Saturday, June 30, 2007:  After a group breakfast in the hot and dingy common room at our apartment building, we go by bus to Al Azhar University; there we take written assessments of our Arabic to determine placement in our classes beginning tomorrow morning.  We don’t find out anything about our scores at this point.  I actually feel that I do quite well; I am surprisingly able to understand and answer most of the questions.

Tarik, Clint, Shannon and me on the steps of our apartment building ~ the day of assessments

Tarik, Clint, Shannon and me on the steps of our apartment building ~ the day of assessments

Later the whole group goes by sweltering and ramshackle bus to the huge Carrefour, a sprawling hypermarket operated jointly by Majid al Futtaim and Carrefour France.  We all go our separate ways, buying groceries for our apartments for the week ahead. After some wandering, I meet Lisa and find her engrossed in a conversation with a handsome Egyptian named Mahmoud. She tells me later that he approached her in the cheese aisle and told her she has beautiful eyes.  Lisa dresses conservatively and wears the hijab and already, within one day in Cairo, she has met a guy! He takes her phone number and later that evening calls and asks her out on a date.  She doesn’t waste much time, that girl… 🙂

Midan Hussein in front of Al Hussein mosque in Cairo

Midan Hussein in front of Al Hussein mosque in Cairo

In the evening, I go with a bunch of my fellow students into Cairo to celebrate Shannon’s birthday.  Our group consists of Shannon, Deena, Anita, Rabia, Kevin, Tarik, Amina, Suhala and me.  We go directly to Midan Hussein, a square in front of the Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque. This mosque isn’t accessible to non-Muslims, so I am obviously barred. One of the most sacred Islamic sites in the country and the Middle East, the mosque hosts the shrine in which the head of Ibn al-Hussein, the grandson of Muhammed the Prophet, is alleged to have been buried. The present building dates to 1870 and replaces a much earlier 12th century mosque.

Suhala, Lisa's and my other roommate, and Amina at Cafe Aboumazen

Suhala, Lisa’s and my other roommate, and Amina at Cafe Aboumazen

We sit at the outdoor Cafe Aboumazen and drink tea and mango juice; some of us eat dinner.

Cafe Aboumazen in Midan Hussein where we get henna tattoos

Cafe Aboumazen in Midan Hussein where we get henna tattoos

A woman in a striped abaya and pink headscarf comes by offering to do henna tattoos on our hands.  She has a huge book full of drawings that we can choose from. Henna, also known as Mehendi, comes in many different shades or colors, ranging from reddish-orange to brown-black, but this woman does her temporary tattoos in black.  I choose one I like from her book, as do a number of us, and we sip our tea while she takes turns painting her elaborate drawings on our skin.

the hemp tattoo lady at Cafe Aboumazen

the hemp tattoo lady at Cafe Aboumazen

Al Hussein square, where we sit at the outdoor cafe, is one of the most convenient access points to the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, Cairo’s giant souq (market). The khan, built in 1382, was originally a hub for traveling traders in the Fatimid era. Today, it’s the most visited tourist market in Egypt. Almost any kind of souvenir can be bought here, but also quality produce is still to be found.  We wander through the maze of tight aisles, looking with awe at the Islamic clothes, scarves, belly-dancing equipment, furniture, and water-pipes, as well as gold, silver and jewels.

At one scarf shop, a young guy tells me I have “beautiful eyes” and introduces himself as Mohammed.

Deena next to one of the shops selling hookah pipes in Khan al Khalili

Deena next to one of the shops selling hookah pipes in Khan al Khalili

He hands me his business card and asks me to call him when I get a phone.  Deena, feeling protective, snatches the card away and hides it.

a blurry me with headscarf and henna tattoos

a blurry me with headscarf and henna tattoos

We head back, spread out among several taxis, climbing the long winding road to Muquttam Hill to our grimy apartments.

When I return to our flat, I get an email from R, a man I met in Mexico in May and saw during all of June.  I had written him yesterday about my arrival in Egypt, and he writes the following to me today, regarding our time together in New York (before I came to Egypt) and my five weeks away:

Except for my idiotic chocolate flub, I am afloat.  Haven’t touched ground since and not likely to for a while. Wow!!

Shocked to hear from you after 8:00 p.m.  I mean, wtf.  Must have been uber-annoying before such a long flight.  Sure wish I had had some ambien.  ThG for Valium.

The whole 5 weeks thing just hit me this morning. Sure, it was there in my head, but it just hit my E-system (E for emotional).  Crunch. Seems  immense.  Summer flies, I know; but it seems immense stretching out *a priori*.   My phone feels hollow. But I shant wish your adventure time away and will just keep fingers crossed for your safety and success, and return.

MU!

From the oh-so-not-out-there,
R

I’m excited to hear from him, as our time together has been short and there is no commitment between us.  But I like him very much and so am pleased to know he misses me and sees my five-week journey as “immense.”  I try to sleep and prepare for our first day of school tomorrow at Al Azhar University, the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt.

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Filed under Al Hussein Square, Arabic language, Cafe Aboumazen, Cairo, Carrefour, Egypt, Henna, Khan el-Khalili, Midan Hussein, Middle East