Category Archives: Old Cairo

cairo in black & white: a return to coptic cairo & another cairo hash

Friday, July 27:  Today I return to Coptic Cairo to buy some black and white photos I saw in a shop the last time I was here.  I love how the photographs capture an old romantic version of Cairo.  I end up buying three of them.

Egyptian black & white photos and the fresh shopkeeper

Egyptian black & white photos and the fresh shopkeeper

While I’m in the shop, I ask someone in the shop if they will take a photo of me with the shopkeeper.  Right after the photo is snapped, I am shocked to feel the shopkeeper’s hand grab my butt.  I say, “What are you doing???” and promptly move away.  He says, “Please can I have your number?”  I say no!  What presumption!!  This kind of thing happens too often in Cairo.

the Egyptian shopkeeper and me

the Egyptian shopkeeper and me

When I return from Coptic Cairo with my amazing black and white photographs, I put them away and check my emails.  I find the following from R:

C,

I’m gonna go back to my old style of writing. Hope you don’t mind.  I’m just too tired and frustrated to be efficient.  And so all the nothing will come out in full form, or something like it.

I am in such a funk.  Since hitting the office I feel like I’ve been in a particularly creative episode of the show “Office.”  OMFG!!!  What is this place?  It’s a steady flow, intrusions really,  of people– and always not men, btw– with long discussions of issues, matters, problems, complaints that I just don’t care about.  I can’t bring myself to care about them. I can’t even pretend to care about them.  And, I can’t even order them to leave cuz that is so not PC.

I’ve resorted alot to wandering off to NY while they regale me with their drivel.   I have even resorted to excusing myself from my own damn office and just leave. HS, what is this?  After particularly bad episode that just ended (intruding grievously on my lunch), I locked my door, turned off the lights and put on Gloria Esteban, just to decompress.  So my secretary and assistant (also not a guy) had to come in to see if I’m all right and hung around wanting to help and get me stuff and offer suggestions and get me to talk it out with them.  OMFG!!  What did I do to deserve all this.  I’m just sure I was an evil overseer of a harem in an earlier life.  And not one drop of Scotch in my whole office.

So I write to you, letting my fingers follow my mind, following my heart, to Cairo.  And, truth be told, I feel better.  Thx.  But a Scotch would still help. A hug would help ever so much more.  I can’t remember being so in need of a hug.  Hugs and scotches, in NY.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

And yet, here I am.

I’m off tonight to meet with some friends– one of whom is going pay big time for getting me to buy that dumb-ass book about millionaires. I’m in just the right mood to meet with that bozo. (As you’ve no doubt
noticed, I’m transferring my stupidity to his cupidity.  I’m into cognitive dissonance and blame transference.)

Stay well, stay safe, and try not to get over me just yet.

Love,
r

In the afternoon, I invite Shannon, Clint, and Kevin to accompany me to our last Cairo Hash.  We start in an Egyptian neighborhood at a big unfinished villa.  The pool is finished, and it’s quite lovely, but the house is just a shell, like many houses throughout Cairo.  This time we hike out in the relentless heat of the desert; we’re all in complete misery.

Wesley the hash leader in the middle

Wesley the hash leader in the middle

Clint in the center

Clint in the center

Wesley's girlfriend in the center

Wesley’s girlfriend in the center

random hashers

random hashers

me

me

Kevin, Clint and Shannon on their first Cairo Hash

Kevin, Clint and Shannon on their first Cairo Hash

the unfinished house with the beautiful pool

the unfinished house with the beautiful pool

the pool at the house

the pool at the house

Shannon and Kevin

Shannon and Kevin

Kevin and Shannon

Kevin and Shannon

Kevin and Clint

Kevin and Clint

Crazy hashers

Crazy hashers

me drinking up with the others

me drinking up with the others

someone getting beer poured on them

someone getting beer poured on them

Clint and Kevin on the right

Clint and Kevin on the right

down down down!

down down down!

the beautiful pool at sunset

the beautiful pool at sunset

poolside

poolside

me with two Egyptian women

me with two Egyptian women

At the end of the evening, as we are leaving, Wesley, the head hasher extraordinaire, grabs me as I’m leaving and kisses me.  I am baffled.  I look at him, bewildered.  He says, “I just wanted to see what it was like.”

As far as what it’s like, maybe it’s no good.  Because I never hear from him again. 🙂

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Filed under Cairo, Cairo Hash House Harriers, Coptic Cairo, Egypt, Middle East, Old Cairo

a day in coptic cairo

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!
C

After writing my emails, I go out to explore Coptic Cairo, part of Old Cairo.  It was once known as Babylon and was in existence before the coming of Islam.  Today it is the seat of the Coptic Christian community.
entrance to Coptic Cairo

entrance to Coptic Cairo

boys playing in the alleys of Coptic Cairo

boys playing in the alleys of Coptic Cairo

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).

in a church in Coptic Cairo

in a church in 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)).

a priest peeks out from the entrance to a church

a priest peeks out from the entrance to the Church of St. George in Coptic 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).

Church in Coptic Cairo

Church of St. Serguis in Coptic Cairo

Coptic Cairo

Church of St Sergius in Coptic Cairo

inside a church in Coptic Cairo

inside a church in Coptic Cairo

inside a church

inside a church

inside a church

inside a church

A Greek Orthodox cemetery is found on the grounds outside the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.

in the cemetery of Coptic Cairo

in the cemetery of Coptic Cairo

Cemetery - Coptic Cairo

Cemetery – Coptic Cairo

Cemetery in Coptic Cairo

Cemetery in Coptic Cairo

Cemetery in Coptic Cairo

Cemetery in Coptic Cairo

flowering tree in the cemetery

flowering tree in the cemetery

Cemetery in Coptic Cairo

Cemetery in Coptic Cairo

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.

a little boy who helps me find a cash machine in the shops outside of Coptic Cairo

a little boy who helps me find a cash machine in the shops outside of Coptic Cairo

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.

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Filed under Cairo, Coptic Cairo, Egypt, Middle East, Old Cairo

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