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March 11, 2011   

Ode to Cairo

It’s not like I didn’t have the time to write this past week floating around Cairo. It just dawned on me though, here in Economy Plus on KLM 554 to Amsterdam, that these last few days were simply not equal to the one day that cemented the Egyptian people forever in my heart. Their revolution may have started on January 25th, but mine may have started on March 4th. I’m not nearly good enough a writer to make up for the fact that sometimes I just don’t know what to say. For all the unique little opportunities that I had here, there were far more that were very typical of me. I am happy to have met so many interesting people and grateful to have so many invitations to return, which I plan to do—as photographer, imbedded tourist, friend, and big fan.

 

Mechanic stopping for prayer under the plane, and my last night out with Sherif.

Visiting with Sherif, his brother and father at their home in Giza.

By recent comparison, this past week was a curious saunter, for the most part spent being a mere citizen—hanging out, walking around, talking about politics and family, making pictures, and just generally relaxing a bit. Aside from the Giza pyramids, an afternoon among the mosques and markets of Islamic Cairo, and a couple hours inside the Egyptian Museum, I didn’t do anything during my almost two weeks here that you’re likely to find in Frommer’s or the Lonely Planet.

03/06: Wandered around Heliopolis with Sarita in the afternoon before getting the bad news. One of the young guys from the media agency crew, Hossam, was in a bad car accident last night after we finished with all the interviews. Though his face was badly cut up, he was otherwise okay—with the eventual scar making him even more attractive. So, I spent a couple hours experiencing the inner workings of an Egyptian hospital. Smelled the same, but I still couldn’t be convinced to have them look at my foot while there.

03/07: Alexandria. I had hopes of traveling further south along the Nile or perhaps deep into the unrelenting Sahara to the west—yes, towards Libya. But unfortunately, I was thwarted by a debilitating blister on my left foot. I did however, hop a train to Alexandria, two hours north through the farms and slums of the Nile river valley to the Mediterranean coast. One night in a posh hotel, by modest Egyptian standards anyway, to rest my weary feet and notch another ocean. Unable to sit still for long that night, I wandered accidentally through some of the poorest, but also so fascinating and colorful market alleys I have ever seen. Good for pictures, not for vegans.

03/08: Champions League football on the telly in the outdoor urban cafe across from my hotel. The servers there always welcome me as a friend. They call me Wayne Rooney, more so because that’s the only English they know. This made me feel right at home, despite some unfortunate results for my teams.

03/10: Last night I went over to Sherif’s house in Giza to meet his wonderfully large family. They have lived in the same humble building with three apartments for about 150 years. Met all the brothers, several cousins, uncles, nieces, nephews, mothers and fathers—all gathered around a simple living room bordered by 7-8 sofas, situated in such a way as to encourage conversation, not television. The girls and women seemed to be a dominant voice in the house, but it was fascinating to see the very distinct roles and quiet rules that bound social structure and norms. Their 4th floor roof top has a 360 view of the Sahara, the pyramids and the Sphinx. Pretty incredible. It was night time. Sherif took me on a walk through his town, stopping to say hello to all its residents. He seems to be the unofficial mayor of Giza. We watched some pretty decent football being played under the lights, crashed a very, very loud and colorful wedding party, survived an Egyptian taxi (three wheeler!), and watched a bit of the Pyramids sound and light show from the roof of his house. The booming English narration hovered over the town as we walked about. Strange, and would annoy the heck out of me. But I suppose it’s a small price to pay for living in the shadow of the principle Wonder of the World.

It’s now a little later in the evening, having landed, lodged and eaten in the exact opposite of where I earlier departed. I’m sitting here in the tres cool lounge of my eco-friendly boutique hotel in Volderpark, Amsterdam, awash in ambient euro beats, and indulging in a sophisticated coffee with small cup, saucer and chocolate morsel. How’s that for illiteration? The vertical garden and carefully crafted experience are akin to something I would have designed at Ziba. But now, it’s merely a space devoid of the kind of character I had just grown so fond of. It’s been a transformative trip that suddenly feels like its over.

Cairo = An exotic land rich in cultural history, unjust poverty, and proud and friendly people.
Amsterdam = The girls here wear very tight pants.

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