Yep, Cairo

Trip Start Oct 30, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, November 16, 2009

The Egyptian Museum presents an excellent case as to why museums of such international importance should not be owned by any government but rather a universal politically-free (is there such a thing?) organization. The thousands of visitors who crowded it while I visited it paid around $15 each. And yet, the enormous museum looks more like a gigantic storage room in a desperate need for maintenance rather than a museum which hosts one of the most important collections on the planet. The overcrowded displays are stockpiled and dusty, featuring typewrite-printed index cards with very little information about the artifacts. The walls are dirty, the display cases are archaic and the shabby linoleum floors make you wonder what happens to all the admission money, which by the way, could easily be doubled, as the abundant artifacts are beyond spectacular. It’s amazing to discover how rich this ancient kingdom was.

In a way, my impression of the Egyptian Museum summarizes my impression of Cairo. This humongous city is chock-full with treasures buried under thick layer of pollution, dust, and dissatisfaction of its inhabitants. Despite that (and the fact that I no longer consider myself a “city person”) I am finding myself falling in love with this fascinating city. Here are a few notes I wrote about it:

Many of the people here act aggressively (compared to what I’m used to). Earlier I heard very loud screaming from the street. So loud that I rushed to the window to see what was going on, imagining a serious street quarrel. It wasn’t. From my third floor porch I saw a man 200 meters from my building yelling on his cellphone as he was walking by. Surreal.

I came to Cairo with my friend Ahmad, a recovering Heroine-addict who is now an hotel manager in Sinai. Through him I got a glimpse into Cairo’s drug scene. Hashish usage here is as common as alcohol in the USA. Almost everyone I met here admitted to be smoking it (or more accurately “drinking it”, as in Arabic one “drinks drugs”.)  Apparently, the hashish quality in Cairo these days is especially poor. Ahmad calls it ‘plastic hashish’ (which he pronounces “Blastic Hashish”) and claims it is not actually hashish but rather a chemical concoction resembling the drug without the desired impact. A visit to a mutual friend’s house, a brilliant English speaking upper-middle class Egyptian man, revealed that he, too, uses Heroine. Witnessing Ahmad’s difficult recovery process I could not avoid feeling deep sadness to discover that my other friend is currently using this drug. 

Traffic in this mega city is hectic and seemingly chaotic. Every two-lane road inevitably features three lines of cars zigzagging briskly in a bumper to bumper traffic. Horn use is certainly not as traumatizing (to me) as in Delhi (or Agra or Jaipur India) but it’s common enough to be a defining feature of the city. Taxis are very cheap but drivers often smoke in their very dirty cabs, some of which would not pass any safety test in the USA (no seat-belts or window handles, broken seats and thick exhaust fumes. Crossing the road here, especially in the busy evening hours, is a strangely exhilarating experience. You basically have to force cars to stop as drivers will not slow down for you. It’s kind of an “I dare you to run me over” kind of game. May sound scary, but it’s more fun than scary.

Finding vegetarian food in Cairo is as challenging as finding a donkey in Manhattan (actually, I think they have one in Central Park, so it’s much more challenging than that.) Finding good vegetarian food, so far, has proven to be simply impossible. A few times already I paid for meals I simply could not eat, like the mezze in the Lebanese restaurant (“Baalbeck”) that were spoiled from sitting in the fridge way too long. They do have a dish called “kushari”, which is basically pasta with a few lentils and chickpeas in a tomato sauce and fried onion. Sadly, it sounds tastier than it is.  But than again, they do have those carts selling coal roasted yams (at one Egyptian pound- about $0.20) that are fantastic.

When I walk the street many young adults smile at me and greet me with “Welcome to Cairo” and “Welcome Home” (which reminds me of Burning Man). The people I meet here, under the thin aggressive shield they are wearing, are lovely and hospitable (similar to the Moroccans). My hosts, Ahmad’s parents, present the beautiful side of Islam I love so much; impeccable hospitality, inspiring humility and heartfelt generosity. 

A few days ago a soccer (“football” in here) match between Egypt and Algeria got the entire city (and probably the country) extremely excited. Flags and cheerful horn beeps everywhere as well as many faces painted in red white and blue brought a festive atmosphere to the city. When the Egyptian team scored a goal a gigantic roar was heard throughout the neighborhood. Awesome!

There is an immense amount of joy that follows giving a beggar (I dislike this word. I wish there was a more respectful way to describe these lovely beings) a 20 Egyptian Pounds knowing s/he mostly gets about half a pound. Since 20 pounds is only $4 I can easily afford it so it’s a pretty cheap way to get instant joy. I think giving charity is one of the things I like best in traveling in poor countries. I can practice generosity here frequently. I’m reading now a book (“Into the wild”) about this American kid who gave all his money to charity (24k) and went on a journey that led to his early death. While I have no intention on following his lead, I can imagine how joyful he must have felt doing it.

Tomorrow I leave back to Sinai. I got a 6 months extension on my visa here in Cairo, did some shopping, taught (and practiced) some Yoga, and most importantly, fell in love. I doubt I’ll do it any time soon, but living in Cairo seems like a fabulous viable option to me now. At the same time, living in Sinai feels like a better fit for now so I’m quite happy to return to the best show on earth, where every moment is spectacular and where my heart is learning to surrender to love. It’s lovely to be joyful again.
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Greg Vaccaro on

You're bummin' me out. We leave for Cairo in 5 days for a 12 day excursion through the Nile river valley. We'll be doing all the touristy things, so I don't expect we will be able to experience the same things. But still, I look forward to seeing the many wonders of the ancient world and enjoy interacting with many different kinds of people. Interesting how your Egytian blog email just arrived days before we leave. I have another friend who will be in Cairo near the end of our trip. Is it just small world coincidences or is the fates transpiring something. Stay well! Stay well loved. Hugs.

Tyson on

I love you brother. Wonderful read. As a bird, you are.

Summer Forest on

so nice to get your posts. i was in cairo 22 years ago and i have to say i had the exact same response to the museum there. it is absolutely mind-blowing what is housed there and yet, when i was there it was also dusty and disorganized and in dire need of attention. i'm amazed it's still the same! i was actually quite blown away by how open and unguarded the tombs and ruins along the nile were too. this was truly one of the greatest human civilizations and is an international treasure. luckily they were prolific so there are some of egypt's treasures to be found all over the world. nonetheless, i agree completely with your puzzlement over this...
miss you. look forward to seeing you again someday soon.
love love, summer forest

tsila schwartz on

hi yorron,
i enjoyed reding your description, since i am not planning to go there myself.
so i am glad you enjoyed it for me as well.
just be safe and enjoy every moment.
i am taking care of my feet this year,
so that hopefully i can dance through life again soon.
as you can imagine it is cold here!!!!!

Albert Karsai on

Yorron, thank your for sending me this blog entry. I was in Cairo a few years ago and I too was fascinated by the Egyptian Museum, especially the old mummy pharaos and Tut anch Amun's treasure. It was simply too much to take it all in in a few hours, so I simply chose some of the exhibitions. And I found the Great Pyramids awesome. It was a dream come true when I saw them appear on the horizon.
I also went to the Sinai (Mt. Sinai) and the Shiwa Oasis. YOu should visit this too. And I went into the famous library in Alexandria. It is huge and very modern.
by the way: Kushari wasn't that bad. And it was plenty ;-)

Cheers, Albert

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