Monday, March 12, 2007

I was leaving the Flamenco Bakery just now, loaf of multi-grain bread in hand, when I had another of those moments I still have with regularity. The moment went something like this. I exited the bakery and turned right. To my left, across the congested city street, was the Nile. Beyond that, standing in contrast to the half-razed concrete structures, was a mosque, white and proud. The air felt surprisingly light and the breeze refreshed me and sent me almost-skipping along the way. And I thought: I live in freakin’ Egypt. How did this happen?

It does seem like a dream sometimes, and in one respect I suppose it is. When I was a kid, I often kicked around the idea of living in a foreign country. When we did geography in class, I looked at the strange shape and names of countries like Jordan, Niger and Chad. (For some reason I was drawn to Africa.) I wanted to live somewhere really different, if I did it—I had this dawning realization that the planet was very large and that life is lived in a lot of different ways, and it seemed to me that I would be missing out if I didn’t see some other version of life for myself. This may be owing to the fact that I grew up in a small town, nice enough but lacking in the diversity I sensed from the world beyond my home. I understood implicitly that I didn’t have much in common with those around me, not most of them anyway, and in that respect growing up was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole—I could hold in my hand the number of people in my hometown who would willingly live in Africa, in the Middle East, surrounded by several million Muslims. Anyway, it was important then and it is important now that I not be afraid, especially given that most fear is a product of ignorance.

Now I am here. Truth is, I don’t love Egypt, don’t love Cairo. But it’s never been necessary for me to love it. Even that childhood wish to live abroad, I never needed a place to love—the idea never entered my mind. I wanted to *like* the place, I wanted it to interest me and show me some other way that life is lived—not because I wanted tolive in that way, but because I was curious. In these ways, Egypt is a raging success so far. There is no love to perpetually maintain or justify. But something interesting happens even while I am walking down the street. I really really like that.


We went to the Citadel on Saturday. It’s a fortress dating back to medieval times, but which shows the influence of the Ottomans who ruled over Egypt for several hundred years. It hangs out close to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan, which we visited on a trip to Islamic Cairo back in December. At the end of this post, I’ll provide a link to a website that gives some history and provides some nice pics. I’ll also include some of my own pics, of course. Note the very blue sky—this was the clearest day I can remember in Cairo, and it transformed the city.

A few highlights. First, the Citadel’s prison, where they held Sadat’s assassins in 1981. As you can see, the doors are heavily fortified—so no escape. Everyone in the group looked inside a cell and each time we came away with a bit of a fright…

Another highlight was the Police Museum, which was actually just a few rooms of framed photographs and drawings of famous criminals either arrested or killed by Egyptian authorities over the years. They even had the gun used in the attempted assassination of President Nasr! This was one of the strangest thins I have ever seen.

After that, I stopped off at the Citadel’s restaurant, which does not date back to medieval times, for a cappuccino. When the guys learned I was American, they asked if I liked Al Pacino. To which I replied that yes, yes I do, but my mother is the real fan in the family, given that she owns a framed portrait of Pacino, Godfather-era, which she hangs proudly in her home. Okay, I didn’t tell the guys about the portrait.

Then there was the nice old man at the Turkish mosque who let us into the mausoleum area. I’m not sure if he was “supposed” to do it or not, but I discreetly slipped him 2LE and he became my friend. At the tomb (of whom I do not know), which is above-ground and bizarrely covered with colorful curtain-like things, the walls had been painted. He showed me. “Istanbul,” he said. And then, turning to the painting you see below, he said, proudly, “Cairo.”




Bryan said...

Could we please have more stories about you bribing people? Because that's pretty awesome. Details about how the transaction takes place would be appreciated. Thanks.

Sari said...

The painting of Cairo is AWESOME!

Mom said...

You are quite funny.