Dawn's Travel Journal
Summer 2007 -
from Berzerkeley to the Redneck Riviera and back
Dawn Lynn Wirt
From: Dawn Date: June 25, 2007 10:32:43 PM EDT Subject: last night
We made it. We weren't sure that we would - after all, we had only two days to blast through a bit more that 1,000 miles, but we had a plan, and we stuck with it. I think that 2nd part - the sticking with it, was the toughest part, mainly because it required getting up at an ungodly early morning hour, two days in a row - which given that we'd spent the whole trip getting up and getting going whenever we pleased, was a bit torturous. The Plan also meant we couldn't stop at any more viewing spots, potty breaks had to be quick and we had to give up the other things that we had wanted to see along the way - like the Carlsbad Caverns and the ancient cliff dwellings in New Mexico.
But really, that was all okay, because we had an amazing trip!
So we spent two days in the car, barreling through the southwest, eyes peeled for state troopers, discussing how long we could put off stopping to pee. We had stopped at the grocery and made our meals right in the car, eating at 80 miles an hour. Nia ate at 90 miles an hour, because I drive faster than she does. The first day we drove about 9 hours - but lost 2 hours due to time changes, and an hour in Tuscon because there was freeway construction - we were routed along the freeway for about 5 miles or so - nearly an hour sitting in 100+ degree weather (at one point the temp read 118), crawling along. Waiting to get back on the freeway irritated us to no end, and we spent a good part of the rest of that day griping about it, and projecting how far behind we were in our schedule, and how much closer we could have been if not for that ...
The second day we got up at 3:45 (a.m!), by 4:23 the car was packed, we were checked out of the hotel, and back on highway 10, eastbound. The second day went much as the first day, with Nia and I taking turns driving. Around 5:30 or so we finally ... finally, finally, finally ... crossed the Texas border. Nia took the last shift driving, but we worried about speeding through Louisiana and into the Florida panhandle. She then displayed a self-control that I never would have managed had I been her - here she is, so close to her new home, her brother and sister-in-law and their kids waiting, the key to her new house heating up the glove box, dancing anxiously on it's good-luck Kokopelli key ring; jingling, "hurry, hurry, hurry ..." But Nia maintained - she stayed within the speed limit, Lawrence and Jeanne calling, "where are you?," I heard one-sided conversations about the freeway we're on, where we are, how much longer?
We were maybe 15 miles from our final destination, coming up on a bridge - when 3 patrol cars went whipping by us - lights flashing, sirens going - huh - wonder what's up? And so there we are, doing the speed limit - which was 45 mph at this point, hellishly slow - and dying because we just wanted to be there already, and then we found out what was up - they had closed the bridge right in front of us ...
I thought Nia would explode. Nia held it together; I was impressed. There was an accident - luckily we were close enough to see the action, so that kept us from completely losing it (human nature, lookie-loos and all that) - and they got the bridge opened up pretty quickly. From there Nia drove directly to her new home - we stepped out of the car, vibrating from the long day on the road, staggering a little as we tested our legs on the solid ground. We dumped our bags and Nia took me on the grand tour - such a cute place! Two bedrooms, open floor plan, great back deck, on a lagoon - it's perfect for her!
Nia opened the wine that Lawrence and Jeanne had been kind enough to leave for us, and poured us each a glass. Shortly after that Lawrence and Jeanne showed up, and we cracked open the Veuve that Nia's mom had left in the fridge (thank you, JoAnn!!!) - ahhh - nothing like a glass or three after 16 1/2 hours in a car. We were up until 3:00, yakking, laughing, enjoying the good company. We're all moving a little slow today.
Today we went around the area - Nia's home came with a Candy Apple Red golf cart and we took that to Lawrence and Jeanne's, then to lunch, which included hush puppies - I was in heaven! Then Aunt Nia treated her niece, Grace, and Grace's friend Abbey (and me and Jeanne!) to an ice cream at Kilwin's. We cruised around the resort a bit, I got to see the stunning white sand beach, and Nia got to learn the ins and outs of driving a golf cart, rolling over more than one front yard in the process. At one point Nia was complaining that the cart was going too slowly - Grace (who knows more about the golf cart than her Aunt Nia), explained that we were going uphill. Nia, coming from San Francisco, now needs to revise her understanding of a "hill," here in flat Florida.
Tonight is my last night - my plane leaves Ft. Walton Beach airport at 6:35 a.m. - tonight we're grilling kabobs and sipping wine. Grace and Abbey are at staying the night at Abbey's, Josie, the baby, is sleeping. Jeanne's niece, Elise, is here with her 2 year old, Ethan. Ethan is playing with Brownie - the dog - Brown Man, out here on the patio where I'm sitting, loving the humid night air, listening to everyone chat, Brownie's tags clinking wildly as he chases a laughing Ethan around the table ...
really, I'm not sure it gets any better than this.
Mileage: 1,090 (two days) Time: 25 1/2 hours (two days) Destination: Home
From: Dawn Date: June 22, 2007 9:20:11 PM EDT Subject: we bailed ...
We left early. We just couldn't take it. The Grand Canyon is grand, to be sure - and I imagine that the other 5 million 3 hundred and 46 thousand other people who were there with us today thought the same thing.
We drove to the first viewing spot only to be faced with a full parking lot, and a street lined on both sides with cars. There were people everywhere, all the promontories were jammed with tourists, crowding the fences, taking pictures, bumping into us, stepping on our ankles, stopping dead in the middle of the walkways to stare, or to shout back to a companion to "hurry! bring the camera" ... and all of this in 105° heat. Why was it so crowded? Maybe because it's Friday. Maybe because it's the Grand Canyon and school is out for the summer. Regardless, it was more than either of us could handle. We walked silently back to the car, baking in the sun, our gazes downward, focused on the way the asphalt seeped sticky black tar. Our feet sank slightly into the surface of the street as we trudged along, frustrated by the crowds, already drained by the heat.
Back at the car we grabbed our water bottles and chugged down mouthfuls of warm water that only 20 minutes before had been cold, swallowing gratefully, we laughed at our incredible thirst - we hadn't been out there very long! We drove a little further hoping that most people would have chosen to visit the first viewing area then gone back to their camps, or their hotel swimming pools, or to eat ... anywhere but where we wanted to go to enjoy the beautiful views. And I think to a large extent that was the case - the further viewing points were not as crowded, but still, parking was almost impossible, and neither of us could muster the enthusiasm to hike along the tarmac for the privilege of jostling for a position along the viewing rails, sandwiched in between the hot, sweaty bodies of total strangers.
And so we bailed. One of us - I don't remember which now - said (out loud) "what if we just leave?" And the other was all over it, like the sticky tar that had coated the bottom of our shoes. We decided we'd seen plenty of beauty this week, and Zion had been our favorite anyway. We hit the potties at the visitor center, wandered around looking at all the same books, postcards and chotchkies we'd seen at the other 3 canyon visitor centers, and then left. Somewhat giddily we made our way out of the park, leaving behind whatever bit of guilt we may have felt at abandoning our exploration of one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
We cruised down to Flagstaff, and have chosen to stay the night here. It's early still, but the next big city is Phoenix, and we would have been arriving during rush hour - not an attractive option given the fact that we'd just bolted from overwhelming crowds. We checked into a Holiday Inn and then went in search of food - we hit a health food grocery here - New Frontiers - thanks for the tip, Bryan! - and bought lettuce, tomatoes, a rotisserie chicken and some dark chocolate. Shortly we're going to get into our bathing suits and hit the hot tub ... ahhh ...
Tomorrow we start the hard driving. We have two days to get to Miramar Beach, FL - about 1,800 miles by our calculations - including getting through Texas - we've discussed taking turns and driving through the night. We'll work it out - so there may or may not be a journal entry for the next few days. For certain I'll send one out once we get to FL - have to report on Nia's new home!
Mileage: 83 Time: 2 hours
Destination: Miramar Beach, FL with whatever stops attract our attention and won't take too much time!
From: Dawn Date: June 22, 2007 2:30:39 AM EDT Subject: and the gorgeousness continues ...
Zion gave up the beauty that it promised us last night as we drove in. Satisfaction guaranteed & received.
We drove all through the canyon today stopping at every outlook there was, plus a few that weren't, but where Nia was able to park the car anyway. The amazing thing about Zion is that the drive is through the bottom of the canyon, so left, right, forward and back you're surrounded by soaring cliffs - fractured walls peppered with trees growing out of the cracks between the rocks. Massive boulders line the roads - pieces of the cliffs that have broken off and crashed to the ground below - they lay scattered all along the roads and in the valleys, remaining in the spot where they landed when they finally stopped their bouncing paths down the canyon walls. It is impossible to leave Zion unimpressed.
We stopped at the last outlook before leaving the park and despite the 109° heat we chose to make the 1 mile hike up the cliff in order to view the entire canyon. Sunblock smeared over our San Francisco skin, cameras in hand and inappropriately shod we began, and it was worth every step. We walked the switchback up, surrounded by the fractured stone of the cliffs, the desert foliage, and incredible views. About halfway there we stopped to cool off under a huge overhang - water seeped through the back of the wall where it met the ground, and there delicate ferns grew thickly, the open cave was almost chilly in the hot desert air.
At the end of the walk we were treated to an overall picture of the stunning beauty we had just driven through - one of the pics I am posting with this email is of that view. The road through the park can be seen, and there are a few cars on it - just to give perspective to the whole thing. I want to recommend to the hikers in the crowd - if any of you go to Zion - plan on staying and hike it! There are things there that Nia and I were not able to see due to time limitations, and the fact that we just weren't prepared to hike - but there are caves and waterways and branches to the canyon that just beg to be explored.
We reluctantly left Zion, wishing we'd had more time, noted that the stinky foot smell was back - although this time we were both wearing sandals, so we both took the blame, and laughing at our dirty, smelly state, we made our way first east and then dropped south and then west again toward the Grand Canyon. We stopped in a little town called Kanab at the Utah/Arizona border - tip - eat at the Rocking V, and stay for dessert. Totally worth it!
The drive took us through the Vermilion cliffs and the painted desert. We were amazed to see a "mini canyon" that wound it's way along our drive - looking at the map we think it was made by the Little Colorado River - much smaller than the Grand Canyon, but still beautiful. In retrospect we shouldn't have been surprised by multiple canyons - why should we have been? Any waterway that runs through this area is going to have the same effect on the earth - it just wasn't something we thought about. Very cool.
We pulled into the Grand Canyon as the sun was going down, although we still had another 31 miles to get to our hotel. We began our drive through the park in the dusk, the dark cliffs a mere tease against the setting sun. And that will be our tomorrow - the Grand Canyon.
Mileage: 260 Time: 6 hours Destination: The Grand Canyon
From: Dawn Date: June 20, 2007 11:54:41 PM EDT Subject: time
Time is a funny thing. Mostly we don't seem to have enough of it because the work-week takes so much of it, and so we're always rushing, rushing and never quite getting everything in. Ideally vacation would be different - suddenly, because we don't have to go to work, we have entire days in front of us to do whatever it is that we wish to do. But that isn't reality, either.
And that is what Nia and I are faced with. On vacation, days and days stretch out in front of us, and yet we just can't seem to fit everything in. Although we're doing our very best - and having a great time doing it! - our days are staying full well into the evenings, and some things are being cut from our plan, as loose as it is.
Yet still, we try to change that concrete what is; somehow make it so that we have more time to do more things. Every night in the hotel we plan our route for the next day, where we want to go, and what we have to scrap, make reservations for where we're going to stay. We hunt down grocery stores and discuss how much time multiple potty breaks and scenic views will add onto our sightseeing/drive time. Generally we figure how long we can ooo and ahh at all the pretty sights, and then how long it will take us to drive to the next hotel. Usually on the drive we discuss the hotel, will it have a jacuzzi? a pool? will we get there in time to use them?
As it goes we always figure we'll get to the hotel around nine at night. We look at the mileage, we figure the time and accept that we're going to have to settle for hot baths or hot showers rather than bubbly chlorinated water and soothing jets. And yet it never fails that while we're driving, and discussing our various hot water options, wistful pining for relaxing soaks, that I will pull out the atlas and re-figure our time. And always, it's still nine o'clock. You just can't bend time.
But today was a little different. We stayed the night at Bryce Canyon last night, and this morning - early! - we went touring. It was beautiful, of course! The towering red columns, the deep green tree-filled canyons and the blue, blue sky. Tall mesas surround everything, the pits and groves in the sides showing the signs of wear, the promise of more beauty to come, after the beauty that is finally collapses into dust - basically we're staring at Mother Nature's chosen medium, and her sculptures both finished and in progress. It's almost too much for camera-happy folk like Nia and I.
We finished Bryce around two in the afternoon, and made the drive to Zion. Arches National Park was gorgeous, Bryce was awe-inspiring, but words cannot describe Zion. Why don't people talk about this place? Do they not come here? Does everyone blow by Zion on the way to her more famous sister, The Grand Canyon? It's all about the marketing, I think, and Zion needs a new ad exec.
We got here around 4 in the afternoon. We were both tired, so we've elected to see Zion more thoroughly tomorrow. We checked into our hotel where we were finally able to harness enough time to allow us to lounge around the pool for a few hours. Eventually we got hungry, and the sun was going down, so we dressed and went wandering. Springdale is the name of this place, about a mile outside of the park. Rather trendy, kitschy, but cute in a touristy sort of way. We found out today that last night, when we registered online, it was one of the last reservations in town. Nia and I are thanking her lucky kokopelli for fortune we've been having.
The wireless doesn't work in the rooms here, but it was 109 today, so now, at 9:42 at night, the sun is down, and it's still warm. I'm sitting outside the hotel office - the only place where wireless is working - there are two men and another woman - we all have our laptops out, slapping at bugs and enjoying the warm night air. Time may run short a lot, hurry being the norm, but every now and again we are given the opportunity to enjoy what's right in front of us. I'm having one of those moments now, and believe me, I'm loving it.
Mileage: 89 Time: 2 hours Destination: Zion, then the Grand Canyon
From: Dawn Date: June 20, 2007 2:25:20 AM EDT Subject: Arches
That's what Nia and I have been saying all day ... wow, look at that ... wow, amazing ... wow, beautiful. All day, everywhere we went everything was "wow."
We started our day fairly early ... yes, we were pretty pleased with ourselves, getting out of bed before noon and all. We had breakfast in Green River, and stopped at the market for lunch and ice. We made the hour drive to Arches National Park without getting lost even once! In the visitor's center parking lot we stepped out of the air-conditioned car into the supremely blue day and immediately began to sweat in the 108° temperature. I voluntarily put on sun-screen - I know Shell is proud of me ...
We drove through the park, stopping at every turn-out to take pictures, admire the scenery and discuss just how hot it was. Every time we climbed back into the car we would discuss how hot it was outside and then remark on the stinky-foot smell inside - we just couldn't figure it out - yesterday we thought it was Nia's feet, since I was wearing closed shoes. Today she had closed shoes, so we thought it was my feet - that lead to a huge discussion about how it could be possible to be wearing sandals in a hot, dry climate and still have smelly feet. Of course, in the interest of thorough investigative techniques, I eventually pulled my foot up to my nose and took a good whiff ... nope, no smell ... hmmm ... eventually we realized that it wasn't stinky feet, but rather the dried figs I'd bought from Trader J's a few days ago ... problem solved!
Those figs are quite tasty.
We laughed at ourselves all day as we tried to avoid the heat - it was so hot that at one point we drove the 800 feet to the restrooms! We would get in the car after a viewing point and Nia would laugh at me because I would refuse to close the car door until she turned on the engine and got the air-conditioner going - I can't help it! I just can't breathe in hot stagnant air, and I really didn't want to suffocate there at Arches National Park, in the passenger seat of Nia's car - not that Nia's car would be an entirely unpleasant place to suffocate, but you all know what I mean. After a particularly long session under the sun, taking in the beauty around us, we would get in the car, crank the air and move to immediately adjust all the vents to blow directly on us. Of course, as it got later in the day, the temperature dropped. At one point we got out of the car and it was downright pleasant outside - Nia noted that it was 88° - we reveled in the coolness of the late afternoon!
We loved the park - the sights were amazing - but unfortunately for us the best arches were not in places that we would have been able to get to easily. For example, Landscape Arch - the one I wanted to see - was at the far end of the park, and according to the map it was a 4.2 mile walk. Not only was it supremely hot, but neither of us was prepared to go that far in that kind of heat. But while we weren't able to see all the arches we were treated to amazing sights - towering columns of red rock, some of which had large boulders balanced on top, massive walls of stone beautifully carved over the millennia by snow, rain and wind, the red rock contrasting brilliantly against the blue sky. We were surrounded by stunning landscape, desert foliage, mountains and striking colors.
We stayed at Arches later than we planned, but eventually headed back west on highway 70, then down 15, then over to 20, then down 89, to 12 to Bryce Canyon ... really we shouldn't have had to do the whole 15-20-89 part at all, but somehow (somehow ...) we managed to miss our turn-off - but we can't entirely blame my sad navigation abilities - we were both looking for the turn-off! But it wasn't that far out of our way, and the drive was, of course! very pretty. Tonight we're staying at Ruby's Inn - a place we mistakenly assumed was small-ish, and rather rustic. Turns out it's not small at all, and the main lodge looks like a Vegas reject. But our room is comfortable, it overlooks a pond, and we're right in the park.
Tomorrow we're going to get up whenever we wake up, and spend the day exploring Bryce Canyon. More wow's to come ...
Until then ...
p.s. okay Lawrence, now that you've had your journal entry fix you can go to sleep!
Lawrence, Dawn & Nia Doing The SF Lobster Shack
|Photo at right is of Shelley (daughter #3), Dawn (daughter #1), Bob (their old geezer dad) and Becky (daughter #2), Christmas 2002, at grandma's house in San Leandro CA.
My first-born (Womak Army Hospital at Fort Bragg NC) was delivered by a Special Forces doctor (Captain Sander S Shapiro, one of my instructors at the Surgical Lab), rode along from Bragg to DC to San Francisco to The Panama Canal Zone by the time she was one, and continues her world travels unabated.
The following postings are a journal of Dawn's trip to Egypt:
From: Dawn Wirt Date: May 15, 2005 Subject: ma'salaama
My bags are packed. They're sitting on the bed in the spare room, waiting for the last few things to be added. I am pleased to announce that they are not so full that I will spend the entire trip home worrying about whether the zippers are going to hold or not. I leave late Monday night; I get home Tuesday afternoon - it will still be light out. I will be able to unpack, relax and air out the house before collapsing into bed later that night. I might even be able to catch an episode of "Law and Order" before I drag myself upstairs. Ahhh ... the thrill of the mundane!
I just came back from Karen's. Henan cooked today, and I was invited to join in the "Henan Food" as Karen and I have dubbed it. We love when Henan cooks. I'm going to miss her food - the chicken panne (breaded chicken cutlets), the macarona with béchamel sauce, balady (local) salad (tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, fresh lemon ... mmm ... ) There's more - but the food email has been done - and I don't want to make everyone hungry all over again.
Now, after the Henan Food, my belly is full, and I have time for a short nap before the party tonight.
Yes, tonight there is going to be a party. I have no idea who (if anyone!) is going to show. Karen is going to help me run a few last minute errands, then we're heading downtown to a club called "After Eight." It's a small, smoky place with live music and a smiling bouncer. It will be Karen and I, at least, so I know it will be fun! I have also invited all of my "alley" friends - they've been pestering me to set something up before I go - they are the guys who own and work in the shops in the alley where I drink my shayy and play taula. I also refer to them as "the Mohammeds" since there are at least four of them named "Mohammed." It's not a problem - they all have nicknames. A couple of them even have nicknames that they don't know about. :)
Everyone is asking me if I'm going to miss Cairo. Yes. I'm going to miss Cairo very much. But today, I am ready to go home. I have been thinking about my little tiny house, with my garden that is going to need some serious attention. I miss Lucy (my cat), my friends, my family and Ben & Jerry's ice cream - not necessarily in that order. I miss the structure that comes with having a job and responsibilities. I miss my bed - saggy middle and all. And I have been imagining the convenience of getting into my car and driving to the grocery, buying everything I need and going home again without having to make 10 stops on the way - one stop for milk, another for bread, another for cookies, another for coffee ...
But of course, that is also exactly what I will miss about Cairo. I will miss all of those little stops. I will miss the guy in the milk products store who greets me in French, because he knows I'll answer in French, even though I'm American. It makes us both laugh. I will miss the guys in the market where I buy my "sit beedat," (six eggs). I never say it right, but they know what I want. I also buy my Galaxy chocolate bar there. It really is the creamiest. Karen says that one of the guys in the market wants to marry me, although I'm not sure which one - the one who's always smiling, Karen says - yeah, thanks for narrowing that down for me.
There is the guy where I buy batteries and light bulbs who always give me a "special discount," because I am new to Cairo. Mabruk (congratulations) to him on his new baby son. There's the cutie in the Metro market who bats his big brown eyes at me and tells me to come back soon - wink, wink. Sai-eed works at the bakery across from the Metro - they make fabulous cookies there, and I eat too many of them. Meedo at the coffee shop - he knows I like the "American" grind, and adds lots of bits of flavor - cardamom, nutmeg, clove and flowers - I've begun drinking two cups of coffee every morning because it's so good I can't help myself! I'm sorry, Meedo, that we never managed to have that cup of coffee with chocolate that we've been talking about!
There is my forward friend, Omar, who on our first meeting asked me some very direct, very personal questions. I had to explain to him that Jerry Springer isn't real life, and that just because I'm Western doesn't mean I'm willing to tell all my intimate secrets to a total stranger. Ridiculous Western media. Omar works in the theatre up the street from where I live, and I often stop and chat with him. They have a Sufi show, which I just realized I have never seen! There is so much here in Cairo that I didn't get a chance to do!
I will miss all of my little hebeebis (close friends/boyfriends) who work in the shops here in Pyramids. They have an average age of 19, and most of them have proposed marriage to me at one point or another. It takes me half an hour to get to the CTA bus to go downtown because I stop and chat with them all. It should only be a ten minute walk! But they're cute and sweet, and I love the attention that they lavish on me!
I will miss the Nile and it's cool breezes (think SF Bay), the pyramids and the little work donkeys that are so prevalent on the streets. I will miss the food, the shayy, the taula and the way the Egyptians laugh when I try to speak Arabic. They're always so sweet about it - "you speak Arabie quayese, owie, owie!" (very good!) Which makes me laugh, because I speak Arabic anything but quayese. I know that what they're really saying is that they appreciate my efforts.
My friend Maged did teach me to play his favorite card game, "shitting," the one that I mentioned in my last email. There was a group of us playing - after the first round he suggested we play partners, then claimed me as his - because I'm good! We walked home that night with 60 LE each in our pockets. There is an old guy who lives in an apartment in the alley where I play taula - his name is Raouf - he's been playing taula for about 70 years - and the last time he and I played, I won. I'm sure it was a fluke, but now I'll never know! I tease my friend Mohammed that I love Raouf, and would marry him if he'd have me. I will miss all of the free time that has allowed me to indulge in these games.
I will also miss Karen. I like having a friend right around the corner, and she has been a good friend. I never would have made it here without her. Thank you, Karen, for everything! I hope that one day I have the opportunity to repay you for all the kindness you've shown me since I've been here! For now all I can offer is my reformed pronunciation of the word water - sounds like "waa-tar."
I have 31 hours left - I'm going to take a nap, then I'm going to go out and enjoy all of my last minutes here in Cairo!
From: Dawn Wirt Date: May 5, 2005 Subject: dinner!
Food. Mmm ...
As most of you know, I love to eat. By all rights I should be the size of a house; thank you Mom, Dad for passing on the skinny gene. I truly appreciate it!
Egypt is, of course, food heaven. Oh, sure, there are things here that I will not go near - "mukh" (brains) for example. I politely decline all offers of mukh. I was obliged to eat "kibda" (liver) one night. It wasn't inedible, and thankfully I didn't get the gag reflex while it was going down, but I'm definitely not going to dash out and order my own kibda saand-weech. I've also eaten "mish," a watery, white, stinky cheese that goes well with tomato and parsley, especially when scooped up with flat bread, even if it is vaguely disgusting. And pigeon. Yes, I ate flying rat; and yes, it tasted like chicken, if not a bit oily. Overall, I've been stuffing myself almost daily since I got here.
One of my favorite places to eat is at Hegazy's house. Hegazy's wife, Zeinab, is a fabulous cook. Anna and I have eaten there several times, although there is always some trepidation about this event. Zeinab, as Egyptians do, always cooks three times as much food as is needed. There is never enough room on the table, and Anna and I are expected to eat it all. We always accept these invitations with mixed emotions - yay! Zeinab's cooking! But then we have to set our plan of action - how to not overeat to the point where our bellies are in pain, and we're falling asleep on the couch in front of the tv. We fail every time.
For the most part our attempts to moderate our food intake on these occasions degenerates into finger pointing contests between Anna and I.
The setting: a fabulous fish dinner where Anna and I were compelled to eat 4 fish apiece, (two types - one fried, the other smothered with spicy tomatoes - tail, head and eyes intact, of course), along with piles of delicious spiced rice, Egyptian flat bread (mmm ... bread ...), and green salad. After declining a fifth fish (I really wished I could have eaten it!), and another huge dish of rice, when the salad plate had been wiped clean and the table was littered with the evidence of our over-indulgence, out came the fruit. Harankesh (Anna calls them gooseberries) and bananas. Hegazy's sister, Sousou began peeling harankesh and handing them to us one at a time. Anna and I looked at each other, our bellies beyond full - the unspoken thought being, "well, they're just little things, a couple can't hurt." Wrong. Here in Egypt, it's never just a couple. We ate harankesh, after harankesh until we couldn't take it anymore. Then Sousou began peeling a banana - and Anna cracked.
"Oh, Dawn, look! Bananas - you love bananas! Sousou," Anna chirped brightly, over her full stomach - and I'm panicking, my mouth still full of harenkesh - I know what she's doing! "Dawn loves bananas!" Hegazy translated while I tried to kill Anna with a look, I really did. But it didn't work. And Sousou handed me the banana. I ate it, slowly, and grinned while Sousou peeled another, Anna's eyes widened, the purpose of the second banana obvious. Then Anna, that traitor, suddenly had to use the bathroom, and excused herself. By the time she came back I had been pressured into eating her banana.
Subsequent meals, we agreed, we would eat slowly. This was advice given to me by Karen, who has extensive experience eating in Egyptian homes. So slowly we ate, the result being that the meal took much longer, and the whole time we were urged on by a frustrated Hegazy, "Anna, Dawn, eat ... EAT!" Long after everyone else had finished, Zeinab was still piling food onto our plates. At one point, after Hegazy had urged us to eat more for, like, the gazillionth time, I said, (in repayment for the banana debacle), "Zeinab, this chicken," I picked up the lone small piece on the plate piled high with huge pieces of chicken, "is sooo good!" Then I said, with a wicked edge to my voice, "Hegazy, Anna hasn't tried this chicken yet!"
Thankfully the fruit never made an encore. Instead the Coke was trotted out. I can't stand soda, and neither can Anna. But drink it we did. I tried to keep the smirk off my face one night when Anna, in a poorly calculated maneuver to get the smallest glass of Coke, instead ended up with the giant mug. Ha! And then, when she drank it down, thinking that we could make a quick exit after that, Zeinab filled it again!
Eating in restaurants is always good. With every meal there is an array of "salatas" (do I need to translate that?) - tahine, baabaganoose, green salad, spicy potato salad, spicy eggplant - all served on small plates, eaten family style, scooped up with flat bread. Kebab (chicken, beef, lamb), schwerma (the carved meat sandwiches), fuul (beans) with olive oil, or cheese, or egg ... ahhh ...
The best places to eat are the local holes in the wall. Usually, literally, a hole in a wall. You go in, the conditions aren't exactly sanitary, but you choose a table - sometimes the place is so small that there is only one table! ignore the sticky grime and ask for whatever is being served. Kofta, schwerma ... koshery is favorite tasty treat ... I don't know anyone who can eat it every day, the starches are overwhelming to the system. Koshery is layers of white rice, spaghetti, vermicelli and macaroni topped with chickpeas, lentils, tomato sauce and fried onions. Tasty stuff, koshery! Anna and I go to this one koshery place with Hegazy and Ali (Ali is a hair dresser, and he is a true hair-dressing genius!) This place has an amazing hot sauce that Anna and I dump all over our dinner. It makes our mouths burn, and we figure it has the added effect of killing whatever cooties might be swimming in our food.
I personally like to walk over to Felfela in the mornings, which is just down the street, and go to the take out window. They have three sandwiches that I love, all served in a pita - fuul (beans), tamaiia (falafel) and eggplant. I usually order two of the three, for a grand total of 1.50 le (approx. 0.28 cents). It's like getting two burritos from Taco Bell. It's cheap, and it fills you up. And the guy there likes me because I'm the "ignabaya" (foreigner) that knows to tip him. He always grabs the fattest sandwiches for me.
One day Anna was telling me about a restaurant that her friend, Mohammed, had taken her to. It was in Dokki, a nice area of Cairo - upper middle class neighborhood - clean and quiet. The restaurant was called Radwan, and Anna was raving about it. She specifically mentioned the "kofta" (ground beef, wrapped around a skewer and grilled) and the "dee-roomi" (turkey) - a whole roast bird; they carve the meat off as it's ordered. So we had Mohammed take us. We enjoyed an incredible meal, the salatas, the dee-roomi, the kofta - I even ate the lamb. I'm not a big lamb fan, but as I commented to Anna, it didn't taste lamb-y to me. We mentioned our meal to Hegazy, the next day; he said he knew Radwan, and he'd heard that they had good food.
Less than a week later we were back at Hegazy's for another fish-feast. After the meal, while Anna and I were digesting in front of the tv, Hegazy's son, Ahmed, came home from work. He was telling Hegazy a story, in Arabic of course. Anna and I listened, but didn't really understand what he was saying. Then Hegazy began laughing; he was laughing so hard he couldn't speak, tears were pouring from his eyes. Anna and I waited anxiously for the punchline. Although, in retrospect, we would rather not have heard it. It turns out that Ahmed was working in Dokki that day. He just happened to be out in front of Radwan, when the police came out with the owner, in handcuffs. Apparently, it turns out, that the lamb wasn't lamb-y for a reason. Just like the persistent rumors about cat burritos at La Imperial in Hayward, the owner of Radwan had been saving on costs by utilizing the local wildlife - the dogs and cats that run freely by the hundreds throughout Cairo.
Hey. What are you going to do? And the kofta really was tasty.
From: Dawn Date: April 21, 2005 Subject: Egyptian entertainment
I've been lax in my journaling, haven't I? I'm sorry, but I suddenly found myself with a social life. I leave the house in the mornings, and normally don't return until 11:00 or 12:00 at night. Several times now I have come home at midnight, showered, dressed and headed back out to a local disco. Discos and night clubs are open all night. They don't even get busy until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. It is not uncommon for me to be walking home at the crack of dawn.
Yes. I made a joke.
I met a woman in my Arabic class, and we began hanging out regularly. Her name is Anna, she's from New Zealand. Everyday we leave class and her driver, Hegazy, takes us to a local coffee shop to drink tea, smoke shisha and play taula (backgammon). I pass on the shisa - the big water pipes with flavored tobacco. Smoking will never be my thing, but I love my shayy wi nanaa (tea and mint) and my taula. Everyday we do this. Sometimes we stop two or three times during our day, breaking up our exploration of Cairo's back streets. "Oh, look," Anna or I will say to the other, "a coffee shop! I wonder if they have taula?" And of course, we have to check. I often come home and struggle to get my key in the door because the caffeine overload is making my hands shake. We are truly addicted.
On a side note, all of this tea-drinking creates it's own problem. Have any of you ever used a public toilet in a third-world country? Well, let me tell you - even the Western men here have a hard time with it - and all they have to do is unzip and/or unbutton and then stand there. From the aftermath that I have seen, aim is completely unnecessary. This is how much Anna and I love taula - imagine cup of tea after cup of tea, the bladder filling ... fuller and fuller ... the need for a toilet becomes imminent, and of course it has to be a public toilet ... in a men's coffee shop ... in a third-world country ... do I need to keep going? And yet we keep drinking tea and playing taula. We are developing bladders of steel!
Anyway, back to my story. Taula is backgammon - there are two main versions here that everyone plays - mamousa and waahead wi talateen (31). There is also aada, or "international" taula as they call it, but it's not as popular. Anna and I didn't even know it existed here until a couple of days ago - we politely played one game each - but now, taula snobs that we are, we turn our noses up at aada! The coffee shops are populated with men who sit and drink tea and play taula for hours on end, and they've been doing it for years. They are masters of their game. They don't have to count the spaces - Anna and I struggle with this - we try hard not to use our fingers to count - like babies! as we were called one day. That was enough to shame us into counting with our eyes and heads, fingers pulled prudently back from the board. But we're still a little slow at it - experienced players know immediately which space is the forth, or the sixth or the third and second for khrenna (khrenna - rolling consecutive numbers with the dice, then taking two pieces that are next to one another and slapping them down together in one space). They can cheat and throw doubles pretty much whenever they want, and when they make their moves, they are true to their passionate Egyptian natures - they slam the pieces down with a loud "slap!" They snap up pieces, two, three, four at a time and shuffle them around the board faster than our feeble Western brains can comprehend. A game of taula, played by a couple of masters, is a blur of brown fingers, black and white discs and rapidly rolling dice, interspersed by long drags of shisha and short sips of shayy. When you toss your dice you have to watch them closely, and note quickly what you rolled because your opponent will snap them up the second they stop bouncing across the board, eager to take his turn. And you better move your pieces fast. Want a high roll? throw the dice hard - you get fives and sixes. Want a low roll? toss them softly - you get ones and twos. They are so into their games that every roll of the dice has it's own name - 5 & 6 come up? Sheesh-beesh. Double ones? Abyad. Double fours? Durgie. I'm not going to tell you how to cheat and throw doubles - but I do know how to do it!
So Hegazy taught Anna and I how to play. He sits and monitors all of our games. In the beginning he would tell us which pieces to move, and why. When we would begin to make a move that he perceived as completely bone headed, he would roll his eyes and moan, "why? WHY!??" And the offending hand, with game piece, would freeze in mid-air before humbly returning said piece to it's original spot, and trying again. But that was in the beginning. Now, like fledgling birds, ready to fly from the nest, we tell Hegazy, and other volunteer teachers - there are many - "ma fiche mousada!" - no help! And our opponent chimes in - ma fiche mousada! and the observers all join the cry - ma fiche mousada! And we forge ahead, our fingers wobbly, resisting the urge to count the spaces as we move our pieces, our rolls a little wild, not always getting the result we aim for, but holding our own, impressing the locals and sipping our tea, chattering in our sporadic Arabic and gauging how much more tea we can drink before we have to head to the public toilet.
Now we're known, Anna and I. Two Western women, hanging out in local coffee shops, playing taula. Everyone wants to play with us. We are challenged regularly. The stakes? The loser buys everyone's shayy and shisha - so now you know why everyone wants to oppose us. The grand total for 7 or 8 teas and a couple of shishas? Around 20 LE - about $3.50. It's a bargain. Good thing, too, because neither Anna nor I are able to beat these guys very often!
The younger men here don't seem to play taula like the old guys. Cards seems to be the game of the younger generation - my generation (I suppose that's more like one of the middle generations, isn't it? Funny how time flies.) Maged is the manager of the Laredo, a Tex-Mex restaurant in one of the five-star hotels up the street from me. Yes, Tex-Mex in Giza. The chef, Haytham, spent several years working in Miami, so he turns out some pretty decent Tex-Mex-like cuisine. Hytham never fails to send out chips and salsa and guacamole for Karen and I when we go in for the occasional drink. The last time we were there Maged (the manager) asked me what I've been doing since I've been here. A little shamefacedly I admitted that I spend most of my time in il aawha - the coffee shops - playing taula. He laughed. Then he told me that taula is good, but he likes cards.
He began detailing his favorite game - he called it "shitting," I was trying not to laugh - after all, I'm not so thrilled when people laugh at my accented Arabic! And after a few minutes I realized he was trying to say "cheating." I let it slide because I realized, as he explained the rules to me, that either name is quite appropriate. From what I understand it's a game of bravado, similar to liar's dice, and Maged has offered to teach me to play.
His timing is good. Anna is leaving tomorrow. Karen's business is booming, and she has no time for me. Sniff. Sniff. Hegazy will have to go back to driving his cab, no more long taula-playing days with Anna and I. I do have other options, if I choose to keep improving my taula skills - but cards could be fun, too.
What a life, eh? Play all day, dance all night, sleep from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 a.m. when I get up and do it all over again - I'm going to need a long rest when I get home!
From: Dawn Date: March 29, 2005 Subject: yeah, yeah, I'm a laugh riot
Egypt is amused by me.
Okay, maybe not all of Egypt, but a good number of people here in Cairo/Giza think I'm pretty hilarious. And it's not because they think my jokes are funny. Remember, they don't speak English.
So why is everyone laughing? It's my Arabic. It's not very good. Granted I only started classes two weeks ago, and it's not as though Arabic is one of the romance languages where most of the foreign words share roots with English words, and adding an "ahh" or an "ayy" on the end of an English word will make it French or Italian. Nooo, the Arabic is completely foreign - well, except for some of the modern amenities - tel-a-vis-ee-un, com-bu-ter - they don't have "p's" or "v's" in Arabic, can't say them. Just like Westerners can't say the "kh" - that choking noise in the back of the throat, or the "H" sort of a whispery "h" - Karen always has to correct me when I say it, and it's murder when it's in the middle of a word! And the "ein" - I don't want to discuss the "ein," it gives me a bit of a headache!
We have two teachers in our class. Hibba, poor thing, she has incurred the wrath of the entire class by not being the warm-fuzzy sort. I don't actually feel sorry for her; she seems to particularly enjoy pointing out my errors, and forcing me to repeat words over and over until I get them right - yet the Germans are allowed to misprounounce all they want. Perhaps she thinks they are cuter than I am. I don't know. Sometimes I get a little pouty about this. And then there's Mohab. Mohab is a comic in his own right. His English is very American, and one day I will ask him where he studied. I was questioning him the other day about the word "asl" (because). I wasn't pronouncing it right - big surprise - and he repeated it, drawing it out - then he said, "you have a word in English like this - it's not a nice word, right? and he slaps himself on the rear," much to everyone's amusement. It's true, I'm not the only language comic in Egypt!
Not to be juvenile, but the word "foq" gives me the giggles, too. It means "above," and sometimes I have to use it when talking about my flat - I'm on the top floor. The bawab's kids use it a lot when they're offering to take my groceries up - "foq." It goes both ways though. I have to be careful not to say "ahaa!" (benign in English, here it functions as an expletive - the one that starts with an "f") Especially now that I am understanding some of what people are saying to me, "ahaa, now I understand what you're saying!" I'll slip up one day - don't worry, I'll tell you all about it ...
So one day, after my second or third Arabic class - the one where we learned to give directions - I got on the bus (jam packed, rush hour) to go home. I got the usual stares - Western woman on the bus? she must be in the wrong place! three or four guys are questioning me with these concerned looks on their faces - are you lost? where are you going? are you sure you don't want a cab? it's dark, the pyramids are closed ... (this is all very normal to me) ... and I smile, my new vocabulary at hand, speaking very slowly, because the sounds are so new to my mouth, and I'm still working out how to form them. I say, "mish haram, aye-aa-za share-a al areesh," (not the pyramids, I want al areesh street) then I smile, quite proud of myself. It was almost a complete sentence. Sort of. They all stared at me as though I'd burped up a purple frog. I tried repeating myself. Again, silence. I sighed heavily, "malish" (never mind) I waved my hand at the road ahead (just go), and again, "malish," and the whole front of the bus broke into raucous laughter. Great.
A few days after that I go to take my usual microbus into Ramses to go to school. Now you have to understand, the Ramses bus is either there shortly after I get to the stop, or I get tired of waiting for it and have to take the bus to Mosasa and transfer. (by the way, the term "bus stop" is pretty random here - "stop" means wherever I happen to "stop" on the road when I decide I'm ready to wave down a bus, and it's the same with getting off! One of the reasons I don't like the Mosasa bus is that it drops me at my exit - ON the freeway - of course, there are all kinds of people and donkeys on the freeway here, so I don't know why, exactly, I find my being dropped off there so bizarre, but I do!) So I get to my "stop" hoping to catch a bus to Ramses, and voila! there is a bus, just sitting there, I ask the guy, "Ram-sis?" "Ayywa," he says, "Ram-sis." "Maya-maya!" (excellent!) I say, and he and the row of people behind him start cracking up. I could hear them whispering to each other between fits of giggles, "maya-maya." Yes, yes, I'm amusing, I know.
I'm in the milk products store the other day, and am anxious to try out some of my new Arabic - these guys are used to me by now: my hand gestures and my notebook where I've written "zabaadi" (yogurt) and "ruz bi laban" (rice pudding), which I just call "ruz" because until last week I didn't know what the "bi laban" was, and couldn't say it right (Karen and her bloody British accent ;) - ruz bi laban - rice with milk - oh, duh). Feeling brave, because I'm in a place where I'm comfortable, I decide to try out some of my new vocabulary. Right away I inadvertantly wished the milk products guy a good morning (it was eight at night), he wished me a good evening - through his grin at my error. But he's cool, and I'm fine. The guy asks me (in English) how I'm doing (I know, from past experience, that this is pretty much the extent of his English speaking skills) I answer, in Arabic "quayese, owie, owie," (very good - literally: good, very, very). He smiles and asks me if I speak arabie now? And we have a little conversation where I tell him I'm learning, and he says that's great, and then I notice the other guy giggling as he bags my zabaadi and ruz. "What?" I ask, "is it my accent?" and the guy is trying not to laugh, which makes me laugh. And then he nods his head, and I blush self-consciously. This makes everyone laugh. But it is pretty funny.
And there are the "bad" words - you know, the ones you always learn first. I won't outline them here - mixed company and all - but I will note that I have a friend who's nickname I will no longer be able to use without a sly grin - you know who you are!
I have school again today, in a couple of hours. It's Mohab's turn to teach. Yesterday was Evil Hibba - although she was pleased that I caught a new word on the tape we were listening to, and so didn't spend so much time after that harrassing me. Soon I will head out the door, visualize a nice Ramses microbus waiting for me, and make my way into Mohandiseen. If I am early I will wander into a "mehal melabes" (clothing store) or two, and see what's on sale. There is a group of us going out Thursday night to a nightclub, and I'll get to wear something that doesn't cover 95% of my body. I'll also get to see the Saudis in action, which I hear is quite the show. I'll be sure to fill you all in. I'm looking forward to Mohab's class today - I'm interested to see what other dirty words he can point out to us!
From: Dawn Date: March 8, 2005 Subject: resident tourist
What are the pyramids like? Have you seen the pyramids? When are you going to the pyramids? You haven't gone to the pyramids yet?!!!
This is the content of my inbox. I was beginning to feel ashamed of myself - all this way and I haven't even managed to get to the biggest attraction in all of Egypt - the pyramids - a mere 15 minute walk from my flat! How lazy have I been?
In my defense, I see the pyramids every day. I see them when I go up on my roof, I see them when I walk out the door of my apartment building, I see them coming down Faisal Street, my arms loaded with plastic bags full of fresh produce, yogurt and cookies from Bush Bush bakery. When I'm in my spare room, hanging my wet clothes on my drying rack, I can gaze out at Khufu (Cheops) - The Great Pyramid; and if I lean a little to the left (that's not a political confession!), I can see Khafre, the middle pyramid - the one that still has a bit of its limestone covering.
Seated up there on their plateau they impart solidity, power, and the ability to endure for all eternity. Guardians of the crowded, noisy city below, they seem to keep watch and to protect. The sight of them brings comfort and security as well as conveying a silent comment on man's desire for immortality; the massive stones a tease, hinting broadly at our potential to create whatever we seek.
And so yesterday I left my flat, and turned right outside my building - away from the lure of Faisal Street with it's shops and people and masses of cars which I find so entertaining - and I headed toward the pyramids. I stopped several times along the way to speak to people I know. Mahmoud, the cabbie and his buddies, who sit outside the five star hotels and promise good rates - don't believe them! - Mohammed who works in the perfume shop next to Karen's building, Kamal the aura reader, and the old guy who sits in his plastic chair just up the road a bit from Felfela. It was warm out, about 80, and humid, but overcast, with a breeze that ameliorated the dampness in the air.
I hiked up the hill, walking along the middle of the car-less street, following along behind a couple of other pyramid seekers, ignoring the calls of the vendors in the shops to my left. I pretty much knew where I was supposed to go - Karen had briefed me ahead of time - but still managed to let myself get sucked into the camel corral before I realized I'd turned too soon. Twenty steps in, wary of where I was, an eager camel jockey rapidly trying to work his sales magic on me, I realized my mistake and turned around. Three more guides followed me out the gate, shouting costs and trying to elicit my promise to return later for my camel ride. Shukran, shukran, no. I was on the verge of telling one particularly aggressive guy to "imshee" (back off, bud!), when I saw a military policeman walking toward us. The pest scuttled quickly, quietly back to his camel. A few more yards and I was accosted by a smooth-talking Egyptian, young and totally hot, this one, he sweet-talked me all the way up the hill. When my ego was full I laughed, thanked him profusely for his company (he was hoping to drum up business, of course) and waved him away.
I worked my way around the construction, and to the ticket booth. Next, a soft spoken young woman politely inspected my bag, and then I was in. There was a noticeable lack of tourists (I found out later from Karen that I got there between "shifts," groups of tourists who are shuttled up on buses). There was, however, a plethora of manned camels, horses and military police hanging about. To my left was the city, to my right the pyramids. It suddenly struck me as to where I was, and I looked up into the face of Khufu. I think I looked too fast, and I'm sure my mouth was hanging open. Yes, the pyramids are massive, amazing structures. Consciously we all know this, but standing at the foot of one I could FEEL it. A little intimidated, I turned toward my center of comfort - the city. I walked to the edge of the plateau where a small group of Italian women were taking photos of each other; Giza below providing their backdrop. Their laughter and their crazy, improbable tourist garb brought me back to Earth - tight, brightly patterned jeans, and ridiculous high heels, all with hair bleached too blonde. I stood gazing out over the city, collecting my thoughts, then turned back toward the pyramids to begin my exploration.
I will note here that a good portion of my day was spent fending off the camel guys, and the plastic pyramid pushers. It is a sad fact that most tourists leave Egypt with a negative impression of Egyptians. They think that all the inhabitants of this incredible city are on the make, and that baksheesh (money, tips) rules their lives. It's unfortunate that these shameless hustlers are so prevalent at all of the tourist locations. Vacationers return home thinking that all Egyptians are aggressive pests whose only interest is fleecing foreigners. For the record, it simply isn't true.
After gawking at the foot of Khufu for several long minutes, and making a note to myself to come back and climb up the face, where I could see other tourists milling about, I wandered over to Queen Hetepheres's tomb. I gazed into the 3'6" x 3'11" access hole built into the structure, and hesitantly gauged the steep angle descending blackly into the Earth. The guy sitting outside the tomb asked me if I wanted to go in - well, yeah! - "go in backward," he advised, "it's the best way." And so I entered my first ancient Egyptian tomb - butt first. I went down the ramp, which has been modified to include metal bars that act as steps to keep people from sliding ('il-haam-du lil-leh! praise be to God!). The climb seemed long, but I'm pretty certain that's because I was doubled over, backing down a steep ramp into unknown depths. I was struck by how warm and muggy it was down there - I was the only person there, so I couldn't blame it on body heat from sweaty, smelly tourists (myself aside!). I always imagined that the tombs would be a cool refuge from the desert heat. I was wrong. The room itself wasn't very big - maybe 12' x 12', but the ceiling was high, and of course all of the artifacts had been removed. The stones were massive, stacked one on top of another, all fitted perfectly together - not a chink in sight. I figured the slab directly across from the entrance was where the Queen's mummified body lay, waiting to rise again. Nothing more to see, I ran my hands over a few stones, stared up at the ceiling, then headed back up the ramp.
The Sphinx was next, my own personal favorite. I could see the top of its head, and I made a beeline for it, weaving my way through seemingly random ruins and past Khafre's pyramid, Khufu to my back. I found myself on a paved road, going down a hill, staring at the rear of the mighty Sphinx. I dallied on the way, stopping every now and again to stare, as the road wound its way around the Sphinx's complex. Down below I circled from every accessible angle. The best view was achieved by going through the temple and along the right side of the Sphinx where there is a long wall. The path along the wall takes you to the back of the Sphinx, where you can step up, then walk toward the front again, and stop at an elevated height where the head can be viewed clearly against the sky, with nothing but the great pyramids behind it. I found myself behind a young American man, a hippie-dippie Californian who was loudly telling his companion how he "felt the energy of the Sphinx" enter him. On the way back up the hill I was asked twice if I was "in-gi-lee-zee" (British). Why yes, yes I am in-gi-lee-zee. And I hurried on my way without saying anything else, before they could put a finer pin on my accent.
I went into the boat museum after that. In 1954 workers stumbled on the boat of Cheops, which had been buried next to his pyramid (Khufu). Had it not been for Karen's suggestion I would have eschewed the 35 LE fee to get in - an old boat, cool, I'll look it up on the internet. But I'm thrilled that I took the time and spent the pounds to see it. 4,600 years old, 43.40 metres long, it is constructed of cedar wood, held together only with rope - no nails. It required 20 oarsmen, and two more working as the rudder. It took nearly 30 years to restore. It is housed in its own temperature controlled building, and hangs suspended at the top of that building. There are stairs leading up to catwalks where it can be viewed straight on. I cannot convey the impressive aura of this boat. If you ever have the chance to see it, take it.
I did go into one of the big pyramids - Khafre. I bought my ticket and got in line. At this point the second "shift" of tourists had arrived, and there were a good number of people around. The entrance into the pyramid was just like the entrance into Queen Hetepheres's tomb, except that that little 3'6" x 3'11" tunnel that was descending down toward the center of the the Earth was accommodating two steady lines of bodies - those going in, and those coming out. There was no backing into this pyramid - I would have to go in forward, without the luxury of my earlier oneness. I followed the line of tourists - Spanish, Italians, Japanese, French - and in my turn doubled over, kissing my bent knees, and hunched my way into the tunnel with everyone else. Within ten seconds I wondered if I could do it. Pyramids are no place for semi-claustrophobes, and I could feel my lungs faltering as panic threatened to move in. The air was thick and hot, I couldn't stand up, I couldn't stretch to the side, I couldn't back up, and I couldn't see the end. I wondered briefly what would happen if we all got to the bottom, and the pyramid, after standing for thousands of years, finally gave up and collapsed. And then I came to my senses. So there I went with everyone else, face to butt, crabbing down the long tunnel, praying that the old German guy in front of me hadn't eaten fuul (beans) for lunch.
At the bottom we came out into a huge chamber, with high ceilings. A large Egyptian in a flowing white galabaya gave a speech about the room - rather short - "This is where the body of Khafre lay!" and he indicated a sarcophagus at the far side of the space. He repeated himself in several languages. I allowed myself to be herded over with the rest of the crowd, and looked dutifully into the empty stone box. Sights having been seen, I retreated to a relatively quiet corner and made an effort to appreciate where I was. And then I headed for that tiny little hole in the stone where I found myself with many other anxious individuals, all just as eager as I to get back up to the top.
Once out, we all breathed deeply, sucking in the cool fresh breeze that was thankfully passing by. We wiped sweat from our foreheads and grinned goofily at one another, then went our separate ways. I poked around the plateau awhile longer, sticking my nose into ancient doorways that seemed to lead nowhere, and peering down deep, deep holes, covered by grates to keep people from falling in. I ran my hands along stone walls, took photographs, fended off vendors and chatted with the camel jockeys that I wasn't able to shake right away. Sweaty, tired and sore, ready to go home, I made my last planned stop at Khufu's pyramid. I wanted to climb up the wall where earlier I'd seen the other tourists. I made my way up the first part of the stairway, stepping around the group of Eastern European women who were happily posing for photographs for their husbands on the ground. I continued to follow the steps up, until they stopped. There was an entrance to the pyramid, but it was closed. I was the only one there, so sat down on one of the stones, and looked out at the city of Giza. I was there less than a minute when I heard the shrill sounds of a whistle, and then, "get down!" I looked and a policeman was gesturing at me. Oops. I went down to the next level, and the guy met me there. I asked why I had to get down, "closed!" I suggested that he put up a barrier if he didn't want people there - I was embarrassed at having been chastised in front of a couple of hundred people. He didn't speak English. He smiled and nodded, so I smiled, forgiving him, and headed back down the pyraid as he rushed past me, blowing his little whistle, to stop two more unsuspecting tourists from going up the same stairway. Then I watched as he put up the barrier.
I walked once again, to the edge of the plateau, and stared down at the city. There was no one around me, and it was call to prayer. I stood there and listened as the multitude of mosques broadcast their individual offerings, all echoing up to where I stood - an oddly soothing cacophony that matched the landscape of hovels and high rises below.
Yesterday was my day to appreciate where I am, and the opportunities that are available to me. Like my hippie-dippie brethren at the Sphinx, I felt the energy of this place - its complexity, and its simplicity; that paradox that defines us all.
Guided Tours of Egypt
From: Dawn Date: Fri Feb 18, 2005 Subject: loose on the streets of Cairo!!!
I lengthened my leash - I got brave and went out into the vast city of Cairo - alone! Okay, I didn't really go very far from home. Two miles, maybe. But I walked - and what an experience that was! I've been out just about every day since, and I'm getting used to things - but there is never a lack of entertaining adventures waiting for me. This journal entry, as long as it is! is only going to touch the surface of the things I find here.
Karen took me around the neighborhood a couple of times before I braved it on my own. She taught me about the taxis, and how much I should pay to go up to al Areesh - the street where I do most of my shopping - 5 LE, each way, and don't let the drivers pitch a fit and try to get more. Every cab has a meter, it's the law. None of the meters work. You pay what you think you should pay, there is no set amount. She taught me that the Peugeots are better than the Fiats - more head room. The bus is only 50p, but look for one that isn't crowded, since they're usually mostly men; it's best to avoid being the lone foreign woman crammed in with a bunch of Egyptian males. Not that they're a group of sex fiends looking to get lucky with an unsuspecting American; they're like any men on public transportation anywhere, and there are those who will grab whatever bit of Western flesh they can, when the opportunity presents itself. No Egyptian man would ever consider touching an Egyptian woman.
I crack up at the buses - they are white VW buses, like the one my parents had when I was very little - late sixties, early seventies - (but I think ours was blue?). I told Karen the story of how my sisters and I once fell out the back of our VW bus when Mom took off too fast from a stop sign, and the rear hatch popped open. Then we both had a good laugh - thanks Mom! There are standard buses that run, but they're not as common, nor as interesting. The VW's are run by individuals, not a company. Guys buy these buses, deck them out as they choose, then cruise up and down the street picking up riders. There are dozens - hundreds - of them on the streets, and they're almost always crammed full. They cruise by 4 and 5 at a time, you never have to wait long. We got on one the other day. Joe Cool was our driver. He and his crew (the guy who hangs out the open door shouting for riders, as the bus careens down the street) were lingering around the bus, waiting for it to fill with passengers. The atmosphere was light, and party-like. There were massive speakers in the back, and the music was cranked. The driver had a small bag of popcorn, and he offered some to each of us on the bus, and to a few pretty girls who were walking by. Eventually we took off, and our studly operator proceeded to meander on up Faisal Street, swerving in and out of the "lane," insofar as lanes are defined here, whenever something to the left or the right caught his attention. A couple of times he slowed down to watch girls walk by, to offer popcorn and flash his rakish smile. He was in no hurry, and Karen and I were entertained, so simply sat back and enjoyed the ride.
Karen is a tall blonde. She gets a lot of attention on the street, but she is savvy, and fluent in Arabic, so she doesn't get messed with. When I'm out with her I can hear people whispering when we walk by, the hushed, and not so hushed comments. We're enigmas, intriguing. I've been here three weeks, and have yet to see another European-looking person walking down the street, although Karen assures me that they are here. To the locals we are interesting. Karen laughed at me the first few times we went out. In the beginning I responded to every single "hello!" and "welcome to Egypt!" She would tease me about smiling at the men, and then warn me to not do it. It gives them the wrong impression. It's not a social nicety here, it's a come-on. I quickly discovered that what I take to be innocent rhetoric: Hello; How are you?; Fine, thank you, can, with the wrong man, quickly turn into, "come, meet my family," complete with gestures down tiny alleys, and into the dark backs of shops. They want me to have tea, and chat, and see where things go; to see if I fit the popular stereotype. "Shukran, shukran," as I back away. Lesson learned.
The children and the women are different. I speak to any child that speaks to me first: "Hello!" they say, wanting to practice their English. "Helllooo," I answer back, a la Jerry Sienfeld, and it makes them laugh. "How are you?" I ask. And they smile and blush and look up, down, away. Occasionally one remembers that "fine" is the proper response. Sometimes they will say, "What time is it?" and I will tell them, and they will look at me blankly. Their repertoire of English completed, I smile and go on my way, waving. I see the women watching me, in the way that women can look without appearing to be looking. When I smile and say hello, they smile back, beautiful, full smiles. The kind that leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. I think though, that my favorites are the teenage girls. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Like the women, they wait for me to smile first, then they smile back. When they're alone it's a shy smile, maybe a nod. When they're in groups they crack me up, because I will smile, then they all smile. Then suddenly they will grab each other, giggling hysterically, as teenage girls do, leaning into one another, whispering in loud, teenage girl whispers. I giggle, too, and we continue on our ways.
One day I was walking along Faisal when a bus full of young women went by. It was a double-decker, with an open top, and they were all on the second deck, clapping and singing as the bus drove along. One of them spotted me. I saw her point, and heard her shout, and they all turned, simultaneously, to look at me. I was startled at first; they all cheered and shouted and waved, grabbed at each other's arms, and pointed "look, look! do you see?," so I waved back, smiling a dopy, surprised smile. I listened to their shouts fade down the road as the bus sped off with the traffic.
When I am alone, I am much more conscious of the attention that I receive. I completely understand the veil. It affords a comfortable anonymity that I could easily appreciate. When I go out now, I put on my blinders (figurative!). When men approach, as they occasionally do, I ignore them, as I would in SF or Paris. If one says "hello" or "welcome" I acknowledge them, but keep moving. If they say anything beyond that, I pretend that I didn't hear, and keep going. Taxi drivers receive a "shukran" and I step up the pace. When someone asks where my husband is I say, "California."
I get laughed at regularly when I shop. I have maybe 6 words I can say in Arabic, and I can count from 1-10; slowly, and mostly only in order. Often when I am trying to buy something I will speak slowly in English, using only a few key words. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm careful with hand gestures, because I'm still not quite clear which ones are offensive. When I realize that I'm not going to get my point across, I stop with my slow, carefully chosen English and say, quickly, easily, "malish," (nevermind), and whoever is standing around, listening, cracks up. Sometimes people laugh at me, and I don't know why. I'm having to develop a thick skin.
Karen pointed out the milk store to me - that's how you shop here - there's the milk store, the pharmacy, the housewares store, the fruit store, the chicken store (they chop off the head, and pluck it for you. You carry it home warm, in a plastic bag.) Not much one-stop shopping - although Carrefore is one of the few exceptions - like Le Target on a Saturday afternoon - but with everyone wearing galabayas. Carrefore is one of France's big chain stores - definitely not swanky in France, as my snarky British friend pointed out to me, but yes, a bit swanky here! The first time I stopped at the milk store I didn't know how to say yogurt, and the guy had no clue what I wanted - malish! I left. Yogurt-less. The next time I went I was prepared. I had written down the words for yogurt (zebaadi) and rice pudding (roz benlubaba). When I walked in the next time, the guy recognized me - I am the only 6' tall American in the neighborhood. He looked at me, but didn't say anything. I smiled, raised my eyebrows, and reached dramatically into my bag for my notepad - he smiled and raised his own eyebrows, questioningly - consulting my notes, I made a little flourish with my hand and said, "zebaadi." And he laughed, asked me how many in Arabic, and held up some fingers, so I knew what he was asking. I said, "talaata" (three). And chuckling, he handed me my yogurts. Then I said, referring to my notepad, "roz benlub ... benlub ...," "benlubaba" he finished for me. Ayya! (Yes!) how many? waahid (one). He said something that sounded like "good choice!" and handed my my roz benlubaba. I will be buying more of that stuff!
Karen laughs at me because despite my frequent communication problems, I often have full conversations with people here. They speak to me in Arabic, and I speak to them in English, casual comments about the weather, the traffic, the quality of the produce, whatever, and we seem to understand one another just fine. I cannot explain this, it just happens. Always satisfying.
Cairo and Giza are (is - it's Cairo to the right of the Nile, and Giza to the left - I live in Giza), a huge place. Yet, the impersonal, impatient, hurry that exists in America's big cities does not exist here. Every inch of space is crammed with people, donkeys, horses, wild cats and dogs. The traffic thick, the air thicker, the poverty wide-spread, blatant. I do see families on the streets, but not nearly as many as I expected, and I'm not so sure they don't have a home to go to. It seems that everyone here has a niche that belongs to them, whether it's a 180sm flat, a lean-to with a dirt floor, or a bawab's room on the side of an apartment building. And yet everyone is friendly, everyone seems to accept their status. In the Koran, their lives are pre-ordained, it's their duty to make the most of what they have. Those who can afford it, employ those who need it - I have Henan, she cooked for me today - ahhh, my full, happy belly - and the plethora of tupperware packed with good food in the fridge! Next week she will clean. I feel strange having someone do these things for me, but this is how she feeds her family, and for me, it doesn't cost much. When little boys open cab doors for me, I give them 50p. When they walk up to me on the street, with their practiced pathetic look, and the hand to the mouth - "hungry, hungry," I shoo them away. There are too many; if I give to one, I have to give to them all. This is my neighborhood, they will remember me, and I would go broke. Besides, one little guy, not more than five, tried that on me. Cute little street urchin, filthy dirty, with his little bare feet. Then he accidentally dropped a huge wad of cash on the ground. Grinning broadly he picked it up, shoved it somewhere into the dirty recess of his top, and went on his way. I give 1 LE to the mothers on the street with their toddlers for the personal packages of tissue that they sell. (Always carry tissue, in case you're unfortunate enough to have to use a public restroom.) The system here is foreign to me, as an American, but it works. And do you know what I do not see here? I do not see drunks, passed out on the sidewalk, soaking in their own urine. I do not see drug addicts staggering down the street. Everyone works, everyone hustles to earn their Eygptian pound. Crime seems to be low. I suspect the penalty isn't worth the risk. Karen and I were grocery shopping the other day. We left our purses in the "trolley," (she's bound and determined to make me lose my American accent!), and they were perfectly safe. I would never do that at Safeway.
Egyptians are about the friendliest people I have ever met. The few bad seeds that exist are well compensated for by the rest of the population. I walk down the street, day or night, feeling completely safe. Mom, Gram, Bettye and Cindy - never fear! There are police on every corner in my neighborhood. They know I'm around, and keep an eye on me - they help me into cabs, okay the amount I intend to pay, and give stink-eye to the overly aggressive cabbies that want my fare, even after I've told them I'm walking.
My next project is to find an Arabic class. I want to increase my vocabulary - okay, I want to get a vocabulary. Maybe by the time I leave, I'll know what everyone is laughing at.
Unil next time,
p.s. meet Karen: http://www.heartofegypt.com/
p.p.s. for those of you who keep asking - Ahmed is ONLY a friend, and he is my first English student ... you people, always trying to marry me off ... sheesh.
From: Dawn Date: Mon Jan 31, 2005 Subject: Cairo arrival
For those of you who know what I'm up to, I have arrived in Cairo, safe and sound. For those of you whom I have not spoken to in awhile, I am in Cairo, Egypt - the land of the pyramids, mummys, and call to prayer 5 times a day. I heard my first call at 5:30, and it was amazing ... it is currently 6:35 a.m., my time, February 1st, and I have not slept for any significant amount of time over the past three days. Just a little warning.
I am once again going to keep an email journal of my travels - anyone who does not wish to be included, please let me know, and I will remove you from my list - I will not be offended - I promise! Anyone who wishes to be included, please have them email me, and I will add them.
I made it through customs, changing my American dollars for Egyptian Pounds (LE) with very little problem - but I was a little spacey and the guy at the bank, I don't remember which bank - there was simply a wall of them, was reasonably patient with me, and now I have a wallet full of LE, and his kind yet irritated smile to go along with the bills. I collected my bag without incident, and no one asked me about my laptop or demanded a duty for it when I entered. Whew! I ran the gauntlet of taxi drivers, all asking where I was headed and offering the best price, and made it to the Duty Free shop, unattached to any fare.
There I met Karen, who was kind enough to show up two nights in a row (because I had the dates wrong - sometimes I'm very blonde), and we headed to the Duty Free shop where we purchased my alloted allowance of 4 bottles of liquor. We drove home via Mosh, free of any rules of the road, the white lines painted on, but completely ignored; once "home" we proceeded to combat the effects of international travel via several cocktails and a couple of hours of great conversation.
This is my start, and there will be more ... who can go to Egypt and not have tales to tell? For now the bed, with its fresh sheets calls, my eyes are heavy, and my legs jittery with fatique ... I am here, and I am safe, and I cannot wait to get up in the morning, because from the balcony there is a view of the pyramids of Giza.
until next time,