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Reflections on Cairo

Posted @ 14:21:06 on 06 April 2009

Islamic Cairo. So we step away from the Pharoanic period for a while, and go and visit the Citadel of Salah Al-Din and the stunning Mosque up there. This one is quite an eye opener for me, as in all of my training I have never been inside a Mosque. We visited religious houses of all the great religions and attended religious services in every one, but never a Mosque. In the UK I never get the feeling that I would be that welcome if I turned up and asked to be shown around. The last time I set foot in a Mosque was probably the same year that I last visited Giza. This time I have the luxury of also having my very own Muslim guide, who is willing to tell me about things, to show me around and share a litle of what goes on with me. We sit together on the carpetted floor of the main chamber, lit by beautiful stained glass windows and lamps, and Habibi tells me about the process of praying five times a day; where it comes from and how each one is a slightly different process.

He promises to allow me to be present when he prays later on, and to show me the process of ablutions and preparation. This is where I feel we are really starting to build new ground for ourselves, as it is these things that one day will be so familiar, but for now are totally unknown. We then walk around the palace of the Turkish rulars of the 1800's, and from there on around the rest of the citadel, which includes various museums and shops and more mosques tucked away behind different walls.

It is pretty and peaceful, and quite hot. The only negative we conclude about this time is that people charge Habibi three times as much as they normally would for everything as he has a Western woman with him. They assume that he is the guide and I am the Tourist, so every time we want to buy anything from here on in, I have to hide around the corner.

Posted @ 14:24:24 on 07 April 2009

Reflections on Cairo Part II

On Monday we awoke early and the driver came and took us out to Giza. It was lucky we made the early start, because the site soon started to fill up with people. I came here once when I was 14, and on a school trip. It was one of those week long whistestop tours around the Mediterranean, and gave me one day in Egypt. Ever since then I have been desperate to go back to Egypt, so October's trip was my final fulfilling of that ambition. And then look what happened! We started by climbing up inside the great pyramid, which I have never done before. We made our way up to the buriel chamber at the top. The way is very hard going as it is a slope at about a 45 degree angle all the way. Luckily modern times have brought wooden treads and handrails to stop you sliding all the way to the bottom. The wooden handrails are blessedly worn smooth by all the countless people that have made this climb before, so there are no splinters coming up or down. Habibi tells me that this passage way would have been sealed off with sand after the burial was complete. It is dark, narrow, hot and very stuffy, and once you get to the top, all that remains in the burial chamber is the granite sarcophagus (and a group of German tourists that Habibi quite enjoyed scaring with a smattering of unexpected German dialogue). Inside the chamber is blessedly cool, and by this time my thigh muscles were screaming at me, and my head was spinning a little. By touching the walls, I couldn't get a sense of any of the stories like I did in Luxor, maybe it is because so many more people have passed through. Who knows... By the time we made out way back down the slope to the plateau outside, a large number of coaches had arrived, and the queue outside the great pyramid was quite long. We then walked around the plateau, trying hard to avoid the very persistent camel drivers and horse drivers, who were not even put off by Habibi showing them his guide's licence and telling them to leave us alone in Arabic. I remember very little about the site from when I was 14, but then it was a very long time ago, but it feels very different to Luxor, harder somehow, with a much more unfriendly edge. We then made our way down to the Sphinx, which was far more stunning that I remembered it being. We got shown around by a man working on the restoration project. He showed us the beautiful mummification temple with is alabaster floors from Luxor, and its granite walls from Aswan, and then more or less demanded money with menaces on our way out. By the time we left Habibi was a bit fed up and tired of all the negotiating and constant haggling that has been going on, and we both agree that Luxor feels a lot more friendly. But it is beautiful, and stunning and we are both glad we have been here.

Reflections on Cairo Part II

Posted @ 14:18:56 on 05 April 2009

We arrived at Cairo airport on the 2.30 am flight from Luxor, and stepped out of the airport just as the Mosques started the dawn call to prayer. The sky was still dark as we stepped into the now familiar diesel stench of the black and white official cairo taxi, and started to drive towards the city. The sounds of Cairo were as deafening as before. A mixture of dull engine roar, the cacophony of car horns, with a little background music of grinding tools and the odd shout and siren.

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