December 2010


Homecomings are always good. This one, as far as seeing people, was amazing even if my trip to Galilee was shorter than I’d thought it’d be. Seeing the school, talking to the students and teachers, embracing loved ones… it was amazing. I remembered everything: the buses I needed in Haifa, how to get everywhere, the way the buildings looked, the way the sun hits the water as the day continues. I noted all the differences and similarities that time has brought. Ammar is gone. There is a daycare at the school. A man from Jordan was putting up a mosaic on the church’s front.

It seems impossible that an entire year and a half had passed, but the children were proof. Several of my friends have had babies since I left whom I’ve been dying to meet. The children that were babies in June 2009 are now walking, talking little people with fun personalities. My sophomores are now seniors. The freshmen who liked to say hi to me remembered me even though they are now in 11th grade. My juniors and seniors are long gone.

Advent is about preparing for hope and that is what being in Haifa and Ibillin did for me. I could clearly see all the choices I had made while I was there, the problems I had had, and why. I had just enough time to pop into all my old haunts, to remember and forgive, to remember and be happy, to remember and be sorry it was over. I was able to accept things that I couldn’t while I was there. I found hope for the future and the past and especially hope that maybe my time there had meant more to others than I thought it had.

The weather was perfect. It rained when I arrived and was sunny and warm the rest of the time. In Ibillin, the strong winter wind jiggled my earrings to sound like Christmas bells as I remembered Maisa and Luma’s children singing “Jiggle Bells” for me in Arabic. In Haifa, I mourned that my short time meant no walks up Stella Maris Road though I did wander into the Hadar. Of course I maneuvered time to see the sea for a little bit and to stand on the roof after dark and marvel at the illuminated views.

Four days was not enough to catch up with Abuna, the nuns, Micha & his family, Luma, Maisa, Elias AG, the students, Christine, Kamel, and Hanna. I didn’t get to see some of my friends. I met the newest babies and Luma’s brother, Elias (is there another name, really?), who’s great. I had a huge shock when I realized the big boy Sister Melanie was holding was actually Pierre, who was six months old when I left.

Naturally, I could write details about every visit, everyday, but I don’t think they would interest anyone but myself. The important thing was that I came and saw people and re-connected. I would wish for more time on the next visit, maybe to see Nazareth or Jerusalem as well. Kamel gave me a ride to the airport, which was a lot more fun than taking the train though we didn’t arrive as early as I’d hoped to because of some traffic.

Of course the beautiful parts of the homecoming were marred by reality. I spent a lot of time buying things I needed and talking to the credit card company about the insurance for my delayed luggage. It was good that my girlfriends were happy to shop, but I wasn’t, not when I could have been at the beach or walking around my old haunts. I had some tasks for work that had to be taken care of. True to life, my suitcase arrived just in time for me to have to lug it to the airport. Still, it meant that the gifts I brought didn’t have to be shipped later.

The very worst part of the whole trip was the last part, at the airport. There is a number system to say who is a threat which you get as you enter security. I got a 5 when I was a volunteer. Today I got a 6, the highest, pretty much saying I was a likely terrorist. I guess the only thing to say positively is that they don’t racial profile apparently.  My personal security check took 45 minutes—no lines, just me and the security folks. They rifling through my bags seemed endless and inefficient. Security kept changing people on me and re-doing steps.In the end, I was pretty much ready to shove my government ID in their face, yell that we give them $10 million damn dollars a day, and that they should bother someone else. None of which I did though I’m not sure I shouldn’t have gone ahead and made a fuss. With all the traveling I’ve ever done, with all the Frankfurt delays on this trip, nothing on any of my journeys has ever made me so upset and angry as the finale of the search. Whether because I looked that threatening or because they thought I would miss my flight if I went through the regular security, I’m not sure, but I was taken to a back room for a personal scan. When they took me to the back, they decided I had to drop my pants. I would have had less of a problem just taking them off. It was having them hang around my knees while they felt all the material and screened my skin that just left me beyond mortified. I’ve had some embarrassing moments. I’ve spent years mulling over things I shouldn’t have done or said, but I have never been so humiliated in my life. The fact that the attendants were female—at that point, it just didn’t matter. I was so angry I could barely talk to them. So much for not being angry at Israel this time. It took a lot of energy to be nice to the girl next to me on the plane who just finished a Birthright trip. And I’m still left wondering what it was that made them decide I was such a threat. After all, my passport had no documentation of my previous trips to Israel.

To not end this trip on a terribly morbid note, I did make it home for Christmas. Thanks in large part to my sister, who patiently waited at Dulles till midnight and no thanks to Newark, which had it’s usual painful delays. We drove into my dad’s driveway at 3:30 AM on Christmas Eve. Jet-lagged and exhausted, I was able to see all of my family, a true blessing. And we got some snow on the 25th: a white Christmas!

 

 

Advertisements

My week of teaching the longer class (four days instead of two) was intense simply because of the fact that our team kept dropping off like flies. Although I’d taught the course before, I was very nervous, having not had time to redo the walkthroughs and exercises before leaving the States. Getting back to the hotel eleven hours after we’d left, I would take an hour or two to prepare for the next day. I was really lucky that my users were so adapt at the system because I lost my SME and my assistant on the second day of the week. Often two people doesn’t seem like enough if we have even three users who have trouble with computers. Danny and I kept waiting to get hit with the bug that hit Eduardo, Jen, and Lauren, but we never did.

However, the Frankfurt airport still hates me. I keep hoping that my flight connections will go smoothly. At this point, I’m just really worried about getting home on time on the 23rd. Today’s first flight from Cairo was at 5 AM, so we had to check out of the hotel at one in the morning. I was really doing ok—barely an hour to make my connection and exhausted from little sleep. I got through security to hear the flight was slightly delayed due to boarding. There was snow in Frankfurt, but things seemed to be moving. Again, only half an hour late. They put us on the plane. And we sat on the tarmac as we “lost” our spots to leave to the point where we then had to get in line to get our plane de-iced. And all I kept thinking was how I just wanted to get home—damn it! I have a measly few days of holiday I’ve managed to scrap together, and now I’ve essentially lost a whole one because of the stupid airport. Next time, I am NOT going through Frankfurt to get to the Middle East. No way, no how!

The above paragraph was written while we still thought the plane would take off. At two in the afternoon (the flight was scheduled to take off at 10 AM), we were told to de-board, that the flight was being canceled. The why was never explained. There were buses waiting to take us to the main terminal. Once the buses arrived at the new destination, we waited for at least twenty minutes because the doors wouldn’t open. One of the Israeli men yelled in Hebrew, “They are doing this to us because we are Jewish.” Let’s just say that our location and airline, both German, did not help the morale overall. (The true reason for the cancellation can be found here: http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/israel-shuts-down-all-international-air-traffic-for-five-hours-1.331213 ) Then they opened the main doors, but at the top of the stairs the doors were locked. Still, I was grateful to be in a warm place.

Finally the top doors opened and we rushed into the main area. Even as people piled in and surrounded the counter, it was clear that the flight attendants working behind the counter were not prepared (probably why the doors weren’t open earlier). It took them twenty minutes of trying to deal with all the people pushing and shoving at the counters to finally make a PA announcement about what was happening. There were lots of parents with young children, some of them alone with the kids. Everyone was very…Middle Eastern, Israeli…insisting to be dealt with at that moment. The swarm around the counter looked like we were in Cairo or Tel Aviv. As someone put it, it could have been a scene in a movie: stereotypical, yes, but true. I had to ask myself, if everyone were German, would we have quietly lined up waiting our turn, as the attendants seemed to think we should?

Unlike a lot of people, I thought that standing close to the front of what would eventually be the line was the smartest bet. I didn’t reach the counter until about 4:40, but I was about the 7th person that that attendant dealt with. I took the option of a voucher for the hotel, meals, and taxi for the night with a confirmed reservation for Dec 18th at 10 PM. I was put on the waiting list for 10 AM flight.

The nice thing about a canceled flight is that you end up talking to everyone. I met a lot of interesting people; everyone had a compelling reason to get to Tel Aviv. Everyone also likely thought I was Jewish. It was a bit surreal. Frankly, I was too tired to correct the picture I knew I was likely presenting: young American who used to live there, who had made dinner plans with friends in Haifa, who was so happy to be returning, not mentioning trying to get home for Christmas. Sticking to my old mentality, I wouldn’t talk about who my friends were because I wasn’t on the ground with a stamp in my passport. I enjoyed talking with everyone, talking about living there for a bit, recognizing names of places. It was nice to talk to these Israelis, not to be as angry as I had been while there when I could not smile at them. Yet, I wondered if that was a betrayal, but I think it was the Southern in me, trying to smooth an unfortunate situation.

When everyone was talking about the flight and things not working, they often alluded, or outright said, to their being Jewish as the reason the flight didn’t work out. It was going to Israel, it was a German airline…and I just thought that was absurd. Three hundred flights were canceled during the day. My flight to Cairo had problems. These people are in business; they don’t want hundreds of angry people of any race or ethnicity. The reason we didn’t have enough staff was because Lufthansa had so many cancellations. Every time I’ve passed the ticket counter, the line has been at leave three hours long. Still, the words echoed what I’d heard in Ibillin time and again, and I found myself wondering, “If we’re used to constant prejudice, do we just start seeing it where it isn’t? or have I gotten too comfortable in DC?” I don’t know the answer.

I finally navigated my way out of the airport (there are no signs on how to exit going backwards). I grabbed a cab with two Israeli men as we were all going to the same hotel: the Intercontinental. I guess that chain likes me more than I like them. They were very nice. The younger one looked like he was either Arab or Sephardic, but I never could figure out a way to ask. It seemed to offensive to say anything either way. They invited me to join them for dinner at the hotel, which was also on Lufthansa.

The drive into Frankfurt was beautiful. Everything was covered in snow. I especially loved driving over the bridge and seeing the river below and a white bank with soft lamplights marking what is normally a walking path. My checked bag, with all my toiletries and my real shoes, was still at the airport. I was too tired to think of doing anything but getting a room.

I checked in quickly and found my room. So tired, I laid down for half an hour and took aspirin for my aching head before meeting my HP folks for dinner. I was no longer hungry, having not eaten a meal in twenty-four hours. I took the elevator to the lobby, but I realized it wasn’t the one with reception. Instead I looked at the door, seeing across the street reception. Apparently I’d gone underground in the hotel and not realized it to reach the elevators to my room. I stepped outside and immediately realized that in a turtleneck, black stretch pants and little black slippers, even crossing the street was going to be hard. I had to step in the slush as a rush of cars came forward. It seemed an eternity before I could walk to my destination though it was probably just a minute. Seeing my dinner companions, we sat down. I tried to make conversation as my stomach started to feel unsteady and my head pounded. I managed about four bits after dinner was served before I realized I was in danger of heaving in front of these strangers. The woman, Gally, was kind enough to promise to bring me my dinner wrapped up when they finished.

I laid down on my bed without taking off anything but my slippers. I woke up about eleven hours. I hadn’t eaten a meal since Thursday’s dinner, but I still wasn’t too hungry though the fresh fruit at the buffet was so wonderful. Still, I met everyone (same HP group) for taxis at 7:30 and succeeding in getting to the gate by 8:30 for the 9:05 boarding–hoping that if I arrived early I would be able to be higher on the list.

The morning flight has boarded and I am waiting to find out if I get on. I want to be in Israel, but now that I got breakfast and slept well, I have already made plans on how to see Frankfurt. After all, the Christmas market is going on. I can take the U to the Dom stop which is the old part of town. Right now, I have only one bad scenario: I get on this flight and it doesn’t leave. Then I will have lost my touring day.  Ever Scottish (frugal) I’ve given myself permission to buy a pair of shoes for today since my bag with all my shoes is checked. Unlike everyone else, I believe this could have been a lot worse.

We are now on the tarmac waiting to be de-iced (I figured at least this step would happen). Still it is now twelve o’clock and I am scared that the flight will be canceled. I am wondering if I should have waited for my confirmed evening flight. At least then I could have gone to the downtown Christmas market which will be closed on the 23rd. Still, at least I know now exactly how to get downtown, etc. (check bags at place between A and B).

We are in the air. People usually clap when they land in Israel, but I clapped when we took off. J

I am on the familiar train from the airport to Haifa. I keep thinking about the first time I took the train, not even knowing until I boarded that Haifa that three stops. It is 7:30 in the evening. I marvel that I have yet to be loud enough to tell the passport control not to stamp my passport. I was expecting so many questions with my Egypt and Indonesian visas. I’ve spent the last two hours waiting in line to give someone the forms saying that my luggage was lost (side note: here everyone still pushed and shoved, just no one tried to stop them. The poor Asian and American tourists were overwhelmed). The luggage folks told me it may not come back in time for my departure, in which case I’ll have to check in with Lufthansa when I arrive in Dulles. When I got to the exit, all the ATMs were closed, so I had to use the currency exchange to make sure I could afford the train ticket. All of this proves, I suppose how very much I wanted to come back. I hope Maria and Sawsan have clothes I can borrow. And it’s funny because in the end, it really doesn’t matter. I got here. So everyone’s presents were in the luggage. “This is the life.”

So instead of arriving at 3 yesterday in the afternoon or even 3 this afternoon, I got in about five. The only good news really is that Shabbat is over and that means the stores will be open tomorrow. I’ll skip the boring complications with my credit card since you’ve been forced to read or at least skim this travel saga.

Friday night was a good night. I was missing the company holiday party back home, but I went out to Sangria with Eduardo, his brother, and their friends. They are such a great group of people and don’t seem to mind that I’m about twenty years younger. Except for one Egyptian friend there, I was the only person not Italian. One woman, Yasmine, is a journalist. Her husband is a major CNN reporter for the Middle East. She used to live in Israel. Right now she is working on a documentary about Palestinian Christians. She has interviewed Abuna Chacour for the beginning. We were amazed at how small the world is. Having wrapped my foot in gaze and wearing my gaudy sneakers, I got up and danced some. It felt so good to just relax and dance. It was a great night. When I got home though, my shirt reeked from cigarettes. Even the next day after airing out, it was no better. I am so grateful smoking is no longer central to American culture.

Saturday was a “dusty” day with minute dust and sand particles filling the air so completely that it was hard to breathe and even more impossible to see. The girls had checked out of their hotel and were using my place as a base. I had been waiting all week to see the view from the Citadel as well as its amazing mosques. However, when the girls refused to go out in the terrible weather, I couldn’t find the energy to disagree. Eventually we all took Jen to the Khan for last minute gift shopping as the girls were leaving that night for the States. My rule of thumb of paying a third of the initial price wasn’t always effective, but in general was worth it. Caitlin and I split off because I needed to get off my foot. The rest of girls decided to call it an early night and were back at the hotel about half an hour later than us. We had a good-bye dinner at the hotel. They were all ready to be back home but dreading their flight pattern, which required two connections.

Sunday, Yasmine wrote me at work to invite me and the others to an art exhibit opening at the Egyptian museum after work. I printed out the invitation, thrilled at the idea of being able to go to a private party at a museum after work. She said it was okay if I didn’t arrive right at 6 (often we couldn’t reach the hotel by this time). I ran up to my room, straightened up a few logistics, and left the hotel about 6:40, confident in my ability. My taxi driver, while the nicest one I’ve had, had no idea where I wanted to go. We got lost. I arrived at the museum at 7. Showing my invitation, I was told the party was over. Sure enough a few people were coming out, but none of them were Yasmine.

Bitterly disappointed, I walked to Hardees to find Jen, who had left by that point. I called Eduardo, got directions to the church, and joined him for a Melkite (Greek Catholic) service. Not only did the service remind me of Israel, so did the simple fact of only being able to attend a Sunday service after a long day of work.

Amani, a local, invited all of our training team to her home for dinner on Tuesday night. It was a magnificent feast. We had such a good time talking with everyone about life and not software. The food was very rich. Amani has the most amazing collection of Islamic antiques: tables, desks, and elegant chairs. Some are inlaid with mother of pearl and others with various types of wood. Her daughter and son-in-law were lovely.

I was able to spend a little bit of time once or twice sipping mint tea on my balcony while gazing at the rippling Nile and the nightlights in Zamalak. On our last day, I was home early enough to see the sunset across the water. I find it amazing that with my terrible vision, I can still see all the ripples in the current and the change of colors in the distance.

Though I’ve enjoyed my time in Cairo, I find myself excited to think about the clean streets of Israel, the lack of pollution and smoking, and my friends. I just can’t wait, so much so that I haven’t been letting myself think about it.

As snowflakes fall in the Blue Ridge and my sister back home picks out our Christmas tree and pulls out the ornaments of our childhood, the opening words to White Christmas fill my head as I walk along a garden in Zamalak.
The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There’s never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, LA
But it’s December the 24th
and I’m longing to be up north…

I’m going to bet that outside my family, no one knew that’s how the song actually begins. Mostly in Cairo, I have trouble remembering that it is the season of Advent. With long work days and no church services and holiday festivities, it’s easy to believe that the warm weather is a result of spring weather not a wintry relief from a desert summer.
In a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I am surprised when I hear Christmas pop music sometimes in the hotel elevator. The lobby of the Marriot and Ramses Hilton hotels have Christmas trees and poinsettias. The Ramses Hilton even has Santa and his reindeer flying overhead in the lobby’s sitting area. Just today our hotel put a tree of poinsettias in the lobby–quite lovely. It’s a bit surreal.
Outside of the posh foreigner hotels, life in Cairo is usual. The honking ceases about four in the morning to begin anew about two hours later. Just outside our hotel is a small one room store with a hanging sign proclaiming, “Super Market.” Near our hotel is Midan Tahrir (Tahrir Square), which is surrounded by the Oman Makram mosque, the Arab League building, the Mogamma (government) building, and the old American University in Cairo building. A bustling circle of insane traffic, it is as great a place as any to earn your BS in Cairo street crossing. Mixed in with local stores are the chain restaurants one might think of being near any American campus: Pizza Hut, Hardees, and McDonalds.
Early on I noticed here something I hadn’t before. Many of the men have dark spots on their foreheads. It almost reminds me of a birthmark, but there was no way all these men are related. I found out that apparently a bruise on your forehead is a common if you bend down praying five times a day for years and years. Recently the mark has become a sign of respect and the number of visible “prayer bumps” have increased as well. As to their initial cause however…well…who knows.
Also in some touristy places (not where I’ve spent most of my time) when the men find out I’m an American I get, “Howdy Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which I find somewhat amusing but odd just the same.

Ideally, I’d get to hang out with my friends on my day off, but my foot’s still being a pain and thus I am in Cairo while they are in Alexandria (el Scandaria). To be honest, I didn’t mind the chance to sleep in. Yesterday, our shopping trip took so long and room service being what it is, that I ate supper at 10:30 PM. This, dear readers, is not so good.

Still trying to stay off my foot, I decided that for the day I would only plan to explore Coptic Cairo, the oldest part of the city.This is also known as the Christian part of the city, catering to tourists as well who come to see the old Coptic churches.The Copts are part of the Orthodox sect of Christianity, so I knew I’d get my fill of icons (but sadly not much incense on this round).

Of course having not consulted my map after exiting the taxi (where’s the fun in that?) I went down some stairs and stopped at the Convent of St. George, which I thought must be the St. George’s church discussed in the guidebook. I seemed to be the only American/European tourist around, but when has that stopped me? I followed some locals down steps where everyone takes off their shoes before entering these small basement rooms. I followed suite. There were icons and pictures of St George, which everyone was touching with their fingers before bringing their fingers to their lips. There was a line to place shackles around your neck. I inhaled through my nose and recognized the unmistakable smell of cat pee. I promise that once your parents accidentally leave the cat in the car overnight, it is not a smell you will ever forget. I decided to move on, making a mental note to really wash this pair of socks.

The first church I entered was the Church of St. Sergius, which happens to be built above a cave where the Holy Family stayed during their exhile in Egypt. And practically next to it is Ben Ezra Synagogue where Moses was found in the bulrushes by the pharaoh’s daughter. It is so fantastic how so many historic events manage to occur in almost the same places with centuries separating them! Especially considering that in the 6th Century CE, Cairo was just an outpost…Gotta love it. On a more serious note, the synagogue was amazing and very breath-taking. I wish they’d allowed photography.

Photography was allowed in St. George’s Church, just on the other side of the convent (for which you must go back up to the main street and take a left). Another stunning Coptic sanctuary, it also had small rooms outside the main place of worship that were filled with icons. A few of the rooms felt like like they might have been prison cells.

I loved the Hanging Church, so named for being built on top of the Roman fortress of Babylon’s water gate. You can see through an opening in the floor that it is indeed suspended. The marble pulpit is breath-taking. It has the style of stained glass I saw in the Museum of Islamic Art.I could go on for pages about why I loved seeing the Middle Eastern touch to the churches and the synagogue but I’ll spare all of you.

I began talking with two Americans who assured me I had to go to the Coptic Museum. I think at that point, I could also have happily have gone home, but I followed the lead. It is an extensive museum. I thought the friezes were boring and the entire thing until I realized I could go upstairs which lead me down corridors filled with Coptic textiles and icons and a whole host of holy antiquities.

When I first went to the Louvre with my sister and dad, I remember having trouble looking at the masters on the walls because I was so taken with the amazing details on the ceilings and just the building’s interior architecture. The same was true with this museum because the ceilings are exhibits of intricate (and occasionally painted) woodwork. Phenomenal!

This morning when I stepped out of the hotel, a nice man tried to get me to agree to take a Mercedes to Old Cairo for 60 L.E. I smiled and shook my head knowing it would be 11 L.E. with a regular white taxi metered drive. Headed home, I learned I could take the metro back for 1 L.E. I’d been very curious about what the metro system here was like. It’s really quite clean. The ladies’ cars are clearly marked on the platform, which was perfect for me as I was alone. I wondered why everyone didn’t use them more. No one on our visit has mentioned ever using them. A shock considering the traffic here.

Teaching on Sunday and Monday was so long that I couldn’t remember that I had Tuesday off when Monday night rolled around. Eduardo, Danny, and I met in the lobby to eat in the hotel when Eduardo reminded us that we could go out because we didn’t have to get up in the morning. Somehow, after just getting home from a 50 minute commute, we were back in a random cab headed to Grand Cafe in Giza. Eduardo promised it would take 20 min; sadly, I was more accurate with my 40 min prediction. He still has trouble remembering that the traffic is much worse than when he left in ’95.

Going around with Eduardo is great fun because he just looks Italian. So everyone talks to him like a foreigner and are shocked when he tells them in Arabic how he was born here and grew up in Cairo. When we got in the cab, the driver thought Danny and I were his kids. And really, we probably did look like high schoolers in our after work clothes.

Grand Cafe, ironically next to a TGI Friday’s, is a classic restaurant and nargella (sheesha*) bar. It’s large white tent houses a large flat-screen TV displaying (proper) football matches with dozens of small tables and chairs for talking, eating, and smoking.We ordered amazing grilled chicken as they can only serve here in the Middle East. Eduardo claims, “I’ve dreamt of this chicken.” It was terribly relaxing and just what we needed after the last two days. Coming back to the hotel was a breeze, and I ended the night with a neat Scotch, a perfect beginning to the holiday.

Tuesday we were off because it was the Islamic New Year. Unlike American New Year’s they stop serving alcohol almost everywhere beginning on New Year’s Eve. Mostly only the government is closed, but some shops were as well.The locals told us most people simply spend the day with family.

It would seem that my left foot took offense at the long excursion I took in flipflops last Friday around Cairo. Since Sunday, it has been upset when I walk. You can imagine this gets in the way of being a proper tourist. So instead of going to Giza with Lauren and Phil, I ended up on my own.

After another exciting round of tub laundry, I took a taxi to the Museum of Islamic Art. This one just reopened, and I loved gazing at the beautiful artifacts. The metal lanturns have cut out patterns to make pretty designs on the wall. The wooden carvings and inlays were so brilliant on the doors, panels, etc. I thought of how I’d have loved to have done that back then, to create something that wonderful. There were marble carved tombstones, jewelry boxes, gold jewelry, and a few prayer rugs (not as impressive as in Istanbul). As always, I loved the Ottoman tiles. In one room, I fell in love with the design on a stone. I wanted to take a picture of it, but they had made everyone check bags at the entrance. I studied it till I thought I could at least get the gist of it right. As I stepped out, I immediately drew what I remembered telling myself it was close enough but not convinced. That evening, cleaning my bathroom I look up and there it is in the print on the wall. The same stone, the same pattern. It was too funny.

After the museum, I took a cab to the Marriott hotel on Zamalek. This building used to be a palace, designed for Empress Eugene when she came to Cairo for the Suez Canal opening. The lobby and main rooms have kept much of the architecture but someone I wasn’t terribly impressed. I’m not sure why; perhaps I was just tired.

I was happier in the small public park I paid to enter for 2 L.E. as I was walking home. Parks in the States don’t contain cool Egyptian statues. My foot was protesting the walking, which I had thought would be good for it, before I was at the Mustafa Kamel square near Kubri Asr el-Nil with its European lions at the bridge’s base. Being able to see the hotel on the other side, I knew I was going to have to walk it. Halfway across I paused to see the felucca coming towards me, and I suddenly really missed sailing. Maybe I’ll get a chance to do that later. After all, it doesn’t involve walking.

In the evening, I heard back from the Book Club girls. They had finally gotten my emails, so we met up at the Ramses Hilton for drinks at the Sherlock Holmes bar.They had crazy flight issues as well with different variables. The pub was so British that I had a hard time realizing we were in Cairo and not DC.

We planned dinner for tonight at my hotel to have some Thai at the Bird Cage Restaurant. It was great. We’re wrapping up and paying the bill when Caitlin starts to show me what she bought at the Khan. She pulls out a pashmena identical to what I had purchased just a few days before. Craziness! It’s so nice to have friends from home here on vacation even I don’t spend much time with them. It’d be hard if we were actually trying to do more together because I’d be sure to be disappointed.

*Apparently it bares clarifying that sheesha is simply a water pipe and it is hasheesh that contains illegal ingredients. Sheesha is the same as hookah and nargella, just a different name. I will also add that I think it smells wonderful.

Eduardo’s brother was kind enough to get tickets for all of our team to go see the Las Vegas show of the Rat Pack that was touring here in Cairo Friday night. Right after dinner, I met Jen, Danny, and Eduardo in the lobby. Because of Jen’s heels, we decided to grab a cab across the Kubri Asr el Nil (bridge) to the Opera House in Zumalek, an island in the middle of the Nile visible from our hotel.

The Opera House was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original in 1971. Two Americans who are working here also came. They’re lovely. We had a good time. Sitting next to Eduardo during the show almost made up for the fact that most of the audience didn’t know the songs. He was tapping his foot, lip-syncing, and sometimes even singing along. (Ok. Maybe I did it too…but more quietly.) When I say almost all I mean is that the crowd was not as enthusiastic as they are when the know after two bars of music which song is coming up.

The show featured actors pretending to be Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr. I’ve heard many of the Rat Pack songs, but I never watched clips. I was surprised to realize that Sammy Davis, Jr. was African American. I was a little offended at some of the joking among the three because it had a decidedly racist tint to it. (I was shocked to realize it was nothing to the real thing when I found clips of the real Rat Pack on Youtube.)

I will spare everyone concerned my commentary on the technical and talent aspects of the show except the following. There were four showgirls, and the single brunette was the only impressive dancer.  She was sharp, clean, perfect. The others were well…blonde 😉 and just looked like they were in high school compared to this other woman. My other comment is that while I love these songs, there is something lost in mimicking famous people. When in the 90s Hollywood made movies based on the 1960’s sitcoms, everything was just a little flat because everyone was trying to imitate something that had been done instead of creating something from within themselves.

That said, it was a great night. It was so much fun to go out, especially for a show with songs I knew and loved like Sam’s Song, Fly Me to the Moon, and Volaire. I only wish I’d brought something like a dress instead of wearing my business pants suit I’ve been in so much this week.

Saturday, I woke up too early: seven in the morning to get to the Khan al-Khalili, the outdoor bazaar, to watch the sellars set up with Veronica, Lauren and Phil. We arrived to a deserted part of town. The wide streets had nothing in them except one truck unloading wares. Two or three men were unloading. Realistically, we were there about half an hour earlier than we really needed to be to see the set up. Which meant that we just wandered and wandered looking for fu’ul (fava beans, the local breakfast) until we were well out of the Khan and into the local’s neighborhoods. How did we know you ask? Well, first there was the fact that eventually someone told us. But even before that, the ground, now only damp dirt and littered with food scraps and trash gave a hint. We retraced our steps about nine o’clock.

Back on the main drag, things still weren’t in full swing. More vendors were out and a few die-hard tourists had appeared. After another hour, we were sure enough having to push past people to get through and couldn’t turn around without seeing too many souvenir options. Knowing that a third of the offering price was reasonable, I bartered and helped Veronica barter for a few things, which was fun.

We stopped for tea (with mint of course) Fishawi’s, Cairo’s oldest coffee house which has been opened day and night for the past two hundred years. There was a very cute black kitten that reminded me of Merlin (Andrew’s cat) when he was that age. Lauren commented that all the cats we’ve seen are only kittens. That felt almost ominous to us.

After a fun and wearying four hours at the Khan, we returned to the hotel. I had to nap. After staying up till two in the morning talking and getting up so early, I just didn’t have the energy to do much else. I also got to do my first batch of tub laundry. Having the balcony to dry it on is great thanks to the dry, warm weather. So much faster and easier than dealing with a bathroom filled with wet garments.

That evening, Jen, Danny, and I walked over to Cairo Tower. We took the elevator to the top for a stunning view of the city by night. The top of the tower lets you walk around for a 360 degree view. I snapped some shots. It was pretty cool.

Next Page »