Monday, July 19, 2010

Arabian nights like Arabian days more often than not are hotter than hot in a lot of good ways

The problem with blogging about this Egypt trip is that I've journaled about it, tweeted about it, posted and captioned about a zillion pictures of it on Facebook, talked about it, and created a photobook of it, and I'm pretty sure I've annoyed everyone with my "I WAS JUST IN EGYPT!!!!" attitude.

That I still have.

Even in July.

Well, maybe it's not THAT bad, but still. After all that, I still have to blog?

Yes, yes I do.

So, here it is, the epic I Went To Egypt And It Was Awesome blog post to end all blog posts.

Thus far, we've had a general overview and getting there post, the story of Day 1 and almost getting squished post, and the pyramids rock post.

So, what else did I do?

I visited Islamic Cairo with Josie (Nancy's sister), Jaehee (a Cairo LDS branch friend), and Jaewon (her sister).

We entered through Bab al-Futuh - Gate of Conquests

Visited the mosque of Al-Hakim. The only time we had to cover our heads was inside mosques, which a built after the manner of the prophet Muhammed's home. We also had to remove our shoes, which made walking across the glistening white marble floor in 100+ degree heat a bit uncomfortable.

Explored the madrassa and mausoleums all over Islamic Cairo. There is no iconography in Islam, but the writing and symbols in the architecture and art decorating their buildings holds special meaning to those of that faith, and it's absolutely gorgeous.

We climbed a minaret at Bab Zuweila (the first picture below) and took in the view of the sprawling city. It's dirty and crowded and still just incredible. Minarets rising above apartments, satellite dishes on every building, and it all going in every direction for miles.

On another day, Andrew took Josie, Rachel, and me to explore Coptic Cairo, the Christian part of the city. There is iconography here, but in a different style than I'm accustomed to, and it was fascinating.

I was completely intrigued by this cemetery. It's a Christian cemetery, but with a mix of Greek, French, and Egyptian styles, among others.

Signs of a zombie apocalypse soon to come?

We also visited a well that Mary, the mother of the Savior, is said to have drank from when the Holy Family was in exile here. I learned that it was perfectly normal for them to retreat to Egypt, because even 2000 years ago, it was a vacation spot for people from Jerusalem and other places as the pyramids were old even then. I really didn't consider that ancient peoples even took vacations, but I guess they did!

We also saw the church built above a cave the Holy Family lived in for a time, though we couldn't see the actual spot (construction or something) and a nun tsked me for even having taken this picture of the way down to it.

An average street in residential Cairo:

We (even Rachel!) climbed all the way down the Nilometer, where they used to measure the depth of the great river that dictated every facet of the Egyptian way of life. We also toured a museum about Umm Kulthum, the greatest female singer in Arab music history and a revered emissary of Egyptian nationalism.

On our walk back from there, we spotted a group of boys jumping into the Nile from a bridge. Of course, this probably will wreak havoc on their insides, as Egyptian water is filthy. We didn't even drink tap water (a giant water bottle is 1.5LE or 30 cents), and Nile swimming strongly discouraged. Still, bladder replacement (with what? I don't know) surgeries are most prevalent in Cairo, and we have no idea what's going to happen to the kid who was jumping in with a bandage on his head. He's probably going to have brain worms or something. (+10 to anyone who knows the reference to brain worms)

Apparently, I don't get very excited even the coolest of book districts at the end of a long, hot day, but it was definitely neat.

The only thing I insisted we do during my trip (since it's not assumed we'd go, like to the pyramids) was a day trip to Alexandria, as it's the birthplace of libraries. It also gave me the chance to see a different side of Egypt, as it's a Mediterranean city that feels more European than Egyptian.

We saw:

The Egyptian delta

Pompey's Pillar, underneath which was secondary storage for the original library of Alexandria.

Stylin' babies in their makeshift turbans since their mom forget to pack a hat.

"The Med"

Terrible English translations (click to enlarge)

The fort at Qaitbay

Fascinating crypts we couldn't take pictures of

{use your imagination}


So, it's not the original. That was destroyed long ago, and they don't even know exactly where it was. But still! This modern one was built in it's honor, and it GORGEOUS.

The little ones couldn't enter, so Andrew and Nancy entertained them at a nearby play area, while Josie indulged me in exploring the library. They have a teen area, a children's area (which was kind of creepy because it's decorated for really little kids, but only those over 8 are allowed, and there were none inside that day), a museum we didn't explore, and beautiful stacks after stacks. They also had the nicest bathrooms I saw for my entire ten days.

I was in heaven, and not just because using a clean restroom is something I usually take for granted. I love libraries!

The train ride back was long, and Rachel sat on my lap the whole time. I now have a new collection of kids games on my iPhone (which in airplane mode is just an iTouch that doesn't rack up roaming charges) and she tested my storytelling skills by demanding story after story. As exhausted as I was, I happy to indulge her. She's too cute to resist.

Fortunately, the day after our Alexandria trip was the Sabbath, and a day of rest was just what we all needed. Having church on a Friday was a little strange, but let's be honest, I was totally confused by which day it was anyway. After church, we napped, ate, and hosted a game night for some of their branch friends.

Saturday, Nancy, Rachel, Miriam, and I ventured through Dar Es Salaam. Apparently it wasn't as busy as it usually is, but it was still plenty busy to me. We didn't buy much except fruit and drinks on our way home, but it was interesting. Wandering through the Khan el-Khalil in Islamic Cairo, which Nancy, Josie, and I visited again that same evening, is definitely more of an tourist bazaar, while Dar Es Salaam is for the locals. The set up is similar, but the goods and sales methods are slightly different. In Dar Es Salaam, a shop owner criticized Nancy's Arabic skills, in Arabic, to his companion, but Nancy certainly knew what he said and we left immediately. In the Khan, we were consistently shouted at to come visit shops, called "spicy girls" and "Barbie" and told that they had what we were looking for.

Amongst all the shops, we also found Midaq Alley, which is the location (and title) of a book I had read in preparation for my visit. It's small, but neat to see something I had read about in person.

We also wandered some of the same madrassa that Josie and I had visited the Sunday prior. Nancy hadn't been able to go inside one of the complexes before, and it was kind of neat to see her be enthralled with something new.

Our purpose that evening was to see the Sufi dancers and whirling dervishes. These dances were originally part of Islamic mysticism and worship, but have become more showy than religious. They were amazing! The first dervish whirled for over 23 minutes! You'd have to be in some sort of trance to not fall down.

Sunday, my last day, Josie and I joined Jill (another branch friend) and Jaehee in visiting a local orphanage. We were hoping to hold some babies, since they don't get the affection they need, but ended up playing with and holding some 3-4 year olds instead. Despite the language barrier, you could tell they were thrilled to have some playmates. Their caretakers were in the room, but watching who knows what on TV. They didn't even really blink to have four strange Americans enter and start playing with the kids. Of course, we wanted to take them all home, but at least we were able to give them an hour of our time.

That day was over 116 degrees in the city. We had planned for some afternoon adventures, but unanimously decided to just relax inside instead. This gave me the chance for some last playtime the little ones, and to visit with Bridget, whose family had come to stay with the Heisses temporarily the evening prior. We've been reading each other's blogs for awhile now, and it was great to meet her in person, halfway across the world! We (Nancy, Bridget, Josie, and I) did get out for one last night time souvenir shopping stroll in Road 9, as it cools down, a wee bit, after dark.

I said goodbye to the city early the next morning, had dinner with Michael in New Jersey, and went to bed in Virginia late that same night. The wonders of modern transportation.

There are more stories I could tell, and I probably will if you ask. I'm still in awe that I even got to go and visit amazing buildings and places, eat delicious Egyptian food, and spend time with wonderful friends.

Thank you to the Heisses for hosting me!

Thank you, Cairo, for treating me so well!


DeShawn Smith said...

Brain worms!!!

Epic post. What a fantastic opportunity. I have some jeal.

John said...

Wow, Wow, & Wow!
Amanda the world traveling Panda of Renown.

Giggles said...

Epic journeys deserve epic posts!

Myrna said...

Loved reading about your adventures! I actually learned some new things about what Josie did! Thanks for sharing this.

Bridget said...

It was nice to meet you!