Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Citadel

The pyramids are so important they deserve their own post. But today was another adventure and I am being timely about reportin. This is practically live!

It's Halloween. What better way to celebrate than by going to the Citadel of Salah Al-Din?

The Citadel is massive. Up on a hill overlooking all of Cairo, it consists of a giant mosque named after Mohammed Ali, several museums, and an old prison. I had to visit after reading my Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook's description of it:

"Though this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cairo, it is relatively unimpressive and decidedly overpriced."


The book also goes on to mention that the museums are "underwhelming" and that some people consider Mohammed Ali's mosque to be "unimaginative and graceless." How could I not go?

I went with my friend Lillie, who specifically requested to be name-dropped. Congrats, Lillie! Regular admission is 50 LE but with expired Student IDs, we got in for half price (The cashiers can't read English). When I was entering, the worker taking my ticket said that I looked "small" and that she didn't think I was a student. How flattering.

The Mosque of Mohammed Ali is unbelievably magnificent and ornate.

It was hard to fit all this in my camera. Maybe I need a bigger camera?


The entrance.

Inside

Inside the mosque are lots of tourists. The mosque is still used for prayers but you mostly hear tour guides. It did feel strange when some people started praying in the front while everyone else just milled about as if it was just a giant ballroom. Because that's what you do in ballrooms. Mill.

Besides this giant mosque are some "underwhelming" museums. My favorite was the Police National Museum.

I saw the sign and knew it had to be good.

It was very old and needed some cleaning but it had... character. The museum housed uniforms and weapons and stories of police victories. I asked if we could take pictures and the guard said no, but a few minutes later, he came up to me and whispered, "Go ahead and take pictures." I'm not sure if he was expecting a tip for that but he didn't get one.

There was a miniature replica of a battle at a police station but there weren't any signs explaining what was going on or when this had happened.

The models were complete with dead soldiers and blood spilling out from them.

There also was an old 11th(?) century drawing of Egyptian police officers. Unfortunately, most of them do not still look like this:

Though some still do.

We made friends with a plain-clothes cop who took it upon himself to show us a prison that was off limits to tourists. He let us go into a cell, showed us where they used to hang people, and then gave me his number. I wasn't sure if he too was expecting a tip but... he didn't get one.

We also entered the National Military Museum which had lots of busts of people I didn't know. On the second floor, a whole film crew was stationed and they were in the middle of shooting a scene. We watched the director yell, "Three, Two, Action, Haraka!" Haraka also means action. I'm not sure why he skipped One. In the middle of the scene, the director stopped the camera man to yell furiously at kid actors. That was awkward. I asked a security guard what they were filming and he was very unhelpful. This is how are conversation went (in Arabic):

Me: What are they doing?
Guard: Filming.
Me: What are they filming?
Guard: A movie.
Me: A movie about what?
Guard: History.
Me: History of what?
Guard: This museum.
Me: Thanks...

I can only assume that it was the Egyptian equivalent of Night at the Museum with Omar Sharif playing Ben Stiller.

After a long day at the Citadel, we took another glance and then headed out. You could see for miles and miles:

Those pyramids look familiar.

Right next door, the Mosque of Sultan Hassan.

If you visit, I can call up that cop. He promised to show me and my friends a good time the next time we came...

Free Pyramids

After two months, it was time to see the biggie smalls and mediums. Yesterday, I went with some friends from work to the pyramids. They were in Giza and they were Great. There was also a free blues concert there at 4 pm which was incentive for going. Aside from the fact that it was the pyramids.

We ended up getting to the site at 3:45ish. Tickets to get in to the area are 40 LE and they were closing in 15 minutes so we decided to forgo some close up pyramid action and went over to a further entrance where the blues concert was going to be held. We entered for free and quickly saw that all we had to do to get up close to the pyramids was walk over a wimpy chain rope that was hung between two poles. Not even hop or go under it. Simply step over it.

And with that, we were in the pyramid complex and took some pictures with the history. The police officers there worked hard to kick everyone out since the area was supposed to close at 4 but they focused their efforts on the merchants first. The pyramids are notorious for having insistent hagglers who will do all they can to get you to buy some postcards, ride a camel, or just buy a stuffed animal camel. We dealt with only a few. When the officers tried kicking us out, we just pretended not to hear them and walked in the other direction. They had no desire to follow us so we spent a good amount of time with the pyramids all to ourselves. Plus, the weather was excellent.

Great!

This sand belongs to me. It is my history. I and the sand are one. Unfortunately, I also became one with all the dog, horse, and camel poop which fills the sand.

Definitely aliens.

Me sitting on the medium pyramid. Cool...I guess.

The pyramids also have an in-house Sphinx. I remembered the Sphinx being larger than it actually was but we hadn't seen each since the very first time I went to Egypt (over ten years ago) and I've grown since then.

Classic. Also known as the Postcard Pose.

After we got our pyramid fill, we headed back to the stage where the blues concert had already started. Apparently, the US Embassy sponsored a few blues artists to perform around Cairo and this was there last stop. The tour was called Blues on the Nile. Any concert in front of the pyramids has to be epic and the band lived up to it. Lots of good music and people dancing. It was the first time I've really danced since arriving in Cairo and it was very much needed.

At one point in the concert, the guitarist told us that he was going to bring some African American traditions to Cairo and then told us that we were going to church. We did some Jesus call and responses. It was surreal--never thought I'd be singing Jesus out loud in Cairo much less in front of the pyramids.

One day I hope to play the pyramids.


Epic.

All in all, a fine way to see the pyramids.

Friday, October 23, 2009

High Lights

Tuesday night was not a post-worthy night. But I took the picture so I might as well.

The power went out. Luckily(?), that also happened the night before so we already had candles out. However, this time, no one was home and I was hungry. I treated myself to a romantic candlelight dinner:

String beans and meat. For one.

I don't know when the power came back because after dinner I went to a church down the street to see two plays: a double feature! While they were not part of experimental theater week, they could have been. The first play was all in Modern Standard Arabic and I fell asleep midway through so I couldn't even begin to tell you what it was about. I do remember that there were actors on stage and there was some sort of conflict. The second play was in Egyptian Arabic and I understood it but it wasn't that good. The plot: A doctor ran away and got lost in a desert where only bald people lived. He falls in love with a bald woman who falls for him too and her hair returns. They go back to the village and spread their message of love and everyone's hair comes back. Brilliant.

In the past week, I have seen four plays. Three out of the four have consisted of actors yelling their lines. Plays really do reflect reality. I would say that 75% of the conversations here are yelled as well. In conclusion, if you visit me, bring Tylenol.

Also, today I saw me some history with friends. I went to Al-Muayyad Mosque and Bab Zuweila which are in a section of the city known as Islamic Cairo. (Fun fact: The rest of Cairo is just as Islamic. This part is just older.)

I don't know much about Al-Muayyad besides the fact that it's beautiful inside:



Right next to Al-Muayyad is Bab Zuweila. It was once a gate protecting Cairo from intruders. Now it is a great way to get an amazing view of Cairo.

The student price to go inside is eight pounds. I didn't have my (expired) student ID but it was ok. Good thing I still look like an 11th grader. The people inside didn't want us going in because they were closing in five minutes but we said we'd be quick. 45 minutes later, the doorman had enough of our dilly dallying and made the trek up the many stairs to yell at us to get out. Joke's on him: he couldn't yell because he was wheezing too much. His friends laughed but I did feel a little bad. But now I have great pictures!

Bab Zuweila: After hours.

The view of Al-Muayyad from Bab Zuweila

We climbed the other minaret and chilled there for a while as the sun set. Pretty.

Cairo at dusk.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Experimenting

The 21st Cairo Festival of Experimental Theatre is currently going on, and on Friday night, a friend and I decided to check out one of the plays. It was by an Iraqi troupe called "The Workshop of On-Going Rehearsals" and the title of the play was "The Shadows." We had no idea what to expect. Five of Clubs.

Online, the schedule said that the play started at 8:30 pm. When we got there at 8:30, it was already half an hour in. I'm pretty sure that even if I had gotten there at the start, I still wouldn't have understood it. Basically, it was three actors (two men, one woman) screaming at each other in Modern Standard Arabic (fus'ha) in front of a couch while a fourth actor typed on a laptop in the background. One of the men had his pants off most of the time so he was just in underwear and a big t-shirt. The woman had a gun and was angry at the pantless man for some reason. My favorite parts were when people in the audience would laugh and clap at certain lines and I would have no idea why and when people would not only not silence their cell phones but also answer them and have conversations while the play was still going on.

To be fair, I'm not sure if I would've understood the play even if it wasn't in Modern Standard Arabic, but it was an entertaining experience. Plus, it was performed at the Cairo Opera House which has very nice grounds:

Pretty.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

People Getting Married

As I type this, there is unbelievably loud music blasting down my street. It feels like someone's yelling in my ear. I checked out what was going--street wedding!

The entire street adjacent to mine was completely blocked off. And there's a giant tarp hanging between the apartment buildings so I couldn't see what was going on til I walked past it.

No entrance

Behind the tarp is an amazing array of lights with tons of guests talking and smoking sheesha (hookah) and neighbors watching from their windows above. The street was completely taken over by a makeshift stage, tables, and merriment. I walked around taking pictures while people looked at me strangely. I wanted to say, "If you're going to keep me up til 4 am, I think I can take a few pictures." Instead, I said, "I'm American! This is new and cool!" So now, pictures for you:


And my favorite moment of the night--seeing a line of boys ogling at the belly dancer.

Up past their bedtime

I think tonight's the night I finally use my ear plugs. Good night (hopefully)!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's over, it's over the 6th of October

I've quickly learned important dates in Egypt because many big roads are named after them: 15th of May Bridge, 26th of July Street, and of course, 6th of October Bridge.

Yesterday was 6th of October (more endearingly known as Armed Forces Day)--a day commemorating Egypt's successful crossing of the Suez Canal, starting the October or Yom Kippur or choose-from-3-other-politically-charged-names War. And you know the date is really important when the government names a whole district in Cairo after it too. It's big enough of a deal that the day is not only a bridge and a district but also a public holiday. Which means no work (which I haven't blogged about at all (yet) but it exists).

I didn't do much the first half of 6th of October but I made sure to celebrate Armed Force in style during the evening. I, along with two friends, went to the Marriott hotel in the district of Zamalek. Zamalek is an area known for being nice (read: rich and relatively clean) and filled with ex-patriots. The two might be linked.

Two things were going on tonight in Marriott land. The first was Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest in Egypt: Men wearing suspenders, beer, sausage, and all the sauerkraut you could hope for. I really wanted to go but I quickly found out that everything about this Marriott is extravagantly ridiculous. The minimum price was 245 pounds so I settled for pictures from outside:

A band and buffet

Welcome to Oktoberfest

The other thing that was going on at the Marriott (and the rest of Egypt) was the big little soccer game. Currently, Egypt is hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup. It's an annual World Cup for players under 20 years old. Egypt had advanced to the second round which is do-or-die. We died. Against Costa Rica. I wasn't too invested in the game but I was sad to see the Lil' Pharaohs lose. But at least I got to see them in style. Fitting in nicely with the rest of the Marriott's extravagance was the gigantic screen we were watching the game on.

It was dark and on the roof. (Also the title of my first novel)

The view below, hidden by the giant screen. Pretty.

Also, I ate a massive Marriott double cheeseburger because absolutely everything at the Marriott is large.

It's been a full day since I ate this and it's still stuck somewhere between my mouth and my stomach.

All in all, it was a fun 6th of October. The ball's in your court, 15th of May and 26th of July.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Churching

Allow me to Copt out:

Going to church for a 6 am liturgy is never easy. Serving in the altar when the entire liturgy is in Arabic makes it even harder.

Yesterday morning, I got up early and made the three minute trek to the local church with my tonya (deacon vestment) in hand. I got dressed as a deacon and the priest asked me to serve in the altar. I kept trying to say No and that I didn't know anything in Arabic but he insisted and another deacon dragged me in. They handed me a book. I opened it--all Arabic. I asked if they had a book in English or at least Coptic. The deacon pointed at the book. Apparently, it was transliterated Coptic. I asked if there was anything in real Coptic. Ten minutes later, after the priest gave the deacon keys to go somewhere, I got a book in Arabic and Coptic. Before coming here, I never thought it would be hard to come by books in Coptic in a Coptic church.

I spent the rest of the liturgy getting confused and making up tunes to the deacon responses in Coptic. I assume everyone in the congregation was asleep so that was ok. Until I did the responses to "You who are seated, stand" and "Look towards the East." They're the only two responses I know in Arabic (aside from "Pray for the holy gospel" which was delegated to a little kid--I should've got it, little kid) and I wanted everyone to know that I knew. I belted out Ayohelgelous qifou so loud, I startled the priest. Everyone braced themselves for Wa ela sharq onzorou and I gave it my all. The whole church was looking East once I was done.

In conclusion, time to get out the tape player and learn all the Arabic responses I've been putting off for all these years.