Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sayonara Cairo!

Sadly, this is my last Egypt post for the time being!  I will return to the land of soup and teen lit with vigor asap with some exciting new recipes and tasty books.  I arrived back in Cairo bright and early in the morning, just in time for rush hour!  Thusly, my epic Egyptian adventure had to come to an end.  But not before I did a few things.  Here are the things I did, followed by a few traveling to Egypt tips.

Thing 1:  I got my shoes (Dansko's) shined!  It was fabulous; they now gleam like the blackest onyx in all the lands.  I may have to start calling them my Black Beauties. We carried our own shoes there because it probably would have been really weird for the guy to shine our shoes with them actually attached to our ladylegs.  It was already taboo enough; he apparently got heckled while shining our shoes.  We gave him a large tip!  If you live in Egypt, the nameless faceless shoeshiner of Dokki is the best shoe shiner ever.

Thing 2:  How do you find the nameless faceless shoeshiner of Dokki?  EASY.  Look for this sign.  Yes, that is Nick Carter.  And yes, our conversation did include a debate as to whether or not it was Lance Bass.  Let's just say that one of us knew it wasn't Lance Bass because one of us had a secret crush during the heyday of N'SYNC.  And let's just say that someone was not Becky and move on.  Our guy will be right below Mr. Carter, shining away.


Thing Three:  We ate what was quite possibly one of my favorite and simplest meals of all my time in Egypt: a pita filled with baba ganoush and another filled with falafel.  It cost us a wallet crushing 4ish Egyptian pounds.  As in...under a US dollar, or free if you use the GB pound or Euro!

Thing Four: I spy George Clooney, hanging out with his buddy, a shades wearing giant baby!


Thing Five: In Zamalek, we went to a hipster cafe.  Yes, Egyptian hipsters!  Skinny jeans and tiny cigarettes (or sheesha) cross borders!  But I digress.  We witnessed a miracle, people.  I joked about how this was the first trip I'd ever been on where I didn't need to pack a raincoat.  And then you know what?  This photo is evidence that it RAINED.   RAIN.  Sure, you really can't tell.  Also, it might have lasted under two minutes.  But rain it did!

Thing Six:  I may have had the privledge of attending a unique American cultural event and checking an item off my bucket list at the same time.  Guess who went to happy hour at Marine's bar in the American Embassy?  It's me, snitches!  Yeah, that's right.  I went to a military bar.  Bucket list, CHECK.  The Marine's were very lovely, welcoming, friendly and were not at all crabby or biting (that's for you, Becky) though they've been pretty much working triple overtime since the Embassy went into lock down in January.  Thanks for a good time, American beer, and you know...protecting my right to freedom and all, Marines!  Keep up the good work!  Also, snaps for having coed forces, yay lady Marines! As a caveat, this is an option only if you've got a super cool connection who happens sometimes work at the Embassy when she's not being full-time awesome... However, no pictures, because at the concrete fortress that is the US Embassy of Awesome, they take away all your electronic devices for security purposes.  You'll just have to trust me and not my photographs on this one. 

Thing Seven:  I ate a huge, massive, unbelievably delicious and necessary Yemeni meal on our way back to Becky's to pack for my 2:30 am departure for the airport.  Behold my soup.  Behold the round of bread that was bigger than my entire torso.  Behold the delicious dishes that we dipped our massive rounds of bread into gleefully.  Behold the rock that sat in my stomach when I woke up two hours later to go to the airport.

But most importantly, behold the amazing journey that can be had in Egypt.   I realize the region is uh...a little hot right now.  But.  But.  I never ever not once felt unsafe while traveling around, even walking around after dark by myself.  Sure, the hassling can be an enormous frustration, especially if you are a woman, but once you get your game face and dark sunglasses on, it's relatively easy to just ignore your overeager Egyptian fanboys.  There is culture to be had; if I have taught you anything know that there are copious amounts of delicious food to be eaten.  The sights are incredible, the climate is even more so (especially if you happen to be from a place where there has been close to four feet of snow during the past winter...), and the sunsets alone will leave you craving more.  Egypt is a fascinating mashup of Ancient, modern, conservative, liberal, poor, rich, religious, and everything in between.  I knew I would always regret not going!  If I can encourage anyone else to take a leap of faith and head on back, I'll be very pleased; they need the tourists like peanut butter needs jelly!  As a post-publishing addendum, I'd like to direct your attention Paul Theroux's article from this past Sunday's New York Times, Why We Travel.  It so perfectly sums up my experience!

Here are my sage Egypt travel tips:

1.  Save up your small change and bills; they're incredibly useful for things like tipping and cabs.  Yes, this is the first thing Becky taught me.

2.  Sadly, ignore everyone who tries to talk to you unless it is a woman, especially if you are a woman. Usually, unless they shout something like "Speeding fireball car of death!" (which I wouldn't know anyway, my Arabic being supremely limited), they are trying to sell you something, introduce you to their brother-in-law who will sell you something, or work some angle.  It stinks to cut yourself off from the world, but I assure you it makes your day that much easier.

3.  The following words will save your life if the hassling gets too bad.  They are listed in order of importance, and are probably not spelled correctly:
- Shukran: Thanks, but can also mean no thanks
- La na: No
- Hallas!: ENOUGH!

4.  There is no browsing of any sort at a souq.  Sorry.  You've got to go in guns blazing or don't go in at all.  I recommend a snack beforehand so you don't have low blood sugar.  Let's just say that's how I wound up with four scarves, two purses, and an overpriced painting that is so not original, I don't care what the dude claims!

5.  Bring the following things with you wherever you go: a packet of tissues (there is often no TP), hand sanitizer (ditto for soap), sunblock and chapstick, a bottle of water, a camera, your small change for tips, and if you are a lady, bring dark sunglasses that people can't see through consider a messenger style bag for ease in climbing around things if you plan to do anything active.  Ladies, be respectful and conservatively cover up.  T-shirts are cool, but wear long pants or a long floor length skirt.  I found it helpful to always have a light jacket or cardigan on that I could take off if I got too hot.  I also found it helpful to always have a scarf on hand.  You never know when you're going to wander into a mosque or when the temperature dips in the desert at night!

6.  If you are not Egyptian, lose any aspirations to wear the following things while touring Egypt: harem pants, turbans, jellibeya's adorned with excessive sparkles, excessive sparkles.  One, you look like a tool and stand out like a sore thumb.  Two, you do not look Egyptian, and I'm pretty sure that is what you are going for. If you are Egyptian, congratulations, you already knew not to wear these things because they will make you look like somewhat like the aged British and German tourists who are attempting oh-so-unsuccessfully to "go native" and blend in.  Ahem.  The jigs ups, Luxor tourists.

7.  Be friends for 16 years and counting with an awesome person who lives there and can teach you all these things and take you to cool places!  Becky was the best tour guide EVER. Thanks a million jillion!

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