Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cairo

Cairo itself is an interesting city though not as old as you'd think. All the ancient egyptian stuff was based at Memphis and Giza nearby but they are now almost swallowed up into the expanding city. The pyramids really do have city on one side and empty desert on the other so you have to angle your photos to keep the ancient atmosphere alive.
Cairo itself is massive, with somewhere close to 20 million people by now (a lot commute in) and is by far the largest city in Africa. At first I was tempted to say it reminded me of India's huge cities, but after being here for a while, there is actually not that much in common apart from the size and a little colonial architecture. The air pollution here is horrendous and probably the worst I've seen on a consistent basis. Even then, one day it will be blue skies and clear, the next you can barely see across the river and then blue sky again the next day. I don't know how it can change so dramatically so fast. There is much less garbage on the streets than I had expected which is nice but it is all relative at this point. There is a bit of everything here too: modern buildings downtown, mega slums, european architecture, beautiful mosques (T0he minarets here are amazing and so inticately designed. There are so many different styles and most are unlike the standard smooth tower with a speaker on top.), coptic churches, little homes with laundry hanging from the windows and massive congested streets complete with flyovers (many of the roads in downtown are two levels) and the odd donkey cart to remind you where you are. Cars like Ladas, Tatas and Yugos, tuktuks (not common) and the kind you'd recognize from home. People walk everywhere and the drivers drive everywhere they can (though I've seen worse). Our sleep schedule is really messed up at the moment (waking at 5pm and sleeping at 6am or so) but it doesn't really matter because a lot of markets and shops around us are open 24hrs. 3am seems to be the quietest hour as the shops tend to be cleaning if they are still open and after 4am they have the Azan and people start getting up to pray. You'll still see families and children walking around at all hours though so it is perfectly safe.
The last few years has seen the local population becoming more conservative so that most of the women (nearly all muslims) wear the headscarf again. Honestly, I think westerners and the media make too much of that "symbol of Islam". What's nice here is that there are still lots of women on the streets, wearing jeans and lots of colour, smiling and laughing and generally looking alive and part of the community, even if they are wearing headscarves. I'd hate to see that stamped out in future years if the country continues to go conservative and become more like their neighbours. The men here are a little nutty though. So many of them have huge bruises and callouses on their foreheads from pressing the ground too hard when they pray. It is a sign of piety here but I don't recall seeing it in other countries. I think they are trying a little too hard to show their dedication......
There is still a lot to see and do around here and we are slowly getting to it. Most was done before we started working and now that we are on such whacked schedules, we may never finish. We've been to see the old Christian area, Coptic Cairo, where there are lots of churches still in use. The Copts are older than the rest of Christianity and broke away from the main body of Christianity very early on over theological differences and differ in quite a few ways still. I couldn't tell you really what it is about, but the original argument was over the definition of the divine nature of Christ and they apparently use a different bible, pope and music. It is also thought that they started the cults of the virgin Mary and using the symbol of the cross because they were borrowed directly from the earlier Egyptian cults that were already in place here. Who knows? I'm starting to think that all religion is fundamentally the same and 95% of all people in all faiths ultimately miss the point.
The ancient Egyptian stuff is really cool or just downright bizarre. The museum was awesome. Imagine all these original artifacts lying around that are 4000+ years old and you can touch them as you walk by. Some amazing pieces are just unceremoniously dumped in a corner and neglected because there is so much else. Other museums would kill for them as centerpieces. Truly mindblowing. Of course I have a thing for the Amun Ra stuff. We also made trips out to see some of the pyramids older and a little farther south than the ones at Giza. Everyone thinks that there are only the three great pyramids but there are tons of them kicking around many, just as interesting and almost as big.
We also went to see the whirling dervishes. You'd pay good money to see them in Turkey, where the sect is originally from, but the show here is free. I don't know how these guys can spin so long, I get dizzy just watching. Bre calls them the whirling napkins because of the traditional white costumes. Personally I like the sufi stuff in Pakistan better (better drumming and music). I've also discovered the best food ever, Koshari. It's a local "fast street food", a mix of little macaroni noodles, rice, lentils a few chickpeas, tomato sauce and garlic sauce. Filling, cheap (everything here is really), non-greasy, vegetarian and tasty. I have it everyday, sometimes at every meal.
Ammon

3 Comments:

At 2:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello to all you great travellers.
I'm getting more and more jealous. I really like your postings and of course the nice pics. I'd love to be on the road with you, but I really can't.

What are your plans for the next months? I'll be in South Africa from the 24.August for 2 Weeks. If you're make it down till then, let me know. Maybe, we meet us on the road?

Take care! Greetings from Switzerland. Schaeme

 
At 3:29 AM , Anonymous Rhiis D. Lopez said...

Nice blog, guys.

There's some kind of irony in posting a message to you when you're just 15 minutes' walk away from me.

Rhiis

 
At 9:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey gang,
Just so's y'd know, your stressing us out with the silence.
Is everything okay?

Hugs the Bear

 

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