Middle East | Egypt | Cairo – Cairo living

Middle East | Egypt | Cairo – Cairo living

A few days after arriving back in Cairo from Syria, I had found a
>roommate and an apartment, a nice sized apartment in a neighborhood
>on the outskirts of downtown, but just far enough away to be local
>and a small community. Soon after moving in, Tania my roommate,
>and I, decided to travel in Egypt, having no idea where we were to
>go, we decided to go to the furthest and most isolated place on the
>map, hoping not to encounter too many tourists, just looking for
>peace and quiet before school was to start. So, off we went to the
>desert oasis of Dakhla, in the southwest of Egypt, where the august
>temperatures run to 140 F/50 C… Its a grueling 12 hour ride
>through amazing sceneries, passing through the black and white
>deserts and other oases. Spent the days under bedouin tents
>snacking on dates and delicious food and drinking copious amounts of
>tea. Went to a hot spring and wandered in the sand dunes, saw two wedding festivities and met many friendly egyptian families whom we visited with in the oases.
>People of the oases live in and around sand, even the floors of the
>houses are scattered with sand, their lives are simple and quiet and each village probably has tens of previous villages underneath it because as the sand covers the lower story, people abandon it and just build an additional floor.
>So, what do I do everyday, what is life like in Cairo, you may ask. Its amazing what one can get used to as normal, what a first would seem uncanny
>and out of place, seems just the way things should be. One learns
>that on should not be surprised at anything, because here many
>things go that wouldn’t ever happen back home(although I won’t say
>anything, because this society has its specific dos and don’t which
>must be followed unless one wants to attract a crowd). Now, seeing a country farmer in a long traditional robe riding a cart pulled by a donkey seems no more exotic than the taxi driving on the side of him.
>From sunday to thursday I attend the American University in Cairo,
>taking intensive courses in arabic, studies in the qur’an, study on
>non-muslims in the muslim world as well as two Anthropology courses
>dealing with religion. The workload is the same as in Canada, but I
>would not say the teaching is as good, because at times it seems
>that the professors spend the class telling us interesting scattered
>tidbits, instead of dealing with the assigned material or giving
>straightfoward lectures. So around the campus, it seems more like a
>high school fashion show than a university, but life here is
>different, especially as most students are egyptians and that means
>that they live at home until they marry, affecting their lifestyles
>and outlooks. Most people I have made friends with are from outside
>the university, in fact, many from the lower classes, because they
>are the ones who tend to venture into ‘real’ cairo (as in the
>non-suburban – non-western neighborhoods where the university
>students perhaps have never been) of where I am prone to wander and
>explore. But I have found most egyptians to be warm and friendly and always up for a conversation, they are good people, although quick to get anger but quick to forget about it.Often in the street two men will be fighting and then a minute later they will be laughing and hugging each other (Yes, men actually are quite close here and it is the social norm for men to hug and kiss even in the street as a greeting and to walk hand in hand)..There are many ex-pats (ex-patriots) in CAiro, and the community
>is quite small, and now I see people I know everywhere and everyone seems to
>know everyone else. For food, I buy my fresh flat bread daily from
>a woman sitting on the sidewalk, and the get the rest of my
>groceries, from the store and the vegetable souq, where every
>vegetable and fruit is all available from street vendors on a close
>by street.
>Every weekend, or even weekday, i find myself in amazing situations,
>experiencing new things every time. Once I might find myself
>galloping on a horse near the pyramids, next thing I’ll be at a
>local wedding watching horses dance, and then the same night,
>wandering the old city of Cairo and drinking tea. I have been to
>moulids and zars and zhkirs as well as the opera and oud
>performances and yoga classes.
>I am quite infatuated by the egyptian baladi (or folk, country)
>music, and am learning to play the tabla drum with an egyptian
>musician. every weekend I manage to find musicians playing
>their drums and mezmar flute the oud and the fiddle…
>Some very interesting events that happen in Cairo are Zars, where
>people gather in a small room , half the room filled with musicians,
>men and women, and the other half filled with local women. Money
>pours from the women’s purses as the musicians work them into a
>frenzy with the frantic drumming, the women shake their body every
>which way, sometimes out of control, until they either collapse or
>come to a slow stop exorcising their personal demons. The music is
>earthly and draws one into the beat, I was able to feel the drum
>beats inside my body, making me want to join the women in their
>dancing.
>Then there is a moulid,probably the funnest street party, of
>hundreds of thousands of people, I have even been to, as well as
>being something feared or loved by foreigners and egyptians, but
>always held in a special place by everyone. Moulids happen
>throughout the year in Egypt, and are centered around different
>saints and their particular mosques, the two moulids I have attended
>thus far were for Imam Rifai’i, the founder the the famous sufi
>order, and Sayyida Zeinab, the daughter of Ali, and grandaughter of
>the prophet Muhammad. I must admit that at the moulid of Rif’ai I
>walked around quite in a daze, for I had never seen anything that
>could equate even close to the event of the moulid. The moulids are
>organized by Sheiykhs (religious leaders of the communities) and
>tents are set up by patron skeiykhs who provide food and drinks and
>shelter for anyone. The numerous sufi sects of Egypt are all
>represented in different tents, some sufis dressed in the color of
>their sects, complete with sticks or ceremonial swords, long robes,
>religious mantras and the names of their sufi line embroidered on
>their clothes, prayer beads hung on their body as well as other
>ornaments and other accessories. Most people who come are country
>people, the women wearing gallabayas along with their tight bandana
>topped by a loose and sheer black scarf, often barefoot with tired
>looking, but smiling faces. The men are dressed in their elegant
>robes, in every color, most men wear either a felt hat or a turban,
>sometimes huge and imposing, sometimes just a small scarf wrapper
>around their heads. Often they have beautiful silk scarves hung
>around their necks or around their chest. The moulid is often a
>wonderful chance to meet country people as well as people,
>especially women from the lower classes who are usually in the
>houses or difficult to meet. Tens of tents are set up with men and
>sometimes women dancing, perhaps together in a uniform move, or
>perhaps individually. I went to the moulid perhaps for 5 nights
>in a row as well as passing by the mosque other times, and it seemed
>the same people always sat in their little spot on the sidewalk or
>in a tent, always watching and waiting. Inside the tomb of Sayidda
>Zeinab, the men are on one side chanting, praying and singing in
>Zikrs, while the women weep and press their hands and bodies again
>the tombs. Women covered the floor, their hands covered with wet
>henna, they sat for many hours in the tomb, which is thought to
>bring much blessing to its visitors. I actually participated in the Zhkirs in the tent where my favorite munshid (or singer of sufi songs) performed. I made friends with various people in the tents and had a pleasant time socializing in the tents, drinking tea and speaking arabic all of the time. Apart from the spiritual side of the moulid there is also amusement side, where many carnival rides and games are set up, as well as magic shows. Most of these rides, games and magic shows are so archaic I felt as if I was transported to a 1930’s movie set in a carnival complete with boys peeping over the roof and being scolded, the boys whispering and smoking in the back, and the simple wooden boards keeping everyone who didn’t pay the admission out. The rides were so old and dangerous seeming, and grown men would get on the swings and swing so hard that they would twirl all of the way around. The description of a moulid could go on for pages so I shall end it here, hopefully I have given a glimpse into>what a moulid is, an event that seems so strange to imagine if one comes from America or somewhere. I shall be writing more later on my experiences in the upcoming moulid which is sure to be bizarre as it is the biggest moulid in Egypt taking place in a delta town and drawing more than a million people.
>I have also travelled to Alexandria, the town on the Mediterranean, where one can walk
>down uncrowded streets and sniff that fresh sea air. I spent a
>weekend in that lovely town, taking in the ambience (although that literary and multicultural world of Durrell seems not to exist at all)along the
>streets. My highlight must be when Tania and I ventured into a
>large underground roman catacomb complex in the afternoon, and while
>sitting 4 floors underground, the lights went off, the guards went
>home, and we were stuck among ancient tombs in the pitch black. Yell
>as we may, nobody heard us and we had to make our way to the exit
>(we had incidentally wandered to the furthest cave making it quite a
>length aways) feeling along the walls and tombs. We did make it up,
>and finding the gate locked to get out, we were forced to climb
>through a small hole in the roof, thus we escaped the catacombs one
>handedly. But apart from that, Alexandria is a very relaxing town,
>one where one could stay in for years, and forget about the rest of
>the world.

Category : Middle East | Egypt | Cairo , Uncategorized