Tag Archives: Cairo

From Cairo, part 1

Greetings from Heliopolis, Egypt! J-P and I arrived a few hours ago. It is
130am here…and in Dallas it’s 530pm (behind). We are staying with Debbie
Taylor, Justin’s mom, who has lived here for almost five years as an English

Heliopolis is now a northern suburb of Cairo, but in ancient times, it was
an important temple city where the Egyptians worshipped the sun god, Ra,
during the New Kingdom (1570-1085 BC). The second largest temple in Egypt
was located here, which, in its heydey, employed more than 15,000 priests.
It was also the center for religious writing, and Egypt was the first
culture on the planet to develop the written alphabet.

Heliopolis fell into ruin for many centuries, then the British colonials
took a liking to it and made it their residential area, so it’s filled with
lovely colonial homes and gardens. Today it is a trendy place for the
wealthiest Egyptians to live. The President lives a few miles from Deb, and
his son lives at the end of Debbie’s street. She has a GORGEOUS apartment
on the top floor of an old colonial building that she has completely gutted
and renovated. I was excited to share renovation woes with her, but she has
had every ounce of work done for her…for almost pennies…the lucky girl!

For example, Mohammed coordinated the importation of her container filled
with all her furniture and worldly possessions. He went to the port in
Alexandria every day for three days to watch everything being unpacked and
inspected by customs officials. Then he bargained on the import tax,
getting it cut down from $1200 to $400. Then he had it all packed back up
and shipped to Cairo. Deb’s street was too busy to unload during the day or
evening, so he coordinated a team of men to arrive at her apartment at 2am,
forming a train to unload all the furniture and move it, in total silence,
from the truck outside and into her apartment. It took this large team of
men one and a half hours to get everything unloaded. The next evening they
came back, unpacked everything, and put it where she requested. And for
this entire process, she paid $250.

So Egypt is a very cheap place.

We have arrived on the last day of Eid Kabeer, or Big Feast, which is a big
celebration in Islamic culture. There are two Eids, one at the end of
Ramadan, their holiest holiday, and this, the larger feast. During this
time, every family is to buy an animal for slaughter, and they keep the
animals tied up in the streets for several days. Deb says she has heard
(and smelled) a cow wandering around in her back alley. This morning
(thankfully, while we were still in London) was the slaughter, and each
family gives a certain amount of the meat to the poor. Deb says last year
there were many animals tied up in the court below her home and she heard
them being slaughtered in the morning.

Deb has an “errand man” who does everything from pick us up at the airport
to painting to escorting her belongings through customs when she shipped
them here. His name, like most men in Egypt, is Mohammed, and he’s SO
friendly! He told Deb that last year he bought a cow for his family for the
Eid Kabeer, at a cost of over 7,000 Egyptian Pounds (about $1200 US)! His
family kept about 150 pounds of meat and gave the rest to the poor. Also,
in the Muslim faith, the practice of tithing to the poor is done
privately…ie not through a church or mosque. Mohammed says he tithes
about 5% of his income to the poor, and does it on his own directly to
families he knows are in need. And this is the practice across all of the
Islamic world.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, followed by a
dinner party with all of Debbie’s friends.

I hope you all are happy and well!

From Cairo, part 2

You know you’re in the Middle East when, at 6am just as the sun is rising,
prayer call startles you awake. From the minaret of the nearby mosque each
morning at sunrise (and again four times throughout the day) a chanting
voice blares over a loudpseaker, calling the devout to prayer. And in
Cairo, you can never be more than a few blocks from a mosque. Prayer call
this morning was so loud it sounded like the guy was chanting from the
balcony right next to ours!

While the slaughtering of animals for the Eid was supposed to happen
yesterday morning, Deb’s neighbors saved at least one cow for this morning.
Two hours after prayer call, a cow started shrieking from the street below
our window, and after each shriek, a chorus of people would cheer. I
figured I knew what was going on, but through the haze of sleep and jetlag,
I wasn’t entirely certain.

An hour later when I was up and caffeinated, I walked out onto Deb’s
palatial balcony and peered down into the street, which was bright red. So
I was right.

Slaughter for the Eid

Gruesome, to be sure, but this is a celebratory time for the Egyptians and
the meat is most certainly not wasted.

On a political note, Egypt and Israel have always been bitter enemies.
They’ve been feuding over ownership of the holy lands of the Sinai peninsula
for decades. So the Egyptians are VERY thrilled over Israeli prime minister
Sharon’s grave health condition…but also nervous about who might be his
successor. Deb has a theory that the doctors are only keeping Sharon alive
with machines because the Eid is going on, and his death during the Eid
would be a cause for double celebration throughout the Arab world. So they
will wait until the Eid has passed to let him expire. Just a theory,

We’re about to leave for the pyramids, and you all are probably fast asleep!
Sweet dreams…

From Cairo, part 3

We are back at Deb’s after an exhausting day in Cairo.
Heck, Cairo is so chaotic and impossibly inefficient that just spending the
day doing NOTHING is an exhausting day.

We are back at Deb’s after an exhausting day in Cairo.
Heck, Cairo is so chaotic and impossibly inefficient that just spending the
day doing NOTHING is an exhausting day.

We went to the Pyramids this morning, but due to the Eid, there were
thousands and thousands of Egyptians at the Pyramids. So many, in fact,
that the roads were shut down, and nobody else was being allowed in.

Our driver, Shokri (a former boxer from his army days) said, “Not to worry!
I take you to a friend of mine.” So we drove through a maze of back streets
and entered a tiny room where his friend greeted us and made a phone call.
Then we were allowed to drive through the police roadblock, through the
gates to the Pyramids, and directly up to them and around the grounds!
Debbie was shocked and said she had never been allowed into the Pyramid
complex in a car.

Shokri was a character. His favorite two English words are “trouble” and
“crazy.” “All Egyptian women are crazy, you know, they are crazy! They
give you much, much trouble. So crazy, they are, give lots and lots of
trouble.” While Shokri only has one wife and two daughters, his older
brother has three wives and 11 sons and 1 daughter. His uncle has 23 kids
and six wives.

Understandably, the Pyramids were totally chaotic. But because the mass of
visitors was primarily Egyptians, we attracted the lion’s share of hasslers
and hustlers, offering camel and horse rides, offering to show “secret”
passageways to the insides of the Pyramids… There wasn’t a single moment
of peace, we were literally assailed at all times.

I’m glad I had my first experience at the Pyramids with Justin four years
ago, when it was relatively quiet in the aftermath of September 11. J-P’s
first experience there was stressful, but he was still very impressed. He
even took a short ride on a camel named Charlie Brown.

We also got to see Pharoah Cheops’ funerary ship, which was built out of
massive cedar timbers from Lebanon, and which was used to carry his mummy
downstream to Giza from the palaces at Luxor. The ship was HUGE, with
magnificent curled ends like Viking ships and huge oars 20 feet long. It
was just unbelievable to see! The timbers were easily a hundred feet long
each, and six inches thick. I have no idea how they bent them to form the
boat’s hull. The ship was almost perfectly preserved in its own rock tomb,
and was discovered in the 1970s.

We strolled down to visit the Sphinx after we were done at the ship museum.
The Sphinx is under restoration, so we couldn’t get very close to him. And
he is, undoubtedly, the most popular attraction at the Giza complex, so the
crowds were swarming. But it’s still so incredible to see such a
magnificent monument…it’s one of the most recognizable sights in the
world. Every child from Papua New Guinea to Venezuela knows the Sphinx. I
was also impressed that the floor of the Sphinx’s temple was paved in
beautiful alabaster.

Shokri drove us to downtown Cairo and dropped us off at the Nile, where we
arranged to have a felucca (an Egyptian sailboat) take us out onto the river
where we could eat our picnic lunch. It was chilly (in the low 50s today)
but still so peaceful as we drifted along with the current of this ancient
river that gave birth to the greatest civilization in ancient history.

After that, we strolled along the Nile to Lover’s Bridge, a popular meeting
spot for young middle class Egyptian teenagers, and not necessarily a
romantic destination despite the name. Everyone was dressed to kill,
walking hand in hand. There is no taboo regarding physical affection
between anyone: friends, lovers, family…male and female, female and
female, male and male, they all walk hand in hand, laughing and celebrating.
It was really an amazing place, full of energy.

Then we ran errands to prepare for the dinner party we’re having tonight
with all of Deb’s friends in Cairo.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the Khan el Kahlili, one of the largest bazaars in the
world. It’s many blocks long, many stories high, and its dusty corridors
hide antiques, faux antiques, glass makers, spice vendors, tin
smithys…everything you could possibly imagine…