Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cairo Surprise

Our place in Cairo is surprising in many ways. We are in an apartment on the top floor of a building that overlooks the pyramids. The picture is the view from our terrace. It took our collective breath away when we first stepped out onto the porch. It was night and the sound and light show was playing. The pyramids kept lighting up at different times in dramatic views. It was in a foreign language so we couldn’t understand a word but we plan to watch again tonight for the English showing. We’re going up to the roof to see it. That was the first surprise.

The drive into our neighbourhood elicited a variety of emotions. It was reminiscent of Istanbul with many small shops selling one specific item. We saw the tire store, the hubcap store and so on. The streets are filthy and everything looks as though it is one step away from demolition. We entered an open parking area filled with horses, camels and donkeys and the car slowed down in front of a building. The ground was dirt as one might expect in a barn area. The smell also helped create a barn environment and although it was dark when we stepped out of the car, we walked carefully.

The door was an iron grate that led to a stairwell. We climbed the cold marble-like steps to the top floor of the building with some trepidation. Our host opened the door into a lovely spacious apartment. The apartment does not match the neighbourhood. It is clean and furnished tastefully and comfortably. Quel surprise! When we stepped out onto the terrace, though, that was when we realized why we were here.

The next surprise was that it was difficult to hear our host greeting us as we are very close to a Muslim minaret. The call to prayer seemed to go on and on so I asked. Ashraf told me that a funeral was taking place. Apparently, they broadcast this to the general public. It goes on for about three hours. In one way, it is kind of nice to be recognized in this way. Don’t get any ideas, Mom. While the funeral was a one time occurrence, the call to prayer happens five times a day. The first time is about 5 am. Ask me how I know this.

The call to prayer is not the surprising sound however. It is the geese and chickens that live on the roof next door that are actually a bit more of a shocker. They rise early and have quite a lively breakfast chat. I have yet to get a picture of the lady who cares for the gaggle. She sweeps with what looks like long pieces of straw and carries a basket balanced on her head. I’m not sure if she can do both at the same time but both skills are equally fascinating to me.

Speaking of fascinating things, today in Memphis we saw some children from the public school nearby. They crowded near us, staring and quietly pulling out their cameras to take pictures. It made me smile thinking of how many pictures I have been taking of the Egyptians going about their business when they find me going about my business just as entertaining.

We passed a public school and I just had to have the driver stop so I could take a picture. You can see the kids on the balcony looking out of the stairwell, I think. There are up to 100 children in a classroom and any Egyptian who can afford it sends their kids to a private school. It is the opinion of our guide that the public schools have a difficult time teaching the kids anything with so many in one class. It makes me shudder to think of it.

School here is divided into categories. There is the school for foreigners and very rich Egyptians which costs around $25,000/yr. Thne there is the private school most Egyptian middle class families send their children to, which costs less because it is taught by Egyptian teachers not foreign teachers. Then there is the public school which takes overcrowded to new levels. For the desperately poor, however, there is Carpet school. These are schools set up to give the children a trade. I didn't delve too deeply into this as Iqbal Masih and child slavery kept flashing before my eyes.

On the train yesterday we met a very nice young man named Amir who shared his lunch with us and many stories as well. He is a pharmacist who wants to immigrate to Quebec. Apparently it is easier to immigrate to Quebec than to Canada. Hmm…that takes some thought. Aren’t we all in the same country? At any rate, he told us Canada is the golden land and to get to live and work there is the ultimate goal for any upwardly mobile young Egyptian. It was an interesting look at our country through the eyes of an outsider. He was friendly and entertaining and his mother makes a delicious meatball sandwich.

He shared interesting information about Egypt as we gazed out the train windows. Many buildings look half finished yet people live in them. That is because they can’t afford to finish it all at once. The price of cement is very high so they build one level at a time. The goal is about six levels. This is so that the sons can marry and bring their wives to live in the same house. Eventually, the son and his family will move out to build their own home in the same fashion. Amir couldn’t get over the idea that we didn’t do the same thing in Canada. How can the kids afford to live on their own right away? Isn’t it lonely? It does give one pause to think. I mean, how DO young people afford a house in Vancouver these days?

He also explained about the different headwraps men wear. Each family has their own style of wrap. The picture here shows three different men with three different headwraps. Sometimes the wrap can denote a religious belief as well. I had never really thought about the different wraps before so it was interesting and has made me look closer at the different styles now.

I can’t say that I am comfortable with the fake friendliness of the touts in the streets yet, but I am beginning to love our time in Egypt.


Rhonda Staples said...

Holly-- so how come it's illegal to use car headlights at night? And do you feel like you're on a different planet, as oppose to in a different country? Amazing to see how others live eh? Makes me realize we live in a little bubble here in Vancouver. Rhonda

Holly said...

Hi Rhonda,

I have no idea why it is illegal to use headlights at night. With so much new information constantly bombarding my brain, we just seem to accept some things as obvious. OF COURSE you don't use headlights at night. Duh.

I must walk around with my eyes popping out of my head a lot. It truly is a different planet and it increases my compassion for the people who immigrate to Canada.


maryanncart said...

I will remember the 3 hour acknowledgement of the dead...:-) Everyone is loving your trip! Love Mom...Oh...Sophie was in a play this a.m. (I didn't see it but I imagine Steve recorded it) and she is the Virgin Mary. In one hour, their house will be theirs...

Steve said...

Lloyd's, I am glad after the initial "shock" of the assault of people wanting to sell you things, or just wanting money, mixed with the lack of wealth and ancient ways of the culture, Egypt really is a fascinating place that can be enjoyable. It is filled with genuine kind people just like every country you visit, but it just takes a few more layers to peel away to find them! Glad things have turned around for you.

Anonymous said...

HELLO Holly ...
How R U ??
Do you remember me .. I'm Amer the persone who in this picture.. I hope that you are fine and you had good times in Egypt and pls. come againe to Egypt in the near future ...
I hope to be in connection with you by E-mail ..
my best regards for Tom,Rhys and Jollia.. bye