Lots of happenings in the world of Helen! The past two blogs have been from Lise and Jayanthi, the former having left two nights ago and Jayanthi to leave tonight, and I tomorrow night/Friday early morning.
I was worried that Lise and Jayanthi leaving would leave me twiddling my thumbs and wishing the going away process was finished, but I've been using up every single minute! I think a quick run down of my day is in order, even if only for me to remember everything!
Today I went to the "Cities of the Dead" in the morning with my friend Brian. There is an area of Cairo where little buildings and tombs have been built for the dead for years and years, but housing crunches and poverty have led nearly 300,000 people to make the cemetaries their home, often without sewage, running water, or electricity, although many of the areas have been built up. It was eerie to walk through these quiet areas with only a few people out and about, surrounded by mostly empty small buildings. I have no pictures because that seemed really inappropriate, but there are probably some on the internet. Afterwards we went to Al-Azhar park, which was absolutely gorgeous and an equally strange Cairene experience because everything was green and flowery and super clean. Apparently a European NGO had a hand in developing the park a few years ago, making sure that all-local labor was and would be hired, and that the proceeds from the entry charge would go into development projects in the neighboring areas. We could see the new housing projects begun by the park's money, and it was an exciting thing to see a development project that was equally enjoyable in and of itself and for the things that it is doing. After hanging out at the park I headed back into the center of the city to meet up with a friend for lunch and to check on a library fine. Lunch was really nice, though I hate having to have days and days of goodbyes, and afterwards I went with Brian again to Sout El Cahira (Sound of Cairo) to buy more music. I am a bad girl.
This seems really late in the game, but I think I never explained this. Egyptians neither call themselves Egyptians, nor their country Egypt, nor their city Cairo.
Egypt = Masr/Misr
Cairo= El Qahira/Cahira (it's a q/c sound in the back of your throat)
Going back and forth between the cemetaries and the park (because we kept getting wrong directions) we had to cross a 10 lane divided highway, but our success proved just how accostumed we have become to Cairo. It might not need to be said that Cairenes do not believe in lanes (although with this many cars, if they did it would be a nightmare) and there are no 'crosswalks' and certainly no fines for jaywalking. People just cross the street gradually, yet quickly, darting in between the coming cars, buses, bicycles, etc. You could never do this in the US because the drivers wouldn't know how to respond, thinking that they are about to run over you, but in Cairo you could never make it to the other side if you didn't do as the Egyptians do. Considering myself a former "hand-holding" crosser of the street I thought Egyptian streets = quick and ugly death, but I'm proud of my ability to cross the streets.
I think I must also exude a little bit more confidence in taxis, because I have not been accosted over the price nearly as much lately. (Knock on wood!) Taxis are quite an experience in Cairo. I didn't realize how wonderful I had it in Morocco, when the price was nicely displayed on the meter and then it was customary to add a dirham for tip. Here, like with many other things, you just have to "know." How you are supposed to "know" is another question. Some of the taxi rules I've picked up:
1) Girls- don't sit in the front unless all the seats in the back are taken. As part of the really (in my opinion) messed up logic regarding women in general, I've been told that some taxi drivers will take this as an indication that you 'want' to be, erm, touched. I've never gotten the impression from any of my cab drivers that they would take such liberties, but I guess it never hurts to just sit in the back.
2) Don't pay until you are out of the taxi
3) Don't ask how much, and if anyone asks you how much when you get into the cab, chances are you'll be asking to get out a few minutes later because the requested price is so ridiculous.
4) There will be plenty of ridiculous taxi cab experiences, such as:
* Taxi drivers driving off in protest of the amount you've offered, without even bargaining first, and leaving you confused on the side of the road, money in hand.
* Lots of fights- taxi drivers never ask for more money, they yell for it. Don't be surprised if policeman or other bystanders are brought in to negotiate between you and the cab driver.
* (A personal favorite story) I really enjoyed the voice of the reader of the Quran that my driver was listening to, and I asked for his name after I had gotten out of the car. In a beautiful gesture he lit up, took out the tape, and insisted that I take it.
5) The insides of taxis are also lots of fun. Seats covered in pink and black leopard prints, little Ramadan lamps, God's eyes, Qurans, Mickey mouses, stuffed animals, air refresheners, etc. hanging from the rearview mirror and attached to other parts of the car. The dashboard is also often covered in fabric or fake fur. Some taxis have their doors wired to play "It's a Small World After All" when opening, others have this wired to their breaks.
6) Taxi music is fantastic. A lot of drivers listen to the melodic Quranic recitation, others have old music playing, or the latest tape from Amr Diab. We've also heard Bob Marley and Cher. CDs have not really hit Cairo- everyone listens to tapes, which are certainly cheaper, but not as easily converted. Also, noone really buys originals of anything- it is all copies. Copyrights aren't too important in Cairo- you can take entire books to any copy shop and have them copied with no problem. This is particularly great considering books are so expensive, especially textbooks or other English books.
So how did I get from cemetaries to taxis to the 'copy culture' in Cairo? All in a day's work my friends. Time to return to attempting to cram all my stuff in my suitcases. This has not been a fruitful endeavor, let me tell you. Too much stuff! (Too many packets from my refugee class! )