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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

Impressions of contemporary Cairo

EGYPT | Friday, 25 December 2009 | Views [2482]

Anyone thinks Cairo is a dirty and polluted third world city then they obviously haven't been to a dirty and polluted third world city. While the traffic crawls along, the traffic lights are ignored and the driving is pretty haphazard, at least your eyes don't sting with toxic industrial waste and your feet don't have to dodge raw sewage right from the nearest building (not that I'm thinking of anywhere in particular Mumbai). Admittedly at the end of each day when we wash our hands and clothes the water is brown with a fine grit that seems to coat everything, but at least it isn't toxic.
Mind you, all of my opinions are based on the fact we are travelling in the middle of the winter when the daytime temperature is a very pleasant 20° - 26° ... I might think otherwise if I was travelling in the middle of a scorching summer.
Even though we get up late and have a lazy 10am start to the day, most shops are still shut and nothing much happens here in Cairo before noon. Then the pace gradually picks up until the evening when by 8pm the streets and shops are absolutely packed and apparently remain so well into the early hours.
I've been surprised by just how cosmopolitan Cairo is. We hear "Welcome" all the time on the street, from Imams to policeman to shopkeepers. It isn't just a tourist 'welcome' either, as I've heard it more often for no reason other than genuine hospitality than from tourist touts wanting some easy Baksheesh. There are women without headscarfs and women with headscarfs, in fact, headscarfs of every style you might imagine: loose and almost chic, white, black, complete black with only a slit for the eyes, brightly coloured complete covering headscarfs and more. You also see many couples holding hands or with arms around each other in public quite openly, which is perhaps surprising for an islamic country; while I don't have any contemporary Egyptian women as friends to ask attitudes of, from the outside at least you'd have to say that women have considerable influence and control over their lives here. I haven't been to too many places that have such a wide variety of peoples living here too, which perhaps isn't so surprising given how many times the place has been invaded and by how many armies. There is everyone from mediterranean people of greek origin, Nubians from Sudan, green eyed peoples from perhaps persia, arabians, and many others with a broader range of skin and eye colours than you get even in Cosmopolitan Sydney or New York.
Today we took the Metro a few stops to get down to Coptic Cairo. Train draws in ... we hussle the boys onto the nearest carriage ... train departs. Then a quick glance around the carriage confirms, to my accute embarrassment, that everyone else is female. Yes, we'd managed to pick the women's only carriage. The women were actually very friendly about it and made to tell me just to move into the next carriage at the next stop, which we quickly did, only then noticing the large green sign over the entrance doors.
Yesterday we wandered for miles through the Islamic quarter on the way up to the Citadel, streets wonderfully alive and vibrant with few cars. Climbed up  the minaret towers of the Bab Zuweila gate just in time to be greeted by the 12 noon call to prayer all around. Deafening. But not only was it a fantastic view it was also an excellent spot to stop for lunch: no noise, no touts, no cars and quiet and clean.
We ended the day by inevitably heading to the Egyptian Museum late afternoon but queued for no more than 10 minutes which was a blessing with two tired children in tow. Headed straight for the Royal Mummy room which didn't scare them in the least and then to King Tut himself. Everyone has seen the images of his golden face mask, all 15kg of gold of it but nothing can prepare you for how beautiful this thing is: it positively glows. More incredibly, in the same room they also have the other Sargophagi that he was buried inside, each one a little larger than the one before it like Russian Dolls, but last one, the one that contained his body was made of solid gold. A staggering 115Kg of solid gold!

Tags: cairo, clothes, tutankhamun

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