Friday, July 23, 2010

It Can Drive a Girl Wild

Cairo- oh! Cairo- is crazy. It can make you crazy. The people, the food, the heat, the smells, the sights the sounds the cars the scams the shopping the river. I stood in the supermarket- and please don't picture a clean white bright light grocery store. Instead, imagine a dark dusty cluttered room with random goods piled to the ceiling- and as I stood there, waiting lethargically to have my bottle of water, can of tuna, and package of peanuts added up on the hand held calculator, I thought to myself how easy it would be to start screaming. To scream loudly, throw my arms over my head and run out into the street, to lay down in a little ball in the filthy gutter and just easy. How simple. It was simplest thing I could do in a city that was anything but.

Of course I didn't.

But when K and I stepped outside on our first walk around, we were scammed within 15 minutes. Come to my shop, he said, while I get my business card for you so if you need any help you can call me.

Ok! said K brightly. Holy cow, people here are so friendly!

Uhhhh, I said, I don't think so. I don't like this. (And of course then I feel terrible for doubting everyone, and for being so negative and wary.)

So we go to his shop. Are coerced into buying "perfume". I refuse, we leave the shop on bad terms after K forks out far too much for the smallest bottle of bath oil possible.

5 minutes after that, a guy comes up to us and asks us what the perfume guy was selling. We get to talking a bit, and since we are terribly lost downtown, he shows us the way back to our hole-in-the-wall pension. He asks if he can see us the next day. I say yes, probably just because I want to have some faith in humanity again.
So we do. We meet him and his friends the next day, and the day after that, and after that. They treat us not so much like princesses as like aliens, weird creatures who need to be shown how to do the simplest thing (crossing the street), and who hold strange views on politics, religion, sex. They feed us regularly, with multiple coffee breaks, and take us to parks, on boat rides, to concerts.
Nothing is too small for us to try, and to get excited about. No fruit stand goes unsampled, and when you say you love the sugar cane juice, then watch out: you are about to have 5 more bought for you and lined up waiting for you to gulp down.

A whirlwind experience. And then K and I went to the desert for a week, and rode camels, swam in the black oily Nile, which made our bodies look greenish brown. We saw-we climbed- we touched some of the oldest monuments of civillization. There was none of the Disneyland tourism that the pyramids/the Aya Sophia/ the Blue Mosque/ Athen's Acropolis/ Vatican City/ Sistine Chapel had. It was just THERE. In the desert. Being turned into the sand that had formed it.
Dust to dust.
Ashes to ashes.
Everything was hot and empty. Haunted, more likely just slipping into being forgotten. Outside the realm of people whose minds are focused so much on the present's nit-picky details and bright flashing lights, there exists these remains of a time when things- no, people- were bigger and grander.

Bigger, grander, and crazier. More mad. Maybe it's these lasting effects of madness which afflict me in Egypt. They cling to me and won't let me be. More likely I'm just tired of the sun and stares and kind of want to go home.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When a Week is a Lifetime...

SO much can happen in such a short time. I don't have the space, the memory, the words to put down all that has happened since our dig broke up on July 4th and I met K in Athens.
We went to Turkey. We met 4 Swiss boys on the overnight train to Istanbul, and we got to talking, and we found out we were all staying at the same hostel, sleeping for cheap cheap cheap on the roof. Too bad it rained 2 out of the 3 nights we were there. A bit wet we all were. The Swiss boys were our Knights in Shining Armour (sorry Postman, maybe next time) and we hung out like a tangle of puppies every day, galloping around and eating cheap kepab and taking the ferry across and lying exhaustedly on the green shady grass of the university.

We smoked far too much shisha, and got treated to Istanbuli hospitality and a heap of free stuff, and we also got ripped off and scammed and yelled at in the street.
I like Turkey.

Then K and I said a stoic farewell to the boys and Istanbul, and bussed down to Selcuk where we swam in a mandarin orchard below Ephesus, and hitchhiked for the first time. The air is dusty in Turkey, as though curtains of dust and history hang between you and the present. But I felt so solid, so limited by my humaness, yet thrilled at the concreteness of it all. Does that make sense? In Greece it's different, clearer, and more magical. I like Greece too.
The last 2 nights we spent on Samos, getting burnt to a crisp on the beach and luxuriating in the wonderful luck we had in securing our own private kitchen suite with roof top terrace for half price because we had met people who knew the owner. From beggars to princes. And we lay naked on the roof and drank wine and ate chocolate, and laughed at what people might have thought if they were looking but it was dark, and I told K that as long as we knew we weren't lesbians, then everyone else's opinions can go to hell. My skin hurt too much to wear clothes, and so I damn well wasn't going to wear clothes.

Sweaty we arrived in Athens today, flying out to Cairo tomorrow. The ferry was 9 hours long, in the sun... I feel like I have been hung out to dry, but first all the liquid in me must be evaporated, painfully, by burning. We walked through a police protest in Syntagma Square to get to this internet cafe. So thrilling. I love love love life on the move. We have met many cool people. And this is only the first week.