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.


  1. As I strolled along the Bund in Shanghai, a week ago to the day in fact, I was confronted by a rather attractive Chinese lady and a 'man'.

    "Wow, you're so handsome. Can I have my picture taken with you?"

    I, drunk on compliments and stupid, accepted and proceeded to flirt pathetically with her for 20 minutes or so while my mate Adam waited behind me.

    "You should come drunk beer with me now," she said.
    "YES!" I said.
    "No," Adam said.

    Turns out it was a scam, and I too lost a little faith in humanity.

    And more than a little confidence in my handsominity (if words don't exist, just make them up).

  2. Darn you. You beat me to the punch. You rode a camel before I did. Just you wait. I'll get even. You're going to get yours, miss. I'll ride a...a...a swordfish, that's what I'll do. Off the horn of South Africa, where all the great whites are. Try and top that.

    No knights in shining armor in Cairo, huh? More like indulgent tour guides with a chivalrous streak (or a penchant for plying ladies with sugar cane juice). Still, the place sounds nonetheless exotic, and as such worth seeing (except for perhaps that black, oily Nile).

    Thanks for the lyrical updates, as always.

  3. SMithy, that is a HILARIOUS story. I am so glad you understand how I felt. And I like this word, handsominity. I'll tell all my friends, and give you the credit when it becomes famous, k?

    Postman: A swordfish, eh? Haha, you have done lots of stuff that I haven't, stop making me feel bad!

    I have been loving your posts lately, by the way. Very interesting and humorous.