We left our house around noon—because we had to wait for Miss Rachel to use the potty—and caught a taxi because we didn’t feel like sitting on the Metro all day, nor did we have time to do so. When we told the driver that we wanted to go to the Citadel he told us it would be 60 LE ($12). Andrew offered him 20 LE ($4), which he refused initially but eventually (and happily) took.
He acted like Andrew’s best friend the whole ride. They chatted it up and the taxi driver was amiable the whole time. That is an interesting aspect of Egyptian culture to me. We cut the driver’s fare in thirds and no one got upset. We were able to forget that he had tried to rip us off and he wasn’t bothered that we hadn’t paid him what he wanted. Obviously he was trying to overcharge us since he so willingly went with 20 LE, but still, I imagined that he’d be a little miffed that Andrew wouldn’t budge up from 20 LE to 30 or 40.
It was a nice ride out there—definitely nice to arrive and not feel tired from standing in the metro. We walked up to the first entrance to go through the first set of metal detectors. There was a policeman loading his lovely semi-automatic/machine/really big gun (not the regular kind you see on the street). I watched him do it while we walked up. Then he started twirling it around and pointing it at things. When we got up to him he stuck out his hand and started flirting with Rachel—tapping her cheeks and pulling her hair—all the while waving that gun, which he had just loaded, around in the air.
I was holding my breath the whole time, but we managed to make it through the first wave of security without blowing Rachel’s head off.
We then made our way to the ticket booth and purchased our tickets, both at the student rate. When we got to the gate, however, we ran into some problems. They have x-ray machines and metal detectors everywhere that you have to walk through/send stuff through before you can go into any major attraction.
“Put your bags through x-ray,” the guard instructed Andrew.
“Don’t put baby through x-ray,” the guard instructed me.
Thanks, Mr. Guard, because I was just about to, but then I didn’t. Phew!
We breezed through security, even though we set off the metal detectors, and then presented our tickets to the guard at the gate. He asked for student ID cards, which wouldn’t be a problem except that I don’t have a student ID card. Andrew showed his and explained that I was his wife.
The tourist policeman said that in that case, we were okay to go through. The guard did not agree. He wanted me to go back and pay regular fare because I didn’t have ID.
Andrew told him that I left my ID card at home, which was a lie…unless he’s referring to my BYU ID card, in which case that is very much at home, and rather inaccessible since it’s at home in America. But Andrew assured him I’m a student, which was a lie…unless he’s referring to the fact that I, like he, am on a student visa and therefore officially only have to pay the student price at tourist attractions.
The tourist policeman and the guard bickered back and forth for a while. Eventually the policeman won and we got to go in. I’m guessing he won because he had a gun and the guard only had a wimpy little stick thing.
I was only too happy to be done with security for the day. Men waving weapons around and yelling at each other tends to make me a little jumpy. I don’t know why…
Our first stop was Mohammed Ali’s mosque. We started walking over the threshold, completely forgetting to remove our shoes, and were already well on our way into the courtyard when the fashion police stopped us. The fashion police are women who sit outside the mosque and hand out scarves and robes to immodestly dressed women.
I’m always a little wary around them because last time I came to this particular mosque they made me tie a scarf around my waist because they insisted that they could see my “underwear.” I was a little miffed because I was in long pants and long sleeves in the middle of July and they made me wear a scarf around my waist just because I was wearing a layered shirt…and they were letting women in shorts and t-shirts go in the mosque just fine. I looked down at my outfit to make sure I was modest. I was pretty sure I was and didn’t really want to walk around with a nasty been-used-on-a-million-other-people-before-you scarf wrapped around some part of my body again.
“Please remove your shoes,” they said.
I’m so glad that they waited until we’d walked past them and were already inside to tell us this when they could have told us that at the threshold when we were right in front of their face. Oh, well. At least I passed their fashion requirements with flying colours this time around…except for the shoes, of course. How did we forget out about our shoes?
We let Rachel out to run amuck in the courtyard while we composed some [of what we hope are] artistic shots. We’ve been trying to learn more about photography and have been fiddling with all the numbers on our camera but we really have no clue what we’re doing (F-stop, huh?) so if you have any tips, feel free to send them our way.
Artistic shots of the courtyard
When we had been standing on the sun beaten marble floor so long that we couldn’t stand it, we went inside the mosque. There were a ton of people inside so Rachel stuck pretty close by, although she did run around a little bit…in circles…around me. I remember doing that to my mom and she’d say, “Stop it! You’re making me dizzy!” and I’d be like, “Stop what, mom?” as I ran around her 20 more times.
Now I kind of see my mom’s point. Rachel wasn’t really making me dizzy but I could hardly walk anywhere because she’d be behind me one minute and in front of me the next, pulling my hand around behind my back so that I’d have to spin around as well, and just being underfoot in general. I don’t think she realized how difficult she was being, just as I didn’t notice it when I was in her shoes. Kids just have a lot of energy and less ability to contain it.
Inside the mosque
It was nice to be back outside. Rachel has noticed that if she yells in a large room she can make her voice carry and she was just starting to experiment with happy little shrieks when Andrew said it was time to go. We went outside and put our shoes back on and then looked out over the city. It was a pretty clear day and we were able to see out to the pyramids. Rachel was snatched away by a guard whose job it was to keep people away from the wall…he took her right to the edge of the wall, of course, and showed her how far down it was. I’m glad he was doing his job of protecting people from approaching the perilous wall (that actually looks pretty sturdy), although I can’t understand why he’d take a squirmy 1 year old right to the edge. I suppose I don’t have to understand everything, though.
We let Rachel play for a while after she got away from the guard. She was terrified of him and kept trying to run away, which made him quite upset.
“Laaaaaaay?” he moaned melodramatically while wringing his hands at the heavens, “Why?”
Because you’re “stranger danger.” Pure and simple. As a general rule little children don’t like being snatched away from their parents. That’s why.
She needed some time to unwind from her traumatic guard experience, but when she started playing with discarded cigarette butts, we decided it was time to find a better activity. So we headed over to the Military Museum.
It looked pretty interesting at first. Rachel loved the statues of the horses out front. We let her sit on one and she pulled the same pose that Ibrahim Pasha was in on his bronze horse. I don’t know what it is with her and mimicking statues, but it’s a rather endearing trait.
The museum looked pretty promising, too, until we realized that they had already closed and locked all of the exhibit rooms—it’s Ramadan so they close at 2 PM—and we could only see the exhibits in the hallway. There wasn’t anything to harm by touching, as far as I could tell, since everything was in glass cases or up on ledges higher than Rachel’s head, but the guards kept telling her not to touch anything. To keep her from being yelled at I told her to fold her arms and look with her eyes, which she did for a very long time until she couldn’t contain her energy any longer and had a complete meltdown in some random hallway.
Two guards rushed into the hall from somewhere to see what all the screaming was about.
Since there really was nothing to touch in that hall—there were a few paintings on the wall and some busts of some generals—they didn’t mind too much that she was wailing and banging her head on the floor. We left as fast as we could, but not without noting some wonderful signs that were lost in translation and some exhibits that didn’t even make it into the museum. All in all, it wasn’t very interesting and we were happy to leave. I wonder if it would have been more interesting if we had been able to actually see any of the exhibits…
Social contrast from the Citadel - Al Azhar park (green) in the middle of the City of the Dead (tomb squatters)
In the open display, just outside the museum exit, we sat in the shade of a Soviet fighter jet while I nursed Rachel until she calmed down.
Eating in the comfortable shade of a Soviet MIG fighter that managed to not get destroyed in by Israel in 1967
After calming down and relaxing, we packed up and went to catch a cab, which was a joke. The first guy we came across was sitting in front of the entrance to the Citadel. Usually we ignore those guys, but he approached us, so we told him we wanted to go to Maadi and that’s we’d already pay 20 LE.
“That’s a fair price,” he told us, “You can catch a cab on the street for that, I’m sure, but I am going to wait here for some rich tourists.” He rubbed his fingers together to gesture to us that he was after a lot more money than our measly, but fair, 20 LE.
That’s why we ignore the cab drivers right outside touristy places. It’s much better to just catch a taxi on the street. And we did soon after our run-in with Mr. Rip-off.
Our taxi driver said 20 LE was fine. He was an interesting driver—we had to wait in the cab while he filled up his natural gas tank. A lot of the taxis here have been retrofitted with tanks that use natural gas. His used both natural gas and regular gas. I’m not sure how that works, but it’s kind of interesting.
My favorite (read: least favorite) part of the whole ride was when he drove off the freeway in reverse down a one-way entrance ramp. I just about peed my pants, and here I was all worried about Rachel peeing hers! And then, just to top things off, our taxi driver said that 20 LE was a fair price but he wanted baksheesh. I can’t believe he wanted us to tip him after he almost killed us all.
But we did make it home safe and sound. No one peed their pants. No one got in a car crash. No one died of having to not touch things. No one fell off a cliff. No one got shot in the head with a sub-machine gun. No one got ripped off. It was a pretty good day.