Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ibn Tuloun and Al Azhar Park

At long last Andrew’s schedule has finally been solidified. He’s taking an Arabic class everyday Sunday through Wednesday. That class meets first thing in the morning so Andrew has to take the early bus to school. Due to Ramadan the class has been bumped even earlier, so that means that the early bus arrives earlier. Poor Andrew, who is not a morning person at all, has to get up by 5:30 in order to get to the bus on time.

Luckily, he was able to snag some graduate classes that were offered during the day so he only has to stay late on campus one night a week. Most of the graduate classes are only offered in the evenings, but I’m happy that 2 of his 3 Middle East/Political Science classes are during the day.

His one evening class is the same night that I take belly dancing lessons. Lora is babysitting for us on those evenings—I totally owe her big time once Abby gets big enough to be left with sitters on a regular basis.

This semester Andrew has Arabic 203—which is the 2nd to last regular Arabic class they offer at AUC. The number just sounds low, but really it’s high. I promise. If BYU used it, it would be a 400 level, post-study abroad class. But they don’t teach it…

He’s also taking A Critical Introduction to Middle East Studies; Islamic Institutions; and a seminar on Palestinian Refugee Rights and Issues. He’s happily interested in all of his classes so far. My favorite part, besides him actually having drive and purpose in his life again, is that he gets Thursdays off, which means that we get a 3-day weekend every week!

We squandered this Thursday away by sleeping in and puttering about the house, but we have been making plans to do exciting things on other Thursdays (when Andrew isn’t swamped with homework and reading). We made up for our lack of activity on Saturday, though.

Originally we were planning on heading out to the mosque of Ibn Tuloun, walking to the Sultan Hassan Madrassa/Mausoleum and then to the Citadel. We rode the Metro out to the stop at Sayeda Zeinab and after wandering through a market selling all sorts of wondrous things (including pickled cow heads *gag*) we grabbed a taxi and sped off to Ibn Tuloun.

The guards told us that the mosque was closed, but it wasn’t really. They were just grumpy—Ramadan Kareem (Happy Ramadan)—so we went in anyway and paid the staffers a few pounds to put some disgusting booties on our feet. I’m not really sure why we were wearing them, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to keep the mosque clean because, well, it was filthy—swirling with pigeon feathers and dust. I understand that mosques are sacred places and we offered to take off our shoes as we saw other people doing, but the staffers were quite insistent on our need for booties. Hot, sweaty, never-been-cleaned booties.

We put them on and wandered around. Rachel thought it was a lot of fun. Her sole goal seemed to be to get in the sabil (ablution fountain) in the middle of the mosque. She could climb up and reach across to the fountain, but she just couldn’t get her feet across no matter how hard she tried. Poor girl.

After many failed attempts she was able to satisfy her curiosity by going around and knocking on as many doors as she could. She had a great time.

Even though we promised the guards we’d only be 5 minutes, the staffers didin’t seem too pushy to get anyone out. There were a few tourists besides us milling around, as well as a few little Muslim families. Still, after admiring the architecture and reading about the mosque in our guidebook and having a little history lesson from Andrew, there wasn’t much else to do inside we thought we’d try to get on top (we’d seen some other people up there).

Among other things, Ibn Tuloun is famous for its minaret, which is in the Abbassid Iraqi style with the stairs on the outside. Ibn Tuloun was a governor from Iraq and copied the Al Mutawakkil mosque in Samarra. Apparently the minaret offers a spectacular view of the rest of the mosque, as well as the Citadel, but the door was locked and we couldn’t find the guards. We’ll have to go back another time.

After failing at getting to climb the minaret, we headed off to the Sultan Hassan Madrassa/Mausoleum. Rachel enjoyed the walk there. She loved being in Islamic Cairo—it was like being on a farm, only in the middle of the city. All we have out in Maadi are cats, dogs, and birds. In Islamic Cairo, though, there are donkeys and horses pulling carts, goats and sheep on the side of the road, and although we didn’t see any poultry we heard enough noise to believe that there were some roosters around somewhere.

Rachel was beside herself with joy and kept pointing at every animal she saw and making her generic animal noise (which right now is “Ooh, ooh!”). I didn’t think anything could distract her from her animal hunt, but then Andrew crossed the street and Rachel and I got stuck on the other side. She was alright until she noticed he was gone and then she started to panic.

“Dada?” she’d ask, put her hands into her question mark position.

“He’s right there, across the street,” I’d tell her. I don’t think she could focus on him that far away with all the cars zooming by and people whistling at her. She was pretty nervous until he was back within her reach.

Where's dada?
(Click on the picture, or any picture for that matter, for more detail)

The Sultan Hassan Madrassa/Mausoleum closed at 2 PM (Ramadan hours…Ramadan Kareem). At first I wasn’t going to believe the guy who told us that because people often try to scam you into believing that such-and-such a place is closed and will lead you somewhere else in order to rip you off. However, upon further investigation the site really was rather closed. He told us that the Citadel was closed, too.

So we thanked him and refused to go with him “down the street,” even though he was pestering us to no end, and quickly made new plans to visit Al-Azhar Park instead. We hailed a taxi and went off on the wildest ride of our life!

A garbage truck had decided to make his rounds so we were in stop-and-go traffic behind his truck for the longest time. We kept zigzagging around other cars and stopping so abruptly I thought Rachel would fly out of my arms.

And then we got to Al-Azhar Park and the driver gasped. We had taken the long way around instead of coming up in front of the Citadel. I don’t know if the driver honestly didn’t know he could come that way, or if he really just wanted to take us on a wild ride. I’m banking on him not knowing. He was pretty frustrated the whole time we were in the taxi… “Why do you want to go there?! Look at this traffic!”

It cost 5 LE each to get in (about 1 USD), which was worth it because Al-Azhar Park is beautiful! They had the same type of grass there that they have on the beaches in San Diego—all short and waxy. But it was nice to have a place for Rachel, our blossoming social butterfly, to run around.

We wanted to check out the playground, and she was more interested in becoming acquainted with everyone on the path. She ran up to a couple and jumped up into the arms of the man. It’s a good thing Arabs like children. He plopped down on a bench with her and gave her a Kleenex (one of her favorite things to eat) and played with her for a few minutes.

As soon as we had convinced her that she belonged to our family and not theirs, she was off hugging a pylon. And then she just about adopted herself into a family with three little kids walking the opposite direction. So many distractions, so little time.

Eventually we made it to the park and Rachel was in heaven. There were so many slides and swings to choose from. She had a blast running around while we chased her. For some reason she didn’t want to play with any of the kids at the park—go figure. Our camera battery died, which was only minutely unfortunate. We couldn’t take any more pictures of her having fun but it allowed us to get out from behind the lens and play with her.

We played until the sky started getting all sunsetty on us, which made us remember that it’s Ramadan and we had better hurry off to find a taxi before iftar or we’d be stuck in the park all night (okay, probably not all night…but probably well past Rachel’s bedtime). Rachel only had a few distractions on the way back: the couple she’d stolen the Kleenex from and a little boy that we had to stop and play with for a few minutes. She gave him a hug. His parents just about died of happiness.

Oh, and then we had to have a last minute photo shoot by the fountain at the main gate. A bunch of teenagers were there and they all whipped out their cell phones so that they could take pictures with Rachel. They passed her around and pinched her cheeks and made her anxious enough that she willingly let Daddy carry her all the way to the taxi.


  1. Sounds like fun. Has she started to dread having her face pulled off by everyone?

  2. I am glad that Rachel is going to have such an awesome experience, I miss you guys though!

  3. What's Rachel going to do when you return to the U.S. and she's no longer a celebrity?

  4. Sounds like fun! Hey, can you link my blog instead of my old website?

  5. And Kelli has an active blog now, too.

  6. Rachel is cute wandering around. How are you enjoying the belly dancing classes?

  7. That is great that Andrew has his schedule figured out and it still gives you time to do stuff together. And you're taking a belly dancing class! Awesome!

  8. Nancy I am so jealous of you guys! What an awesome experience you three are having. Little Rachel can say she lived in Egypt! She is such a doll, I cant believe how big she is now! You have some of the cutest pictures of here! You amaze me!

  9. I enjoyed all of the pictures. Looks like you guys are having fun - that's really nice that you'll be able to have Thursdays together for fun outings.