Sunday, March 22, 2009

Islamic Cairo…again.

I wasn’t even going to go on this trip. I’ve been to Islamic Cairo so many times that it just didn’t sound interesting to me. And I knew that if I went I’d end up carrying Rachel for the majority of the time and that made me feel tired.

But then Jaehee asked what my plans were instead of going.

When she asked me that I thought of two things. First, the answer to her question, “Nothing.” And second, the question Fredericka asked me at playgroup on Wednesday.

“So, what do you do?” she asked.

“I stay at home with Rachel,” I answered.

“Well, of course,” prodded Fredericka, “But what else do you do?”

Apparently the blank stare I gave her said everything because that is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. She quickly rephrased to keep the conversation going,

“What did you do before you had Rachel?”

I don’t feel like I’ve done much of anything lately. I feel like all I do is play Ring Around the Rosie and primal forms of hide and seek, and make sure that the house isn’t too destroyed when Andrew gets home. I almost keep up with the laundry, but that’s easier said than done when everything is drying in your spare bedroom instead of in the dryer. Sometimes I even manage to sweep the floor.

There’s also my church calling and some Relief Society activities…but really, what do I do? And what would I do with a day all to myself?

In all honesty I can tell you that I would not spend a day to myself cleaning the house. I haven’t reached that point in my life yet, I guess. And I hate our apartment right now. So why would I want to be alone in it all day, let alone clean it?

I don’t have any good answers. Not today. All I can say is that I’m so glad that I will be going to Greece in a few days. I need a break from Cairo. Living here taxes my patience.

Nothing gets done on time, mostly because there is no schedule to anything, except for praying. And sometimes, especially at the Khan, the locals are so annoying that they really, really get to you. Both Jaehee and I had our *moments* of fury.

Yesterday probably wasn’t the best day for me to venture out to the Khan since I’m already feeling a little bit Egypted-out, but I went anyway because, frankly, I had nothing better to do than wallow in solitude at home.

We rode the metro out a little ways and taxi-ed from there. Rachel is getting to be a pro at riding the metro. Her favorite thing to do is find “Rachel-sized” handles so that she can balance all by herself.


Our first touristic destination was the Al-Hakim b'amr Allah mosque. It was completed in 1013 AD, so it’s like almost 1000 years old (four more years to go), which is pretty old. The minarets are fairly original, but there has been a lot of restoration work done since the mosque has survived several earthquakes, etc.

20090322 - 001

20090322 - 002 Once inside we were swarmed by people wanting to take our pictures, especially pictures of Rachel. I think we were held up for about a half hour. No joke. Everyone needed a turn crouching by Rachel to pose for a shot. Everyone needed to try to hold her. Everyone needed to kiss her cheek. She wasn’t very happy about it. She doesn’t like going to strangers.

20090322 - 006

But then this one girl said some magic words. Instead of asking for a kiss or picture, this girl said,

“Do you want to play with me?”

Rachel sized her up, hesitated for a minute, and then said, “Yeah!”

20090322 - 009

And that was that. Rachel and this girl were best friends for the next 10 minutes. They ran all around the mosque and had a great time.

20090322 - 010

20090322 - 00320090322 - 004 20090322 - 008 20090322 - 011

From there we continued to wander down Muizz Street, stopping at a few mosques along the way, most of which were closed for renovation. I don’t mind walking down Muizz Street. It’s usually pretty quiet and the architecture is beautiful. It apparently has the greatest concentration of medieval architectural treasures in the Islamic world. I wouldn’t doubt it.

20090322 - 012

20090322 - 013

When we started to reach the more congested areas, we knew we were entering “The Khan,” which does not make my list of favorite places in Cairo. I was hungry so we started looking for a place to eat but instead found what we were told was a prison. It was also closed for renovation work, but the ladies who were acting as gate-keepers said we could go in. They mentioned, as we were walking past them, that they “drink tea,” which is a polite way of asking for baksheesh. They would let us see the prison and then offer us some tea, which we would then pay for…except that they wouldn’t really offer us any tea; we’d just pay them.

It was a pretty interesting prison, if that is, indeed what it was. We haven’t been able to find much information about it. There did appear to be prison/dungeon things down below a prayer area made of intricately carved wood, which was apparently where the prisoners would pray. I don’t know if any of that is true, but it was interesting to see, even if I was hungry.

20090322 - 014

20090322 - 015 From here we wound our way through some deserted and narrow streets, in search of palatable food, into the thick of the Khan.

20090322 - 016

20090322 - 017

We were happy to finally reach the Khan, for the sole reason that the food there looks more appetizing than the food we saw in the back streets. But poor Jaehee was immediately accosted by a tout.

“Ni hao! 你好! Ni hao ma! 你好! Ni hao!” he said, pulling his eyes back so he was looking at her through little slits. He followed us for several meters, continuously jabbering away in Chinese.

“I’m not Chinese,” Jaehee told him, “Go away. Leave me alone.”

He wasn’t about to leave us alone. And Jaehee’s blood was boiling. She turned around and glared at the man.

“SHUT UP!” she screamed at him.

I asked her why it bothered her that he thought she was Chinese. I mean, I’m mistaken for German and French people all the time…and it’s not offensive. Plus, I pointed out, she went up to a Japanese girl today thinking that she was Korean, so sometimes even Asians can’t tell themselves apart. I know that I can’t tell whether someone is German or Australian simply by looking, at least, not usually. She couldn’t come up with a good reason for why this was so upsetting, either.

“It’s probably just Egypt,” we agreed.

More likely just the Khan. People here are always fascinated by Asians. But the vendors at the Khan are obnoxious. End. Of. Story.

Andrew decided he wanted fatir (Egyptian pancakes), so we found a fatir place that we’d been to before and sat down to eat. I ordered a “mixed pizza,” which ended up being a mistake. It looked really good. Someone else at the restaurant had ordered one and it looked pretty safe from where I was sitting.

Little did I know, it was filled with meat. Being filled with meat is fine, as long as the meat inside is not pink, as mine was.

Andrew asked the waiter to take it back to the kitchen and have it be cooked for a little longer.

He explained that he could not do that since I had ordered a mixed pizza an that is how a mixed pizza comes.

We explained again that we only wanted it to be cooked longer and it wasn’t a big deal. You just take it back to the kitchen and have the cook put it back in the oven.

He explained again that he could not do that. I had ordered mixed pizza and that is how a mixed pizza comes.

Andrew is a softie, so Josh interjected, on my behalf.

“The meat is still pink,” he explained, “She wants the meat to be brown.”

“This is hot dog,” he said, meaning sausage, “It is meant to be pink.”

“No, cooked meat is not pink. Chicken, beef, “hot dog,” whatever. It doesn’t matter. It needs to be brown.”

The waiter came to my side of the table and explained to me that it was impossible to take it back to the kitchen.

“I just want it cooked for a few more minutes,” I begged, “I can’t eat it like this!”

He then stopped speaking English to me and instead began to use a very patronizing tone in Arabic.

“I don’t speak Arabic,” I said, “So I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

He continued to talk down to me in Arabic.

“I still don’t understand you…blah, blah, blah…please just stop and take my food back and cook it longer.”

“It is impossible!” he said firmly and started to walk away.

I don’t know why he was so personally offended since he wasn’t the one preparing the food. He was merely serving it so it wasn’t like I was critiquing his cooking skills. I don’t know what came over me, either, but as he was walking away I yelled,


I suppose I felt justified calling out his stubbornness. After all, if they can stand outside their restaurant boasting about their merits, why shouldn’t I warn others about their demerits. It would level the playing field and create less of a feeling of false advertisement in the Khan, I think. I was about to add, “DON’T EAT HERE!” when I suddenly found that the server had swooped back down upon me.

Luckily, a kind Egyptian man, who was eating at the same restaurant, came to my rescue.

“What is the problem here?” he asked me kindly.

“I want my food to be cooked longer. The meat is still pink and I can’t eat it that way,”

He turned to the server and said a few short sentences in Arabic.

The server glared at me, snatched my plate away and disappeared inside.

“There,” said the man, “It was all a misunderstanding. Enjoy your stay in Egypt.”

I think I thanked him a thousand times in both English and Arabic. I love meeting nice people.

My pizza came back a few minutes later, much browner than before. Not quite brown enough for my taste, but at least it wasn’t half raw.

And that’s probably why you shouldn’t go to the Khan when you’re already sick of Egypt. It’s a good thing both Jaehee and I will be leaving in a few days. A very, very good thing.

Rachel is coming with us, which is also a good thing, because she also threw a fit at the fitir place and started screaming, growling, and biting the table. Jaehee and I are stellar examples for her, what with our random fits of yelling.

Andrew and Josh were probably a bit embarrassed and wanted to get far away from the fatir place, so we left to go across the street to the al-Azhar mosque.

20090322 - 022

We met a cute little Indonesian family there that had a girl a little younger than Rachel and a boy a little older, judging their ages solely on their ability to balance and how fast they could run. The little girl was veiled, which I thought was interesting because most girls don’t veil until puberty. I couldn’t tell if they were super-pious or if they simply thought she looked cute veiled, because I have to admit, it was pretty adorable to see a mini-person in a mini-veil.

20090322 - 020

They were a little apprehensive about making friends at first.

20090322 - 021

We considered going on to do the rest of Islamic Cairo, since all we’ve ever done is this first half from Bab al-Futuh to al-Azhar over and over and over again. I suggested to Andrew that the next time we do Islamic Cairo we taxi to Bab Zuweila, the gate at the south, because we have no idea where it is, and work our way up to al-Azhar instead of starting at al-Azhar and trying to find Bab Zuweila. There is no guarantee we would ever know if we made it to Bab Zuweila if we tried to get there from al-Azhar.

So that’s our plan for the next time we go to Islamic Cairo. We were all too tired to do the rest of the tour; Rachel, especially, needed a nap. She eventually fell asleep the last 10 minutes before we arrived home, which meant that that was her nap for the day. Oh, boy!


  1. You've a stubborn streak a mile wide. :)

  2. I can be stubborn, yes. Option #2, though, was to quit asking after he said no, keep the food, attempt to eat it, throw up all over the place. That seemed a little more passive-aggressive and unpleasant.

    I don't do well with uncooked meat. At all.

  3. I still haven't made it to Islamic Cairo, other than the Khan.. if you ever take another trip there, let Daphne and me know! We don't want to just wander cluelessly by ourselves.. like if you start at the South Gate, though, let us know!

    And yes, Cairo certainly is quite the adventure!

  4. I hate it when people ask me that (what do you do?)... my mind always goes blank and I feel like the most boring, lazy person--and I'm not! I swear! :)

    That's funny about the pizza. I'm proud of you for standing up for yourself. Option #2 for me would not have been to keep it and even try to eat it. It would have been to throw it away post-haste (can you tell what literature I've been reading lately?). To say I don't do well with undercooked meat would be a huge understatement. :)