Saturday, May 29, 2010

Islamic Cairo…again

We decided to go on an adventure today since we’re mostly feeling better and since Andrew has finished with all his coursework and everything. Of all places to visit we decided to go to the Khan. I don’t know how many times we’ve been there, but that old bazaar in Cairo is huge so there are plenty of places we’ve yet to explore.

First we found a brass shop called Three Crazy Brothers that our friends recommended to us. We really had no idea where to find it but everyone knew where it was and pointed us, surprisingly, in the right direction so we found it without a problem. 

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His shop is upstairs and away from the main alley, secluded from the tourist hype, which was nice. He wasn’t too pushy—as most shopkeepers in the Khan tend to be—and his prices were fair. His shop was overflowing with dusty trinkets and sparkling treasures hanging from the ceiling, sitting on the shelves, piled in the corners.

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We got a few things and chatted with him a while—he has a daughter named Maryam, so he liked us. He probably would have liked us even if we didn’t happen to have a baby Miriam. He was just that kind of a guy. He handed Rachel an ankh as we were leaving, which she played with for the rest of the day.

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She pretended that we were at the Diamond Castle and that the ankh helped her scare away bad guys and monsters.

What we really did was visit the Qalawun complex. It was mind-bogglingly grand, yet again, and, for some odd reason, was teeming with janitors. Women in brown uniforms were everywhere, flocking around our children, asking for baksheesh, and, very rarely, actually sweeping.

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The lady in the second picture asked us for baksheesh after holding Miriam. I was floored. She basically pried Miriam out of my arms and then when she handed her back asked for a tip! So while Andrew, Josie, and Rachel were free to explore the complex I spent most of my time fending off janitors and comforting Miriam after she would freak out because complete strangers insisted on holding her despite her protestations. Aisik, they’d tell me, handing her back. Oh, she wants me? No kidding.

It was still fun to go, despite the influx of janitorial workers.

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It was so windy and sandy and nasty outside. Miriam’s hair is getting long enough that the wind can give it a good tussle now. 

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Andrew and Rachel mad ea quick dash across the street to pose on the steps of the Sabil Kuttab of Ismail Pasha before we visited the Barquq Complex.

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Before they walked across the street we had a clear, unobstructed view of the sabil, but as soon as they crossed the street there was a steady stream of foot traffic and I couldn't get a good shot. 

We, besides Josie, had never been to the Barquq Complex before. It was another one of those monuments that has been closed for restoration for an eternity and, once again, it was fun to be inside poking around…when we weren’t being accosted by janitors.

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After running away from the last set of baksheeshing cleaning ladies we sat outside on some benches for a snack. The rest of us had date bars while Miriam had some milk. She thought the date bars looked mighty interesting, though, and decided to give them a try. After a few sucks she sat back to contemplate the flavour and mouth feel.

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She smacked her lips a few times and then lunged toward the cookie for a second taste. I think she just about ate the whole thing. She definitely liked it.

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When we had all had our fill of cookies—more like fig newtons—except for Josie, who wouldn’t try them because we said they were like fig newtons, we visited the famous Sabil Kuttab of Katkhuda. We went inside--entry is free—to look around. It now houses a shop supporting local crafts.

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We went upstairs to the kuttab section—the room used for free elementary (and usually religious) education—and got to look down on the street. It was neat, I thought, but I like to people watch…

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Miriam toddled around with Auntie Josie for a while, getting her bare feet thoroughly dusty. I’m glad that she’s finally taken an interest in taking steps. For the longest time we’d hold her upright and she’d just let us lean her forward until her nose touched the ground. She’d never take a step on her own accord. Now she will.

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From there we made our way to Bayt al-Suhaymi. We haven’t been there since 2006 when we came through Cairo with BYU—and we were so exhausted that day that we really didn’t get to enjoy Bayt al-Suhaymi. We were glad to get a chance to go back.

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It was terribly dusty, though, both inside and out. The gardens were all hazy from the khamsin and the inside was all dusty from the mob of janitors sweeping through. Yes, these janitors were actually cleaning. It’s still an amazing house, though.

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Andrew wants a cool gazebo like this when we grow up.

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The roof is inlaid with beautiful stained glass windows.

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The inside of the house is a complete maze. They have maps outlining tours that are posted all over the place; we couldn’t follow them. We even had to use our cell phones to find each other after getting separated—we eventually just made a designated emergency meeting spot in the courtyard. There were plenty of niches to explore and stairwells leading every which way.

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There’s a press of sorts out in one of the gardens. Rachel and I found a gate leading to it that was unlocked. She wanted to go see it so badly, claiming that she “loves wheels very bad!” So I started taking her through the gate to see the wheel up close. But then I chickened out.

“I don’t know if they want us to be back here,” I said.

“But, Mom, the gate was open! It’s okay!” she encouraged me.

“I don’t know, Rache. The front gate was locked…”

She conceded and we wandered out to find Dad.

“Why don’t they want us to go back there if the gate was open?” she asked while we were looking for Andrew, “I just want to see the wheel. That’s not bad, is it?”

I am so timid and so afraid of breaking the rules that I have a hard time taking chances. While keeping rules is important, taking chances is important, too. I could tell that I had kind of squashed some of Rachel’s risk-taking by telling her we couldn’t go to the wheel and it felt kind of wrong for me to do that. She won’t ride camels or go down inside pyramids…if visiting an old wheel is how she gets her adventuring in, so be it.

I took her back to the wheel.

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After she convinced herself that she couldn’t turn it we left for the long walk to Attaba. Andrew and I think the walk is interesting—there are pedestrians and scooters and donkey carts and vehicles all streaming through a narrow road while hawkers and vendors crowd the pavement. It’s one cacophonous muddle of confusion. Josie hated every minute of it. I don’t think we’ll be taking her back there.

We took the metro to Sadat, after sifting through some books at the market, and had a nice air conditioned lunch at a restaurant near the American University before visiting the book store. Yes, we did hit up the book market and the book store in the same sentence there. They serve very different purposes, though.

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Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that we did it. That we came here—that we’ve been here for two years! That Andrew finished his master’s degree—with flying colours, I might add. That Rachel will be 3 (!) this summer, that we have another baby, that we’re almost coming home. But it all happened…it’s all real…and soon it will be only a memory. And a diploma. And, you know, Miriam. And…

So it will be more than a memory. It will always be a big part of our life. We can’t wait to get out here again!


  1. I really love your blog, and this has got to be one of your best posts :) Love your description, and oh those photos are just beautiful....

  2. It's funny. I have been following your blog for maybe half a year now and I can swear Rachel looks so grown up lately. Maybe it's the dress, but also Miriam looks different. They are both so cute anyway. Enjoy the time with them and the photos will make sure they won't only be memories :)!