08 August 2007

make war on who you were before.

The first thing that hits you about Cairo is the smell. A less-than-subtle perfume of unwashed flesh, with undertones of feces and decay. It never really goes away, it just comes in waves depending on where you are. Then, you notice the crowdedness. There are more people in Cairo than all of Jordan, and it shows. The streets are packed with honking cars swerving wildly, while people of all ages dart in and out. Vendors shout prices at passersby while small buses yell their destinations at crowds gathered more or less on the side of the road. For a country where chivalry isn't dead, it was just never conceived, the packed alleys of the market are a pervert's fantasy. Hissing, whispering, and the occasional "welcome to Egypt" whispered huskily into your neck from behind, yet somehow the Egyptian men manage to be more vulgar and less threatening than the Jordanians. Maybe it's because they all leer but never touch, whereas most Jordanians merely stare but sometimes touch. It all combines to make the city a sensory overload - the sights, the smell, the sounds. There's no respite.

I'm not sure how I feel about Cairo yet - I think I could grow to like it, find my place here like we've done in Amman, but that won't come easy. It's a fascinating city, but sometimes in that train wreck sort of way. We saw the pyramids and the Egyptian museum with the mummies, as expected, but one particularly exciting highlight was the camel market at Birqash. For about $3, we took an hour and a half bus ride through abject poverty to a walled area outside of Cairo. It wasn't a place where human women often go, so we were quite a hit with the Egyptian and Sudanese men who gather to sell their camels. It was a slow buying day, so they were all eager to chat and take pictures with us (well, me). I highly recommend you take a morning to go out there if you're ever in Cairo. The pyramids are breathtaking, but everyone knows they will be. Venture (far) off the beaten traffic and wade through camel dung for a while to get a very different view of one of the world's oldest civilizations.

Khan al-Khalili is the famous old market in Cairo, and while it's no Fez medina or even Jerusalem, it has a charm all its own. The spices are a welcome respite from the foul smell elsewhere, and the coppersmiths street had a gorgeous selection of pots, pans, vases, and other goods. Cats are still sacred in Egypt, so the strays are quite adorable and well-fed. We stopped for some grilled corn on the cob from two young boys who took a liking to me and brought us an extra one for free. Then we fed the cobs to a donkey pulling a cart of watermelons because we felt sorry for him. The men hanging out on the street were thoroughly amused.

I took a ton of pictures for the first time in a while, so enjoy.

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