Private: Tales from Cairo

Well, its midnight on a Saturday night and I am sitting in an internet cafe in downtown Cairo listening to a chorus of honking horns for one reason…..

….there is very little to do!

Call me crazy, but I have a nose for finding the craic in a new place. I must have walked 10KM all over the downtown area of this place looking for somewhere to shake my white behind to Arab music, and I failed miserably. I even got so desperate as to come back to my new hostel, Liyaly in Talaat Harb Square, and ask the guy there where people go to party. Without hesitation, he pointed me down one of the sidestreets that I had not yet explored and said that there was a strip of “clubs” down there where everyone goes…”great fun”.

Im thinking, that must be it! I set off with a spring in my step and rounded the corner into the area that he described. About 5 stray cats preceeded my entrance, scurrying down the dark street in front of me…they didnt seem as surprised as I was.

It was one big Ahwa. If you do not know what an Ahwa is, let me describe. It is a collection of folding tables set out on the street, white plastic chairs, no music, and a bunch of toothless, aging Arab men sitting around smoking shisha and flapping their brown gums. If there had been music, it would have stopped when I entered, as every head in the place turned to look my direction. It is safe to say that the “ratio” was pretty bad – 94 men and 0 women. Needless to say, this was not my idea of a party and if this was all that this city of 9 million has to offer me, then so be it…I will get my culture injection and move on! There are places in the Lonely Planet, but most are quite a distance away from the city centre, so an expensive and hassle-filled taxi is required.

I can tell that Cairo is one of those places that will grow on you, for better or worse. Like a tumor. My plan is not to be here long enough for that to happen. For any SE Asia travelers, imagine Bangkok, add even more pollution, pushier touts and taxis (YES, Im serious), and take away the friendly jai dee Thai smiles….that is Cairo. (without the lady-boys of course!) 🙂

Today, I visited the Egypt museum. The place is gargantuan and filled with fascinating history. Unfortunately to view that history, you have to endure a little taste of modern Egypt. There are almost as many cops there as visitors, and 2 security checkpoints that include X-ray machines and pat-downs, airport style. Once you get through those queues, us non-students pay $10 to enter. If you want to see the mummies, which is a key attraction, you have to pay an additional $20 to enter the room! For being one of the most important museums in the world, the place is surprisingly low-tech. Many of the pieces sit dusty, under dim fluorescent lighting unlabeled, or when they are, its a tiny piece of aging-yellow paper with incorrect English. It is possible to hire a guide for about $10 an hour as well, but that can get quite expensive given the size of the place. I wandered about for an entire afternoon, but after a while all the ancient stones begin to look the same, as there is no explanation or graphical help anywhere. The place is almost like a big, dimly lit warehouse filled with priceless treasures scattered about. Slightly dissapointing, but a must anyway if you are in Cairo.

I have learned 2 new things about life in Cairo. One, drivers will honestly make an effort to kill you. They do the same to locals I have seen, so it has nothing to do with my skin. There are no crosswalk systems (not that they would be obeyed anyway) and so any time you venture a big toe into the street, you are taking your life into your own hands. I had to cross 8 lanes of mad traffic to get to the museum, and not a single soul stopped, in fact, they speed up! I learned that the only way to ensure a half-way safe crossing is to cross in a group of locals…and make sure you are in the middle of the pack!

Now, for the non-politically correct statement of the century. Hey, its my blog…I can piss off whoever I want, right? MANY EGYPTIAN MEN ARE SEXIST PIGS. I have never, in any country, seen such open disrespect and disgusting treatment toward women. The women here, both local and travelers, scurry about like insects, with their heads down, afraid to look above knee level, as they run the gauntlet of hisses, grabbing hands, and sexual passes. The men will literally hiss as a woman (it does not matter the age or level of attractiveness) walk by, and some will change direction or cross the street just to walk behind her as far as possible to check out the goods. It does not seem to matter what age the men are, when I was eating today, a Western woman came in and sat alone, and literally half the old men in the place turned their chairs to sit and face her as she ate. I have developed a disgust for these guys, and a very high respect for any woman that is brave enough to travel here, including my friend Miro that lived in Egypt for a year. Maybe thats why these guys are always shouting (I have seen many pushing-matches in the street that would have developed into fights had there not been 20 police officers in the area) and wanting to kill each other – are they really that sexually frustrated because of their beliefs?

OK, no more negative posts, I promise. I have tried to upload pictures several times and only succeeded in getting 5 online due to shabby access. I will try again soon. Tomorrow, Im off to Giza and the pyramids, I cant wait!

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