I wasn’t sure if I should go to Cairo, because of the amount of work I need to do. Only time will tell me if I made a good decision. But I had a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Because I am so busy, I also wasn’t sure if I would have time to write about my trip to Cairo. But I saw and experienced too much to stay quiet. In total, I plan on writing two posts. One now, and hopefully, one when I obtain more photos and videos. In this post, I want to just discuss the lasting memories and impressions I have of a large, impressive city and community.
When we arrived in Cairo, we didn’t know what to expect. But our bus pulled up to a Palace. No joke, a Palace built in 1869 by Khedive Isma’il Pasha to host Napoleon III. The hotel is purely amazing, with unbelievable beauty and architecture. When we arrived, we noticed police sniffing dogs, a locked gate and total security. We knew we would be pampered and safe. And we were pampered and safe.
Yet we were encouraged by our Egyption Fulbright hosts to explore. They insisted that Zamalek, the island we were on, was safe. And it was! But of course, we occasionally pushed the boundaries. We were also told to not fear the demonstrations too much. That they are “nice” demonstrations. That in between burning police cars, they will let the visitors or non-protesters pass by or encourage us to go around.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first talk about the conference and organized trips we were on.
Every Fulbrighter gave a 15 min talk. We were supposed to discuss our research and experiences (both good and bad) about our Fulbright. They set us around a table with fancy name tags. You can see my fancy nametag and my panel of four “Medical Sciences” speakers with Liz (our host) below. All in all, the talks were extremely interesting, at a level everyone can understand. But occasionally (about 10%), they were dull, boring, and not general enough. Still, I learned a thing or two and enjoyed the amount of learning in the room.
Outside of these discussions, we took tiyulim around Cairo. The first was to Marc Seiver’s house, the Deputy Chief of Mission (basically the vice-ambassador). There we had a wonderful banquet and met Fulbright alumni that previously travelled from Egypt to America. Various people were interested in my project, and maybe we will continue the discussion later.
After the banquet, I needed to get out, so I convinced two people to walk home with me from Marc Seiver’s house. Somehow, I convinced them to divert off of the main road, and we ventured down an alley/road with several shops. Eventually, we found P.S. Café. Of course, I struck up a conversation with people sitting next to our table and found wonderful people from Holland (our Dutch friends) studying Arabic in Cairo. We engaged in profound discussion that lasted hours. After a while, I saw this cute 2 year old girl playing in the street (around midnight). I needed to say hello. I met her, her father, and her uncle. It ended up that the Uncle was the owner of the Café and he insisted on buying me a drink. Strawberry Juice, YUM! And thank you. If you ever want juice or shisha in Cairo, go to P.S. Café.
The next day’s tiyul was to a “light and sound show” at the Pyramids of Giza. The flashy lights and sounds were a joke. It seemed like it was one of those cheesy laser shows from the 90’s, and the show was never updated. I actually found it comical. Unfortunately this took away from the awe-inspiring and stunning image of the pyramids. We were not able to go up to the pyramids at night, only look from afar.
On the way home, we saw people dancing in the street (after returning to Zamalek but before our hotel). With our host Michelle’s help, we quickly recognized it as a Nubian wedding. We stopped the bus, and four of us jumped off (abandoning the bus, so we walked afterwards) to join in dancing at the wedding. Honestly, the joy at this wedding was uncontrollable. To see so many people happy in the impoverished streets of Cairo was amazing. I spoke to several English speakers who were distant relatives of the couple.
One of them asked, “What do you think of our wedding?”
I answered, “Incredible, amazing, and full of joy.”
He responded, “Yes. Poor and joy, that is our wedding”
I corrected him, “Look at their love. That only pours into us at this moment. In this moment, we are rich. We are rich with their joy. There is no money right now, only happiness. And enjoy the richness of this joy.”
He responded, “Wow. You are right. I never thought like that. You are smarter than me.”
Then he asked me to repeat my words of Torah to him again.
I shot a video of the dancing and the couple (the bride in all white appears in the middle of the film with her husband). The men all in white are the groomsmen, dancing and singing through the whole celebration. They sing in their ancient tongue which is not Arabic.
The next tiyul was a Coptic tour of Egypt. We saw two churches, one synagogue, and one mosque in old Cairo. Unfortunately our tour guide, who is an art historian at the university, was inconsistent with her facts. Typically she would try to give dates that could range over 900 years, and then state that we don’t really know. Maybe something was lost in translation. But we saw interesting pieces of art and architecture.
On our way home, we passed this demonstration (video not taken by me, but by an Egyptian news source):
The video seems to have been shot about 10 min after our bus passed. You can see early in the video, the demonstrators let other cars pass; they are really only interested in the single police car (the one on fire). I personally saw them shaking the car, but I didn’t see it on fire. We turned to avoid the demonstration but got within 20 yards. We never left our bus to see this up close.
Finally, we ended everything with an evening cruise on the Nile. This was probably the best meal I had in Cairo, and I got to do some dancing (or at least one swing dance). Then there was a display for the tourists of bad belly dancing and some other kind of gimmicky dance. It was fun at first but repetitive after a while. I just found myself on the deck enjoying the views instead. After the cruise, we met up with our Dutch friends again, and once again engaged in amazing discussion.
The next day, I went to the Egyptian museum to look at mummies (over 4000 years old), wedding contracts (over 5000 years old), and other ancient items. On our way to and from the museum we had to pass the area where the demonstration had been the night before. We didn’t even realize it until we returned.
All in all, it was an amazing trip. But what really made the trip was engaging with all the people. Most of all, I will remember the people such as our Dutch friends, the wedding spectators/family, other Fulbrighters, and the others I met in Cairo. Thank you for an amazing journey.