A Home-coming, of sorts ...

It was good to be back in a country where the call to prayer was a part of my day.  It felt like a homecoming of sorts ... although the excessive quiet of my Belgian life had made me forget just how noisy a big city could be.

I fell into a coma-like sleep that first Cairo night but my travelling companion had no such luck, and no mp3 player.  Apparently the market below us went on until 3 or 4 in the morning, writes this laughing woman.

Life was lived in a surreal style there.
I learned that I will probably travel to Israel and Palestine, with a return to Cairo in January, and it seems that I will be needed for 3 months in Berlin at the end of 2009 ... do you see how it is?

The siren that police use to alert other drivers of their presence seems to be a novelty item at the market below.  Stunningly noisy ... all through the night.  Always pack your mp3 player when staying in a hotel like mine in downtown Cairo.

I made a recording ... and on playback, I hear the call to prayer, quite loudly, as if windows are open but really the mosque was very close. 

Then I hear this tired woman say at the end of the call to prayer recording,  ‘5.10am Cairo’ as she laughs quietly. 
I went back to sleep.

Hearing it still makes me laugh.

One of 'those' Visa Moments.

Flying toward Cairo, imagining all my research thoroughly done, I slept for a while ...

I woke to find two blank forms on the empty seat next to me, to be filled out in preparation for passing through Customs.

I dug out a pen and started working on them.  Suddenly there was this ‘moment’ ... one of those heart-stopping ones.  The questionnaire asked me to write the country I had purchased my visa in.

I hadn’t, instead I had read, on all the best websites, that you purchased a visa on landing.

Oddly enough, it made the flight a little bit longer, wondering what would happen if this New Zealander was caught trying to enter Egypt without a visa.  How stupid would that seem ...

Cairo Airport knocked me off-balance after the frozen 4am departure from down-town Antwerpen, the sanitised high-tech ride through a snowy Zurich airport.  Arrivals was my first taste of the big Middle Eastern city; the muggy heat and the exchange rate for the Egyptian pound only added to the surreal nature of my journey however ...  I joined one of the many queues leading to the banks where you purchased your visa and exchanged euro for pounds, so quietly thankful.

To give you an idea, the exchange rate at the moment is 1 EUR = 7.78750 EGP
My 50 euro became approximately 390 Egyptian pounds, a difference I never really managed to get during my 5 days in the city.

At the end of my first full day in Cairo

At the end of my first full day in Cairo I returned to my room at the Carlton Hotel, not to be mistaken for the Ritz Carlton.  My bed was the place I retreated to at the end of the day.  A place of peace where I could replay the day and its unfolding.

There was the photography, as always ... my client, her Egyptian film-maker, the gallery owner and then Cairo herself on that first day.  The Egyptian Museum stunned me with its collections of mummies ... pharaohs from the 18 to 20th Dynasty found in Thebes. There was a group found in Deir el Bahari cachette, and it consisted of the mummies of: Seqenenre, Ahmose I, Amenhotep I, Tuthmosis I, Tuthmosis II, Tuthmosis III, Seti I, Ramses II, Ramses III.  Another group, found in the tomb of Amenhotep II ... Amenhotep II, Tuthmosis IV, Amenhotep III, Merenptah, Seti II, Siptah, Ramses IV, Ramses V, Ramses VI, (and three women and a child.)

Magical names I thought myth ...

And there was me, strolling through this massive museum near the Nile, passing by artefacts so ancient that I couldn’t begin to grasp the time that had passed between them and now. 

A note: if you need a little respite from Cairo’s carbon monoxide, the museum has filtered air and was a little oasis of calm but for the fact that I was surrounded by the likes of Amenhotep the I and II.  The corselet and a gameboard belonging to Tutankhamon were there ...

The Lonely Planet had recommended our hotel but promised nothing extraordinary, a place to sleep, friendly staff, a rooftop restaurant and cleanish rooms.

We found the staff friendly and helpful and there was a sense of family amongst those who took care of us.  The elevator was old but seemed to work perfectly.

We amused the night manager by asking to see the fire escape.  He led us out back and pointed to the spiral metal stairs disappearing up into the narrow alleyway darkness but failed to mention the padlocked fire escape door we noticed when we were up in the roof restaurant for the view.  I’m sure there’s a contingency plan but we were put off asking anything more because he laughed and gently tease us about the fire escape whenever he saw us after that.

I always struggle with the initial restrictions of other countries ... in this instance, don’t drink the tap water, avoid ice in drinks, and salads washed in tap water.  I ended up settling for a hunk of tender roast sheep with a little rice for lunch, lentil soup and rice for my dinners.

The noise was a constant, a market on the street directly below .. I’m glad I packed my mp3 player.

But that was the day when I began to love my Cairo life.

Cairo December 2008 - From my balcony in downtown Cairo ...

I felt an incredible overwhelming of the senses as the taxi flew through the (far too) long underground traffic tunnel taking me to downtown Cairo ... the driver completely ignoring the 50km speed limit, then calmly settling down to wait, windows open, as we were caught in the middle of the tunnel’s 3km length with carbon monoxide choking us.

I noticed that Cairo drivers talk to each other via their car horns ... a gentle reminder they are there, that they want to change lanes and anything else that needs discussing out there on the road.

I hadn’t known what to expect ... perhaps Istanbul but the only similarity to Istanbul was only that it was so different to most of my everyday life.

Later, I read that Cairo has some 17 million people in the metropolitan area and is the sixteenth most populous metropolitan areas in the world ... a busy city indeed.

It was full of people and pollution and when I looked round, from my 6th floor balcony, I could see this layer of rubble and dust on rooftops.

The first 48 hours was challenging in almost every way.
Challenging but it was oh so excellent to be out again.