If you are a westerner and you go to Egypt, likelier than not, the above photo is the kind of place you would want to go in Egypt (the Giza Pyramids). That is Egypt. Right? The reality is that the Great Pyramids were (in my opinion) one of the least 'Egyptian' things we saw. I have seen Egypt, both the tourist side, and also things that most westerner tourists are either unable to see or just don't want to see. The pyramids are great to see, but after you stand in awe for a little while pondering how they were built (my vote is aliens) you start thinking about the fact that you are standing in the desert, looking at nine piles of rocks, in the heat. So what are these things that I saw that are more interesting than one of the wonders of the world? Allow me to explain.....
Night Life on the street
Egypt is a night culture, for many things it is easier to get your business done at ten at night rather than at ten in the morning, this extends to social life too. While you
find a Starbucks in Cairo it is much better to go to a coffee shop on the street. We were at a cool joint that was right across the street from the wall of the Citadel, we had coffee and tea and played a variant game of dominoes with some of my brothers friends. My big accomplishment (as seen below) I had coffee that I
Sadly I am not a coffee drinker. I really wish I were, I love the smell, but I just don't like the taste. In Cairo however I had what they call "french coffee" essentially it is somewhere between Turkish coffee and a latte. It is one part Turkish coffee (it's the consistency of a fine powder), one part sugar, and one (or two) parts milk. It was good. It was much like a latte, except it wasn't so sweet and large you throw up after. I liked it.
Me and said glass of yummy coffee
The Cave Church
It's a church that's carved into a cave. What more need I say? This church can seat more than 10,000 people, and their weekly attendance is around 7,000 people. This is the coolest church I've ever seen. An open-air design seems like one of the coolest (and most cost effective) ways to build a mega-church. You can find all kinds of info about the Cave Church, and even watch their services broadcast live over the web
The Zabaleen (zabela means trash and usually when you see the "een" on any word it means one who does what the word says) inhabit an area of Cairo known as Garbage (or trash) City. The Zabaleen go into other areas of Cairo and
from the trash piles around Cairo, bring it back to their neighborhood, and recycle it. This is how they survive. When you go to Cairo from a 'clean' western environment you will likely be shocked by the apparent amount of trash in the city. It's everywhere. you will be walking down the sidewalk (ha, if you can find a solid stretch) and there will be a pile of trash, right there in front of you. What you will not find is a trash can. Why? There is no garbage collection like we know. In my life, we have a small collection of trashcans outside where we amass a small stash in wait for Thursday and Friday when the trash truck comes by, gets all our stuff, and takes it to a landfill.
In Cairo however things are different. The Zabaleen come through the city and slowly take away all the trash. They recycle it into useful things, sell said useful things, and survive. As a first world person you would see 'poverty' and think that their lack of stuff/money/or current living conditions make them 'poor'. Really though, the feeling of poverty is not lack of stuff but a position of shame in the community. Surprise be it, these are some of the hardest working and motivated Egyptians I saw. So here are a few photos (documenting their shame isn't a good, kind, or culturally appropriate idea, so I only have a few).
The Recycling Center
So what happens to the trash once the Zabaleen collect it? It goes to be recycled at a center like this one. The specific center we visited is a mission for disadvantaged girls. You are disqualified from working at this specific center if you have an advantage in life, like
living male relative, or having ever had
day of school. So these girls take trash, cloth or paper scraps, and er-make the paper, or turn it into jewelry, they make quilts, stuffed animals, and all kinds of other things. What they make is beautiful, and it provides them a living. This is recycling done right. It's sustainable.
The Kahn El-Khalili is a cultural experience that should not be missed. If you want to step into another time period, this is the place for you. If you have seen the movie
, it was based in part on the Khan. The Khan is a market with (I assume) thousands of shops. You can buy anything from bling for your car, to spices by the pound. When you first get to the Khan you are in the tourist area, the hawkers will attack you (almost) trying to get you to buy their wares. Many will cheat you on the price if you don't barter correctly. This is not the fun part of the Khan. If you have the courage and fortitude to make it to the backside of the Khan, through the shops, over the street, you get into the
Khan. Where the locals are. You find spice stores, cloth shops, people making hats (the guy in the photo below even let me make one), I even had a barber ask (this time from
his shop) if I needed a hair cut. Once you get to the backside it is like you are in another time period,
is the Egypt worth touring.
The 'other' side
As you sit, likelier than not, in the comfort of your first world home, remember this. The other day I posted ye old postcard photo of the Citadel. Pretty, no? It is a nice view, but if you look from another view, you see the need that is so abundant in the city, and in the rest of the world. People hurt, people need. This is Egypt.