This was a Egyptian fast food restaurant chain near where we stayed in Cairo. The cashiers were helpful, prices were set, and the food was delicious. We ate every meal we could here. We didn’t have to worry about separate pricing. We also got the same treatment that everyone else did. We ordered our food and waited for our number. What made the experience even better was people in here just wanted to help. We couldn’t understand the Arabic numbers, and almost every time someone helped me listen for my number. I enjoyed the array of vegetarian options. Sharleen loved the mousaka. Although we got this to go every time, it came in a clay pot …. Awesome! Kylie enjoyed the lentil soup and Alyssa often selected the chicken rosy. This fast food place was a not-so-hidden-gem that we were lucky to find.
The Citadel was the capital of Egypt during the Islamic Era. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it offered insight into the non-pharaonic age of Egypt. It was a giant fortress on a hill with commanding views of the city. Sharleen and I went there 17 years ago and were excited to return.
Within the citadel was the Muhammad Ali Mosque. Built in the 1830s, it provides stunning interior beauty and acoustics. While appreciating the interior, the muezzin came out and sang the afternoon call to prayer. In stead of hearing the call through tin speakers blocks away, the beautiful voice of the muezzin could be heard reverberating off the walls and domes.
Tour groups came and went as their guide explained how services worked. We had conversations of our own: “Why do the women have to sit in the back?” Alyssa asked. She was already miffed about the restrictive dress code and thought it highly unfair that women were treated so differently. Ironically, in the front of the mosque was a sign about all the special rights and privileges that Islam had bestowed upon women as well has their equality of souls.
- A woman in Islam has no financial obligations. She should always be financially secure and provided for.
- A woman in Islam has the right to dispose of her own earnings and property as she pleases without any guardianship over her.
- A woman in Islam has the right to accept, reject, and even make marriage proposals; her consent is necessary for the validity of marriage.
- A woman in Islam has the right to seek divorce or to divorce herself directly from her husband.
- A woman in Islam may work, have a profession, or run a business, provided her integrity and honor is safeguarded. Lady Khadija, the prophets wife, was a successful businesswoman.
- A woman in Islam is required to observe the Hijab (public dress code), which ensures both protection and respectability for women. The Hijab is worn solely with the intention of pleasing God by dressing and behaving as God ordained. Likewise, in public, a Muslim man is required to dress modestly and lower his gaze.
- As a mother, a woman enjoys a higher recognition and honor in the Sight of God than fathers. As a daughter, she is viewed as a bounty; raising a daughter well is designated as a special reward not granted for having a son — Paradise. How she is treated as a wife is the measure of her husbands character. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his wife.”
- Finally, Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) directive, “Do not break the vessels of glass!” (Sahih Muslim) draws men’s attention to women’s gentle nature and obliges them to treat all women kindly and considerately.
Our conversation was lively. Alyssa actively claimed her own rights and didn’t need anybody “granting” anything. However, she frequently made appeals to a greater sense of justice which showed that she had trouble seeing outside of her own fishbowl. Too many people claim their justice is absolute. In reality, it appears to be relative from country to country, which makes navigating issues of right and wrong complicated.
Other attractions in the citadel were the police museum and a military museum.
We also visited the Mosque of Al Nasir Mohammed Ibn Qalaun. This was built in 1335 long before the Muhammad Ali Mosque (build in 1830). It served as the sultanate where the sultans of Cairo performed their Friday prayers.
Khan Al Khalili
No visit to Cairo could be complete without a visit to the Khan Al Khalili. It was a different place than it was 17 years ago. There was a clear tourist area selling tourist stuff. The streets were 80% empty and the shop owners were far less pushy or hungry for business. We walked around a bit and decided to leave the tourist area and explore the local area.
“Come into my shop and let me separate you from your money”
“I don’t know what you want, but it is in my shop”
“China China China”
“Amigo, esta aqui”
These were some of the things we heard as we were swept down the central alleyway.
The road narrowed and it became a torrent of people moving. It was like being caught in a riptide. Ride the current or fight it. We were walking back to our hotel so we decided to ride it. Like salmon spawning, people were pushing and touching and moving in and out. Hands were everywhere. We were pushed and poked as people tried to hustle through with large packages and bundles. Hand carts forced people into the sides and into narrower channels of movement. On several occasions I felt hands go into my pockets. We got out on to the street where things opened up a bit, but it was still chaotic. A woman in hijab stepped in front of me and kept slowing down looking at nothing. I changed direction around a vendor and continue down the street trying to hold Kylie’s hand and keeping Alyssa in view. I looked down and my side zipper to my valuables was open. I zipped it up and verified my valuables were still there. We pressed ahead. The woman appeared again in front of me. This time there were four other woman in hijabs bumping into me and separated me from Kylie. I tried to get through the morass, I felt a hand and my value pouch slide out of my pocket. I looked around and 4-5 women with hijabs looked at me. There were no children running off. No one ran everyone around me stopped and looked at me. All my $USD cash for the reminder of our trip and credit cards were gone. My mind flashed. Should I grab the women and search them? What would the consequences be if I grabbed the wrong one and found nothing?
We used some of our Egyptian pounds that weren’t stolen to get a taxi back to the hotel. In full panic mode we tried desperately to cancel credit cards and report ATM cards stolen. Thankfully our amazing friend Trang and family who were able to help with this; however, with no $USD cash left for the remainder of the trip we had to evaluate whether or not it was possible to continue. We didn’t even have enough for our visa fee to our next destination that departs in two days. Everyone was shaken, especially me. Kylie told me that she saw a hand go into someone elses’ jacket pocket and a red wallet was removed, so we weren’t alone. But that wasn’t much comfort. It was a substantial loss and a major blow to our trip plans.
All the vigilance, all the penny scraping, meals skipped, tours bypassed, all the forgone opportunities to save money for later….wasted in a moment. I was inconsolable.
It was a restless night and we had twelve hours to kill before our flight to Zimbabwe. I wanted the girls to learn about papyrus. We found a papyrus shop. In there I asked if we could pay a little to see how papyrus was made. We had 40 Egyptian pounds and the shopkeeper Saleh agreed. Kylie and Alyssa were fascinated with the process. Papyrus was the first paper on the planet. However, its manufacture was secret to the pharaohs and scribes. When the the pharaonic dynasties fell, the secret fell with them. The art of making papyrus was lost to antiquity. Dr. Ragab, was determined to find the secret. He harvested papyrus reeds from Sudan and Ethiopia and went to work. In 1966 he had a break through and rediscovered how to make papyrus paper. He opened institutes and spread the knowledge. Now, papyrus is grown on farms in the delta and harvested. It is sold to art institutes so modern renditions of traditional art can be made.
We explained to Saleh what happened the previous day and that we couldn’t buy the art in his store. He gave us a papyrus sheet of paper that had been made without drawing and gave each of us a small bead. “I hope that the one percent of bad people don’t change your perspective of the 99 percent good people here in Egypt.” It was a small gesture, but it had a lot of meaning. It was what we needed to finish our trip in Egypt.
Bad things happen and there are bad people in the world. It becomes more difficult to see the goodness in people, cultures, and societies when victimized by bad people of those different cultures and societies. Saleh, with his simple gesture lifted me up just enough out of a black hole to remember the many good people we met along the way.
If you find yourself in Cairo visit Scarabe 32 Mahmoud Bassiouni st Talaat Harb Sq. Saleh is a good guy!