Just spent my last last bit of cairene daylight. I got out there sort of late (nearly 14:30), but passed a very pleasant few hours wandering the alleys of Khan al-Khalili. It’s taken a bit, but I’m finally relaxing and enjoying the charm of the city and the people more. My difficulty with it initially is that as a tourist, you spend so much time fending off the hustling that it’s too easy to just keep quiet and not chat back.
The thing is, it’s quite safe here. You’re unlikely to get mugged, or to fall victim to crime so long as you take the usual precautions. But since everyone’s always asking for your money or attention, and because the notion of personal space is very different here, it’s very easy to presume the worst.
Took a cab over to Khan al-Khalili today, and the driver was a pleasant fellow and surprisingly mellow motorist. He suggested the Sufi dance demonstration tonight over near the Citadel — instead I’m resting up a bit before heading out for one final meal at Abu el-Sid in Zamalek. I’d planned to take the Lonely Planet-suggested walking tour of Islamic Cairo, but found it nearly impossible to navigate by their map – not necessarily their fault, I think trying to map the serpentine alleys is nearly impossible.
After wandering for about 30 minutes I found Naguib Mahfouz’s old ahwa haunt Fishwari’s. I passed a very nice hour or so there, talking with a couple from France & Canada, and then with two gentlemen from Cairo. One of them had been married to an american woman, and had spent some time living in the states (the flatlands of Missouri!), so he had a pretty good frame of reference. His friend enjoyed his sheesha, while I consumed some mint shai, and then some ahwa. We talked about how men and women relate differently to one another in each of the cultures, and how people are much more prone to touch one another (platonically) than in America. Men will walk together arms locked, and kiss each other upon greeting.
After draining my drink, I wandered around Khan al-Khalili for another couple of hours, before stopping into the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe for tamiyya, taboula, and some delicious fresh mango juice. I’m pretty sure I’ve gained more than five pounds while here – between not working out and eating/drinking all of this good stuff. I’ll need to get back into form when I get home …
As I was walking this afternoon, I realized how much I’ll miss the vibrant market and rich smells you find there. I hope I can remember them – it’s something that’s definitely unique to this part of world (at least in my experience).
Riding back to the hotel was another lunatic fringe experience … the driver accelerated into the narrowest spaces yet … traffic in front would stop, and he’d speed up to make sure he ended up with the advantage. It approached the high-speed truck slalom for thrills.