Cairo – Al Qahira – City Victorious Part I
Cairo, Al-Qahira, City Victorious, City of a Thousand Minarets, Islamic Cairo, Fatamid Cairo, Ancient Cairo, New Cairo. “You would be mistaken if you think of Cairo as one city, because it is not”, said Leyla as she deftly changed gears and sped narrowly around the car in front of us, missing it’s bumper by inches, her perfectly matching scarf layers fluttering in the wind. We were in her little car around 11pm, heading back from a day at a villa in a nearby area outside of Cairo. The traffic was horrendous even at that time. We were passing by rows of glitzy shops, BMWs and women coming out of restaurants wearing sequined tops and jeans. This was the New Downtown, she told us. I could have been anywhere in the world, like LA or downtown Manhattan, but every now and then I’d see a man in a Jalabiyya on the street and remember with a little shock that I’m in Egypt.
Ever since leaving New York I’ve been feeling like Alice who fell down into a new world, where nothing is like what she expected. My trip first started out at JFK where as our plane headed to the runway we were told we were 8th in line and would have to wait 50 minutes. After a while the pilot came on and told us that we would have to return to the terminal “because a mother had left her baby behind”! This caused a lot of surprise and shock and a murmur went up in the whole plane, and an older woman in front quipped in Arabic that she could understand leaving her husband behind but not her child! This caused a lot of laughter and I remembered that Egyptians were always known for their good senses of humor. So our plane turned around on the tarmac and we headed towards the terminal. I called my dad from my cell phone and told him to try to email my sister and brother-in-law to tell them I’d be about 2 hours late because of what happened. He said, well you never know about these things, sometimes they tell passengers one thing but really it’s something else. I said, how could they make a story like that up!
All the TV screens were tuned to the camera in front of the plane and a few minutes later, all of a sudden we see 4 or 5 police cars and security vehicles surround the front of the plane effectively stopping us dead on the tarmac. It was like a scene out of a movie. “Uh oh” we all thought. For half a second I was scared there was some kind of hostage situation. But as we waited a long while nothing happened. Finally the pilot came on and said on request of the authorities the “American” mother was taken off the plane and arrested and they were just trying to get her luggage off.
Finally it was taken care of and we headed back and lifted off. The seat next to me was empty but next to that was an Egyptian from Boston. He turned out to be very friendly and helpful and said he was a Halal grocery store owner in Boston and visited Egypt often to see his mother and family. We chatted about Islam in America a little and about educating children as he had two kids back in Boston. Egypt is a wonderful country he said, but the problem is the management. Everyone is corrupt and the country has progressed little even in the last 50 years. They are all waiting for Nasser to die for the country to progress, he said. But the Egyptian people, he said, were great. He told me a little about the famous sites and said he was sure I’d enjoy my trip.
As we neared Egypt, we flew right over Sharm-al-Shaykh, a resort that catered mostly to Westerners. The sea turned into beaches and land and then we flew over green fertile farmlands that had twisting irrigation canals between them until finally I saw buildings upon buildings. From the air it seemed like a metropolis- megapolis. Towns and cities all seemed to merge together, it was endless and huge. Was this all Cairo? Suddenly, it turned into desert and all I saw were dunes and sand hills and then pyramids! There were three perfect pyramids right there underneath us. I was so excited I exclaimed “Pyramids! There are the pyramids!” and the whole plane turned to stare at me and then out their windows. The pilot must have heard me too and came on to tell us we had a nice view of the Giza pyramids to our left. It seemed like we did a perfect arc right around the pyramids and I got one of the most spectacular, amazing views of my life.
As I got off the plane, my new seat companion Omar showed me where to get a visa and helped me get my luggage. We headed out to the receiving area and I introduced him to my family and with a wave he left, saying “Come visit my store in Boston!”
End of part 1