Wednesday, November 4, 2009

kindness in Cairo

Our plane got in at 2 am and we were zealots about not paying for a hotel room for half the night, so we stumbled out of the Cairo airport into the Islamic heart of this capital city. With our rolling bags in tow, we explored through alleys lined with vendors who apparently never sleep. We came upon Fish-Awy, a famous old café where we sipped mint tea and pomegranate juice and breathed in the city among the glowing lamps that might've had genies inside.

We spent the first day handling all sorts of business - train tickets, student identity cards, visas. Our first evening, after a night and day with no sleep, we went to a show of Egyptian ‘Sufis.’ It was more of a song and dance show for tourists, but nonetheless it was a sensory feast. The men in colorful costumes whirled and spun as the musicians sang and drummed behind them. As a religious practice, this is meant to induce a trance-like state where the dancer becomes closer to god. This, however, was more acting than trancing.

We then spent the day in modern Cairo, visiting all of the most holy and beautiful mosques and wandering the vibrant and welcoming streets. I can’t articulate how much I love the people here. As we walk through the streets, we are constantly greeted with “welcome to Egypt” or “welcome to Cairo” - which I think is an absolutely lovely sentiment to share with guests. When encountering people who are curious about us, I often smile or wave to them, which unfailingly elicits a goofy and interested grin.

The people here are unendingly generous. When waiting for an office to open, we sat on the steps outside. A woman came out of her home and said to us, “I see that you are waiting and I would like to make some tea for you.” Shocked and somewhat unclear of her motives, we agreed, and planned to wait and see how this situation would turn out. We were bewildered when she brought us tea, sugar and biscuits on a silver platter and told us that she was leaving for work and that we could leave the dishes with her son. This rare and wonderful commitment to hospitality is something we haven’t witnessed to this extent anywhere in the world. Wow, welcome to Egypt indeed.

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