Living Off the Nile


November 23rd, 2010 by asmetana · 4 Comments

I went to the Citadel of Salah al-Dina few weekends ago with two friends. This citadel was used to defend against the Crusaders. Inside the imposing wall’s surrounding the Citadel’s complex are the Mohammad Ali Mosque, museums, and other buildings. The Mohammad Ali Mosque and the view of Cairo from the area around the mosque were both amazing.

The most memorable part of the trip there was the group of school girls that were enthralled by us. They descended enthusiastically upon me first when I was in the courtyard near the entrance to the interior of the mosque, asking me where I was from, what my name was, how did I like Egypt. Then they wanted to take pictures with me, and would pose with me as their friend would use their cell phone to take a picture.

This is the first time that this had happened to me in Egypt and it reminded me a lot of my trip to China. In China whenever I traveled to a tourist destination, at least four people at some point would ask me for a photo, sometimes insisting that I make peace/victory sign with my fingers.

After my photo shoot, they entered the mosque, while I took some time to admire the courtyard some more. When I decided to go inside the mosque, I saw that they had already encircled my friend, bombarding her with questions, smiles, and cameras.

I went went around them to explore the mosque.

After a few minutes, I noticed that the girls had settled down near one of the walls. They waved me over, so I went to them. They invited me to sit and then offered me some chips and soda, which I accepted. As I went to return the soda to the girl after a quick sip she insisted that I keep it despite my resistance, and looked on shyly at me after I took it. They asked me more questions and then the boldest one asked my to find my friends and have them join us. At first my friends were reluctant to join, but finally gave in. One thing we talked about was hobbies. Most of the girls had the same three hobbies; reading, writing, and computer games. Computer games? I found this one the most intriguing and unexpected. They all expect to go to university. Some do not know what they want to do in the future, but there were some potential doctors and engineers in the group.

They all go to an English speaking school in either Ma’adi or Mohandiseen, I don’t recall exactly. Foreign language schools are very common in Cairo, at least for those that can afford it. English, French, and German are the three most popular language schools. There are at least 64 of English language schools in Cairo. My friend’s mother went to an English school as a child in Zamalek, close to where I live. She was saying that the quality of her school decreased a lot in the past few years, and that the quality of the other language schools have decreased  as well. These schools are turning more into business than schools. They care more about the profit than then actual quality of the students’ education and the quality of the teachers. These schools will hire teachers that are native speakers in the given language, but perhaps ones that are not trained to be teachers or do not have sufficient knowledge in the topic that they are teaching.

After ten or so minutes of talking with the school girls, their school teacher called out to them to leave. We said our good-byes and continued on our separate ways.

After leaving the Citadel, we went to Khan al-Khalili, the souq or market. I tried bargaining for a bag, but that day I was terrible at bargaining and so I did not get it since the seller would not reduce the price enough. The problem with me and bargaining is that sometimes I am just too cheerful when I begin the bargaining process. When I try to lower the price they think I am joking or am not serious about the price I’m suggesting. Also, I let my desire for the bag show too much, which was a mistake since he knew I wanted it and assumed I would pay more for it. His mistake.  I just left, knowing that there were many other people selling the exact same thing and I could come back to the market some other time.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • Bsmetana // Nov 25th 2010 at 8:53 am

    Hi Amy

    reply to your post , I was glad to spent 10 days with you in Egypt see your school and travel to Luxor and Alexandria and meeting local people and see a country history of Egypt and other things especially traffic and streets selling stuff stores and restaurants and hassling by local people first 2-3 days was a shock to me as American who was answering their question “were you from” I am from Czech Republic since i have cap form Prague did not want to tell them from USA since Czechoslovakia and Egypt were before friends during previous socialistic regime and i am original from Czechoslovakia.
    Was surprised how many young people are in Egypt saw only few older people on the streets since since we older generation have a big handicap there hard to cross a street sidewalks are dangerous walking not fixed and street curbs are to high to cross over them if you have knee or medical problems.
    Train ride was an experience older trains but we could see a country side by Nile.
    We saw a squash tournament there by Luxor temple and it was beautiful and also Egyptian player win it was amazing to see best in a world players in this Luxor tournament.
    Well here are mine few point views on ancient and present Egypt.

  • asmetana // Dec 3rd 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing 🙂 Glad you got the chance to come visit me and my life here.

  • Elisa // Nov 28th 2010 at 2:32 am

    Hi Amy,
    Happy Thanksgiving! (a bit late, sorry … but it’s the first time i’ve been on my computer in a while).

    Your travels sound really neat, especially getting to talk to some of the “locals.” I’m curious about one thing: among the Egyptians in/around Cairo, do all of the women (& girls?) veil? I noticed the schoolgirls in your picture were veiled, but not the tourists in the background, that’s what made me ask. But I think I remember an earlier post where you wrote about a certain club/group where all the women veiled, and another one where they didn’t? Do you or other foreigners veil at all to fit in, say if you’re visiting a mosque or some other religious place? On a normal street in the city or the university, do you feel out of place for not veiling? Another UMW friend I know had visited Egypt for a few days and she said she felt very uncomfortable there as a women & a foreigner, and I think she was wearing a veil at the time to fit in more. Sorry for all the questions … I’m just curious what you think about all this. Hope you’re doing well!

  • asmetana // Dec 3rd 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Hi Elisa, since you ask a lot of very good questions, I will write an answer in a post. I hope you are doing well too 🙂