29 January 2011

A Prairie Girl in Cairo

View from our hotel (taken by Shelly)
Watching the protests in Cairo unfold, I've been thinking a lot about my trip there in the summer of 2001. The photo above is of Tahrir Square, with the Egyptian Museum in the background. It was taken by my tentmate on the trip, Shelly, from the hotel where our group stayed for a couple of nights before heading west into the Sahara. The Square has become somewhat of an epicenter for the protests in Cairo.

We stayed at Ismailia House Hotel, alongside some interesting folks. I can still vividly picture us eating our "continental breakfast" of hard-boiled egg, sweet pancakes, and tea in the common room. A young German man sat on the couches opposite me. He didn't speak English, and things were a bit awkward. All of us were trying hard not to stare with wide eyes at the tattoo of a swastika on his neck.

To get to the entrance of the hotel, we walked down an alley and either climbed a few stairs or got into a tiny elevator with a young boy. He would manually latch the elevator gates behind us and take us up to the hotel as long as we had a little "backshish" as a tip.

Although there were traffic lights in the square, not a single car obeyed them, so crossing the street was a bit like playing Frogger. With the guidance of our trip leader who had been to Cairo many times, we would start walking across the street and have faith that the cars would dodge us. If you hesitated at all, you would get a hasty beeping-at. It was up to the cars to dodge you. Needless to say, most cars had a healthy amount of dings. From the hostel, we could hear a near-constant serenade of beeps day and night.

We woke up in the wee hours the last morning of our stay to take a bus to Siwa. We could hear the early-morning prayers at nearby mosques and spotted a few street vendors readying their goods in the alley below. One of them with a wooden crate full of flat bread.

It's hard to know the details of what's going on since the government has cut off all internet and mobile phone service. Egypt is in my thoughts and I'm hoping the damage is not too extensive. Although, photos like this one of Tahrir Square are not all that reassuring.


  1. Thank you for sharing your memories of Cairo...it's hard to believe that it's been almost 10 years since our trip. One thing that surprises me the most is that I cannot overlay the images I have in my mind with what I see on TV...yes, the KFC looks familiar and the Cairo Museum, and the traffic circle. However, I never thought I'd see these events unfold in my lifetime...or ever.

    Although my memories of Cairo are bittersweet due to being molested while walking through the bazaar, there are the subtler things that I remember fondly. Dodging crazy cab drivers while trying to cross the circle...only to find out that there's a tunnel underneath it at the end of our stay, eating Mujadarrah for the first time from the take-out restaurant near our hotel, being escorted by those two Egyptian guys for the afternoon of shopping in Cairo, and wandering the treasures of the Cairo Museum (even though we thought we'd be escaping the heat).

    The experience I had in Cairo has remained with me and I had always hoped I'd have an opportunity to go back before our 10 year anniversary. However, as I watch the news, I know that things will never be back to what they were, and it makes me sad.

    Cairo is like no other place I've ever been (for good or bad) and I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit such a crazy, yet beautiful, place.

  2. Thanks so much for writing all this! So nice to be reminded of some of the things I've forgotten about (although, definitely haven't forgotten about the whole being molested thing.) PS - who is this? :)