Well, it is 1:30 am and I need to leave for the airport at 3 and sleep is not happening. Friday night in Cairo is NOT a quiet place (neither in the streets nor my hostel). So, I’ll do one last update before I leave. Word of advice, consider the overnight train rather than a 5am flight if you’re going to Aswan or Abu Simbel, I suspect you’ll get more sleep on the train!
T, C, and I (T and C are two of the students studying arabic who want to work for their respective countries’s various 3-letter-acronym government branches) had decided to go downstairs to the shops on our street around 8:30pm for us to shop for more conservative clothes (headscarf for me, long-sleeve tunics for all of us). The only long sleeve stuff I have is really heavy weight and no fun at all to wear in this heat. The shops really get going around 8pm on Friday night. Then we were joined by H, the aussie guy, and instead of walking around we found ourselves in a cab going to the main bazaar, Kahn-El Khalili. H is the kind of guy who fun follows and bad things never seem to happen. Despite my not wanting to go that far because of my middle of the night flight … oh well, we were off…
But I have to say, it was a great great adventure. The roads were PACKED at that time of night but after about 10-15 minutes we got there. I could not believe how busy the place was. First we went off in the direction of the bazaar which is meant more for locals. The passageway was REALLY narrow and it was jammed with people. Shopkeepers constantly call out to you to come in. I was largely in the lead, but we kept doing reconnaissance to make sure we were all together. H, the only guy of the group, kept stopping to talk to people when he was approached. That’s a HUGE difference between men and women. A wise woman ignores anyone who speaks to her. A guy has more luxury to talk. He’ll still have people try to sell stuff, but H was pretty good at chatting and yet not buying.
I was looking out for shops run by women (almost none) but eventually stopped at one that didn’t have a man running it. However, the woman and kid who was there didn’t help much and eventually the guy running it returned. Fortunately I had a sense of how much a head scarf should be (ideally around 10 EP, but given my western-ness I was happy with 15-17 EP). The first one I asked about he said 75 EP, so we started to walk away. Long story short, I got one for 15 EP ($3) so was happy. T showed me how to wear it, but as I had a short-sleeve shirt on, it was pretty silly to wear it tonight (you’d never wear a headscrarf and expose your arms above the elbows, it would be a contradiction).
We then went into the famous 24-hour coffee shop El Fishawi, which was also packed. Everything was packed! C and I had strawberry juice (which is fabulous, pretty much just pulverized strawberries, but not mixed with other juices the way you get at Jamba Juice!), T had water, and H had mango juice, coffee (kinda like turkish coffee but bigger cups) and apple-flavored hooka. We sat around for a while fobbing off the vendors, though interestingly the hardest selling ones were the old women.
We finally moved on and went into to the main part of Kahn-El Khalili, more meant for tourists. That section had wider, somewhat cleaner center-ways and was much less crowded. Eager to get on with our purchases, we finally just picked one stall that sold tunics. After much trying on and haggling (I proved to be quite the bargainer, though I’m sure we still paid too much), C and T each got two cotton tunics and I got 1 for 30 EP (~$6). H got himself a long egyptian “dress” that many of the men wear (especially those fat enough to look pregnant) and a headscarf that made him look like Yassir Arafat. He looked dead stupid in my opinion, but to each his own. He paid 140EP for the lot, and I suspect it should have cost about half that. Again, to each his own.
Then we tried to get to a place where we could find a taxi and that was definitely an adventure. After finally getting out of the main bazaar we began to follow some roads we thought would get us to a main road with taxis, but it sure took a while! We were going into some really small skanky back roads! The kind where they have hunks of meat hanging, and caged chickens and rabbits for sale. But we kept following along (we felt safe given our number and that, H, our token Y chromosome, was there) and eventually did come out on a main street but it was pretty crazy! Too bad I didn’t have my camera, but I thought we were just going shopping on our own street when we started…
It took another 10 minutes to get a cab even though it was after 11 (again, really busy!). By the time I got home, showered, and packed, I would have had maximum 3 hours sleep before leaving. Unfortunately there was way too much noise for me to fall asleep, so I think tomorrow is really going to suck, even if I do sleep on the plane as that will only be maybe 1-2 hours sleep total!