Last night we learned that we would not be able to get a COVID test after 5 PM. As a result, we abandoned any attempt to visit the Alexandria Library (something I am quite disappointed about) and instead took a tram to the train station in time to catch a 7:20 AM train to Cairo. In Cairo, we then dropped off our luggage at the hotel and verified we were scheduled for the COVID PCR test. The appointment was for a medical person to come to the hotel. In the meantime, however, we took a walk on the Westside of Cairo and visited the bottom of Cairo Tower. We decided the £200 EGP/person (~$13 USD) was not worth spending and instead took some pictures from the bottom (we were expressly given permission to do so), before grabbing some lunch and heading back to the hotel.
The COVID Test was interesting. A medical professional came to our room. She barely spoke English and didn’t really even introduce herself. She poked and prod each of our throats enough to trigger gag reflexes and scraped a portion of our brain through our nose into a test tube. Not a pleasant experience but certainly something memorable. I was surprised that a Muslim woman would come up to our hotel room on her own. I say this because we couldn’t even ride in the same train carriages with women on occasion. To complete the unfortunate image, we then went down to the ATMs in the hotel lobby and withdrew the requisite payment (about $115 USD). It just goes to show, things aren’t always what they might appear.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around Cairo. We walked first to the Zuwayla Gate but this time we climbed to the top of the gate and into the tower. It was a great view of this part of Cairo. Again, I am struck with the magnitude of the city. More importantly, however, the building infrastructure, like in Alexandria, is clearly crumbling.
From there we walked through the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar area to El-Gamaleya and did some more exploring. There are several sites to see here but we decided not to go into any of them in favor of just walking around. After taking a side street, I joked with mike about avoiding dark alleys before taking a left into an alley looked particularly intriguing. We saw lots of industrious metalwork and a little woodwork as well. We greeted a few people and then reached a dead end. On the way back people were more friendly, prompting us to take pictures for example. One of the owners even invited us in to see his shop. Inside it was cramped but there were five or so lathe operators. It was wonderful to watch them work turning flat plates into different shapes that comprise a bong. We spent quite a bit of time watching these guys who were clearly masters of their craft.
We accepted their invitation to tea and talked with the owner some. (Remember, we don’t speak Arabic, so all conversation was via Google Translate.) I tried asking him questions like what life was like after the Arab Spring and whether it was better now under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi rather than Hosni Mubarak. The response was one of thankfulness to Allah. Here’s a summary of what he said:
My name is Ahmed <deleted>, and I live in Moez Street, Fatimid Cairo. The needs of the whole Egyptian industry are under the leadership of President Al-Sisi with a good spirit, morals, and generosity for us and from Allah. Peace be upon you. Allah willing, he will guide me to see you and Mike at length. I mean that our friendship will remain sustainable. Allah honors us and you. May he make tourism good and bless all of Egypt under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Thank you, I am Ahmed.
As with most people we talked with, the responses to questions like ours focused on gratefulness for the blessings bestowed by Allah and the leadership of the current president, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. I couldn’t help but wonder whether we would get a different answer behind closed doors if we lived here and spoke the language.
The time with the machinists was wonderful. I felt it gave us a glimpse of real-life in Egypt. After we left it was dinner time and I persuaded Mike that perhaps we should ask them out to dinner. He acquiesced and so we went back and invited them. They declined and said how, instead, they should take us to dinner – but not today. Mike learned from the woman serving tea that we should probably go because we were affecting production. And so we did, but not before connecting on Facebook.
On the way back to our hotel I saw a woman selling coal. She wouldn’t let me take her picture, but she was fine about me taking a picture of her store. (Also, I was still a little hungry after dinner so I grabbed some coal cooked corn on the cob from a street vendor on the way home.)