Thanksgiving – Cairo style (replete with corpse)

So we’ve had our first Thanksgiving in Cairo. Instead of the usual Tofurky (for me), cold weather, falling crunchy leaves, driving to New Jersey and shopping with girlfriends, our weekend started with a wonderful Thanksgiving Eve dinner outdoors on the hills around Cairo at Al Azhar Park gazing at the Citadel, followed by some evening shopping in the Khan, and a taxi-stationwagon driver who repeated “No Bloblem,” the entire evening, even when the car was seeming to sputter out next to the City of the Dead (not an ideal location for a bunch of stranded expats). I did get some good photos of Cairo at night and a great photo of a triple-bread-head, though.

Thanksgiving day itself was pretty much just like any other day for me, including laundry, scrubbing litter boxes, and picking up deworming meds for Albert at the local pharmacy (thought that was a little odd, but apparently “pet meds” can be gotten there too… or these were human deworming meds… ewww). Ron had set aside the day for starting his final (not sure how much starting was actually achieved though). We had invited some friends over, but everyone had plans, so in the end I just made a vat of stuffing for us, some corn on the cob and used our last package of smuggled veggie sausages from Wales. I attempted a new pumpkin pie recipe but it actually turned out inedible (didn’t think that was really possible), so in the spirit of giving, we “donated” it to the compost pile.

The day after Thanksgiving, when I often used to find myself with girlfriends heading to the Mall (not at those crazy early hours – no sale is worth that), instead this year Ron and I went with two friends on an all-day tour of the pyramids – finally! We saw the oldest pyramid, known as the Step Pyramid due to its layered construction, at Saqqara. And the most famous pyramids at Giza. I’ll post pictures separately, but suffice it to say, it really was astounding and fantastic!

The final day of our weekend, Saturday, Ron buckled down and dove head-first into his final. Some friends from the office had planned a five-hour yachting trip up the Nile so I decided to give Ron some quiet and went with them. The day was beautiful, the yacht was gorgeous and we were in high spirits as we breezed up the Nile. It was supposed to be just a relaxing trip, checking out the sights along the shore of the Nile (a lot of people washing clothes, washing dishes, fishing, some even wading despite the cool weather). The city stretched on along with us, though things did thin out eventually, become more industrial then turn into more farmland as we got farther and farther from the city.

Our ultimate goal was to head 10 miles (16 kilometers) up the Nile to the Barrages. These were built in the early 20th century to help with British irrigation and agriculture reform projects to divide and control the water flow with a series of lochs and canals. They were placed just before the Nile splits to form two branches, Damietta to the east and Rosetta (where the Rosetta stone was found) to the west.

Along the way we saw a nice assortment of family boats (I’m not sure if these are lived on, or just worked on and used for travel, but apparently they make great drying racks, too).

At one point, between the snacking and relaxing and gazing and gabbing, I jokingly said to someone, “Look, it’s a body floating by us.” Sadly, the Nile is full of garbage, and some areas are worse than others. We guffawed appropriately and as the boat continued drifting on, I watched the floating item come closer and got a weird feeling as I stared and suddenly realized that there were two feet floating behind the black mass. It WAS a body! Floating facedown, just showing the lower back and black heels of tennis shoes. I reiterated my initial statement and we all stood up to watch it float by. I may have a forensics degree, but it didn’t take one to know that there wasn’t any urgent need to fish him out. He was definitely deceased. One of us suggested to the captain that we contact the police and let them know. The captain got very tense and whispered forcefully to us that it would be best if we just forget the whole thing. It was quite obvious he desperately wanted us to sit down and shut up. He said that if he contacted the police he would be dragged in for questioning. He told us that a few years ago another body was found in the Nile and the police refused to touch it, they just let it go. Apparently it just creates too much hassle, paperwork, investigations and all. Interesting approach. The captain said that when you find a body, you should just put your hands on the side of your face to act as blinders (his demonstration helped clear up any confusion).

So we did nothing. Though we did gape at each other quite a bit and everyone was suddenly more diligent in looking at the floating debris. One of the men who has visited Cairo off and on for the last 13 years, said this was the fourth body he’d seen in the Nile. Sadly later on I also saw a dead donkey or something with fur partially submerged. Gives a new meaning to river garbage … And it adds to the horror when seeing the locals washing their clothes and dishes, and fishing in it.

Less than an hour after our lesson in Egyptian forensics, we heard some sirens behind the boat and our captain was slowing down. We were actually being stopped by the Cairo version of the Coast Guard! You have never seen a more innocent looking group of people than us nine expats. I think we all sat a little straighter while the captain and crew chatted with the police. At one point they asked if we were all Americans, we said yes, from the Embassy (never hurts to add that), and then they concluded their business and we were allowed to continue on. Believe me, nothing was mentioned of our earlier finding (though we thought about it). Apparently this is fairly common for tour boats on the Nile, but I can’t deny it gave me cause for pause.

The rest of the trip was, thankfully, non-eventful. The Barrages were impressive, from a distance, the weather turned a little cloudy, we passed more interesting family boats, and no one spotted another floater. I was sad to think that this man’s family will never know what happened to him. In a city of 20 million people, is life really this inconsequential?

We made it home just after dark, and it was nice floating in to the dock surrounded by the lights of Cairo. I hopped in a cab with two other women who were heading my way, and less than 3 minutes later, our driver slammed into another car, smashing out his own headlight (and smashing my knees into the dashboard). Our security lessons have told us to get out of a cab that has had an accident, and leave the scene – there have been cases where the expat passenger has suddenly been accused of being the cause and reparation has been demanded. However, in this case, we were on a bridge, with traffic streaming past us and there was no where to go. So we sat. The drivers argued, but luckily got back in their cars and drove across the bridge to where they could pull over. At this point, we all got out, flagged another cab, and continued on. All in all, it was a very strange Thanksgiving weekend, but I’m coming to expect no less from life in Cairo.