Over the next several days of Mom’s visit we accomplished a bunch of things, including a visit to the Egyptian Museum. I had arranged for a guide ahead of time so we could really appreciate what we were seeing – this museum truly has one of the most spectacular collections, and if you can decipher the pencil notations on post-it notes that are haphazardly placed around, you might get a glimpse of what you’re looking at, but going with a trained “Egyptologist” is also another route. We also did the requisite shopping and Mom was very good to Egypt’s GDP. She purchased a Khazakstani rug, some alabaster, some hand-blown glass ornaments, papyrus, t-shirts and scarves. And we dropped off a handful of jewelry to be repaired as Cairo is renouned for its gold and silver jewelers and the prices and skill-level are excellent.
As we were running the gauntlet in the Khan, I told Mom not to make eye-contact as that’s inevitably a sign that you will buy something in their shop and they will therefore latch on to you. Also, don’t bother saying, “No, thank you,” to everyone who tells you everything’s a dollar in his stall, or he has “just your size,” or all is free today. You’ll be there forever. It feels rude, but the best way to handle the pushiest of hawkers is to ignore them and often shove past them as they love to stand in your way. Every time I go I get to hear the latest turn of phrase, and with Mom I heard a new one as we rounded a corner and squeezed our way through a pack of idle men, one said to Mom, “I love your hair. You look like a movie star.” Good effort, but we still didn’t shop in his store.
We also took this opportunity to jump across the street to the less-touristy side and wind our way through the stalls to the spice store I’d bought from before. As I made my purchases amongst the local Egyptian women, again employing the, “Yes, of course I belong here” attitude, Mom felt it was worthy of a Kodak moment, and she captured the locals shopping around too. (Maybe that phrase should be “It was a gigabyte moment,” for the digital age?)
We had a few more dinners out, including one at Abu Tarek, a local spot that only serves koshary (the wonderful Egyptian dinner of pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, caramelized onions and tomato sauce). As we walked in it was obvious we were not locals, and we were quite possibly the only non-locals, and as we climbed the stairs, we were told each time to keep going up to the next floor, until finally on the third floor Ron refused and said this was fine and we chose a table amongst the local families. We’re not sure whether they put all the non-locals on the top floor for a reason, but our dinner was delicious, extremely filling and the three of us ate for around $10.
Unless you manage to visit Cairo and never take a taxi, it’s inevitable that you’ll have some exciting (read “ridiculous” or “terrifying”) trips. Our taxi to the koshary restaurant was the typical 40-year-old rattling black-and-white, but this one was lacking any substance to the back seat, so Mom and I were sitting in cloth-covered metal wells and being height-challenged Mom couldn’t even see out of the window. And one night we grabbed our friend Ben and the four of us headed to one of our favorite restaurants at Al Azhar Park. The taxi ride to the restaurant started with a first-time experience for us, we were cast out. For whatever reason, the first taxi we got in decided after a few minutes that he didn’t want our fare. He pulled over to the side of the road, said we’d have to get another cab as he didn’t know the way. Very strange, as most drivers who don’t know the way never actually admit it. But we got out, grabbed another taxi and managed to hit particulary horrible traffic; just dead-stopped. We considered giving up, but persevered and finally made it to the park. In the past we’d paid the taxi to wait for us through dinner, but we figured we’d just try grabbing a taxi on our way out as there is typically a line of them waiting. Following dinner, outside, overlooking the lights of the city and the Citadel on the hill, we managed to agree on a price with one of the taxis so we all crammed in. This driver was apparently going for a speed-record as he was flying so fast, whipping in and out of traffic that Mom had a true death-grip on my arm and I heard Ben muttering, “Maybe we can pray for traffic.” We made it home though, and in record time.
One night following dinner, we were walking around Zamalek and Ron suggested we go to a local pastry shop that he and Haitham had tried. Next to the pastry shop is a shisha bar, which is primarily for men to sit at small tables, drink tea and smoke shisha pipes. As we passed it, a waiter came out and said hi to Ron. He remembered Ron from the few times he and Haitham had come here (these establishments are typically not for women to partake in, and I’m fine with personally not experiencing the dingy smoke-filled man-odor-laden little caves). The waiter was telling Ron to come in, he’d get him a table, but Ron indicated that he was with me and Mom and told the guy we had an appointment. “A romantic appointment?” the waiter asked. “No, a family appointment,” Ron answered. “Go with God,” he was told. Not entirely sure what that exchange meant, but it’s probably best not to delve too deep. We continued on our mission, selected an assortment of little Egyptian desserts and shared them back at the apartment.
On another night, we thought it might be fun to do a dinner cruise with a bellydancer. The “Maxim” boat is docked in front of the Marriott Hotel on Zamalek, so we made reservations and headed over. The boat does actually float down the Nile, then back again, during which time you are served dinner and a very pretty dessert.
Throughout the meal you are serenaded by a variety of performers. We first had two women singing various hits from the 80s, which we all quite enjoyed. They were followed by the whirling dervish who was truly fantastic. I do doubt his authenticity though as his outfit lit up as he spun round and round, but it was really wonderful to watch. And finally there was the bellydancer. Mom and I missed her opening as we were out on the deck, but we returned in the middle of her show and I asked Ron how she was. He paused, looked slightly pained, and said, “She’s a bit like Albert. Kinda jerky.” Albert was the frenetic kitten we rescued who was quite a spaz. And as I watched the dancer I could see what Ron meant. She was more of a jumpy bouncing aerobic performer, than an actual bellydancer. I did find myself completely mesmerized by the sturdiness of her outfits though. Talk about a REAL miracle bra!