Friday, January 18

In the city of the thousand minarets

Cairo, Egipto
Enero 2008

Cairo, the city of the thousand minarets, is at once chaotic and comfortable.With approximately 16 million people living together in a huge city, the only thing that doesn't exist here is silence. If it's not the calls to prayer that come out of the speakers of every mosque and ripple through the city like a never ending wave, then it's the incessant honking of the cars and their noisy engines.

Many years ago, I also spent a few days in Cairo. The only feeling I can remember of my visit was panic. Panic due exclusively to the chaotic traffic that runs through the city. This time, thanks to Hassan and my brother-in-law, my new heroes at the wheel, the impression I take a way with me is, Al Hamdu Lellah, much richer. I guess that for those of my friends that are form Mexico City, Cairo's traffic wouldn't be so shocking at all, since they are quite similar. Though there is a fundamental difference: in Mexico I have seen stop lights and drivers who respect them. In Cairo, I have mostly seen yellow stop lights that warn you about intersections. And then, each one figures it out on their own. Cars, people, donkeys, horses, sheep, motorcycles, bicycles, and the occasional freeway sweeper dance and improvised choreography sharing the same space and intertwining without any apparent order and with surprising success.

Though its hard to not feel on occasion like a walking coin, just for the fact of being European in an African country, I take with me a nice impression of the people. I especially liked the natural way in which men express affection among themselves and toward children. This is very unusual in our western societies, where the image of two men holding hands still bring out judgmental glances and where a man smiling or blowing kisses to a child in public would be taken as an unequivocal sign of child molestation. In the western world, women are the only ones allowed such public displays of affection. Then, of course, we have the other side of the coin, since displays of affection between man and women in public are quite discreet. I guess we can't have it all.

We did a few of the typical tourist routes that are inevitable in Cairo: the Pyramids, and the Sphinx, the Citadel, a few mosques, the Coptic neighborhood, Khan el Khalili street market... But the best moments were spent getting lost in small streets away from the masses of tourists that invade Cairo, especially in this time of the year. We walked through very narrow streets filled with skinny cats, garbage, and men drinking tea and smoking sisha. We explored parks like oasis, where young couples go to take their loves for a walk. We ate in small restaurants where you couldn't find a letter, nevertheless a word, that looked familiar (thank god for David's ability to read Arabic and more or less understand what was it that we were about to eat). Watching a woman's extraordinarily happy smile when I asked her to show me how to put on the typical head scarf in the traditional way.

I have not described in justice what I experienced. There are many more impressions, moments, curiosities... many bits of life not told. It's been a great adventure that has reached its end. Tomorrow we take off for Madrid, Sunday we continue in route to Seattle, and Monday we will be back in Alaska. It's been five weeks full of all kinds of emotions, reflexions, entertainment, lots of friends and family, and lots of sun and great weather.

I would not have changed this trip for anything. I have the impression that I have learned a lot and now it's turn to really internalize those teachings. That is, from my little frozen bit of the world, close to the North Pole, and within my daily routine, which I can't wait to get back to. See you there!

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