Alladdin and the magic... rugby ball??
Trip Start Sep 29, 2012
27Trip End Jul 01, 2013
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The new school week begins, and having heard about the wonderful Al Azhar Gardens overlooking old isalmic cairo, we decide to get there in time to watch the sunset. Sundown always catches you by surprise (though that way we benefit from lovely early sunrises) so we end up watching the sunset leaning from the windows of our taxi as our tone-deaf turkish taxi driver, singing to his radio, weaves an unnecessarily elaborate route across the city.
For the price of being ripped off 50p we see some great backstreets.
Al Azhar is an oasis of marble walkways, colannades of palm trees and oriental patterned fountains nestled high on the hill above the Old City. Lying on the grass you can just make out the stars through the haze, while beyond the walls of the garden hundreds of tottering old buildings and mosque domes cluster below, rising with the distant pray calls out of the gloom
Leaving the gardens the road sweeps down the hill into Old Cairo and begins to split into that intricate tangle of fickle winding streets and market stalls. This is real Alladdin stuff. You loose your bearings, allowing the road to carry carry you down through the alleys, and as if it were enchanted you blink and you're somewhere new, still lit by yellow lamps and the still air mingled with spices, traffic fumes and the smoke of street food stoves. The heart of the Old City feels almost surreal, to the extent that when sitting in the taxi on the way home, Megan having come over queer after a particularly gloopy mango juice, the memory seems slightly removed in my mind, like a dream.
We enjoy day 2 of our second week at DEAC, though we've got a long way to go with the egyptian arabic yet. This is rammed home during an amusing but exasperating trip to the green grocers which results in Arthur giving away his personal details, the purschase of a yet unidentified fruit, and me being made to eat a whole unripe banana to satisfy the grocer I understand the meaning of 'not ripe'.
Only one way to get better at arabic, let's go surfing on the nile!
Well, Couch Surfing, anyway. The Cairo branch of the international organisation seeking to link travelers up with locals of the relevant city are throwing a party on a nile boat tonight, and yes it is one of the aforementioned arabian disco ships. We spend hours cruising up the nile alongside the hazy lights of the banks, dressed with heavily scented yasmin flowers, being taught how to dance like egyptians and clambering onto the roof to wave to the people on bridges and passing boats
All of us are thoroughly welcomed, though at this point blissfully unawares of the tidal wave of persitant phonecalls and offers of nighttime horse riding in the desert, trips to sharm al sheik, and anything else you can imagine under the sun, that come with egyptian friendship.
Because we can, a handleful of us jump off the metro on the way home at Mar Girgis station (Martyr Saint George), straight off the platform you step back centuries into the old coptic christian district of cairo. Surrounded by grubby blocks of flats and poor shanty town houses, the beautiful coptic churches stand gleaming in the sun, marked with arabic caligraphy, greek scipture and the copts' own language. We wander into one church and are guided round by a lovely young couple who attend the church, who show us the wall paintings that mark Egypt's place in the life of Jesus, and stuff like a baptism font dating from the 4th century, still there to see.
An amusing contrast, in the evening I take up the offer of some newly befriended french people from DEAC to try out the maadi rugby club, them like me eager to start getting involved with activities and getting to know people. Luckily what little experience I have of the game has been with 2 enthusiastic brothers, as it turns out the womens' coach is late and we spend most of the evening doing drills mixed in with the guys. Swelteringly hot as soon as you run a few metres, but great to finally get exercise beyond the confines of the apartment - going jogging round the neighbourhood being socially out of the question. We end a fun night at a local bar, a odd crowd of egyptians, french expats, the french students et moi. Nobody knows what language they're speaking by the end of it.