Ali part 2
Will we ever be allowed to sleep in Egypt?
Slightly worn out from lack of sleep and over indulging, we were up late today. This shouldn’t be a problem, but technically we only have a month for the whole country. Thinking this will never be enough time, we got directions from our friendly hostel staff, and made our way to the big government building that specialises in Immigration, Visas and residency. This happens to be right on Tahir Square. Last night we had heard that the police were using tear gas on the protesters, but today it was fairly quiet, with no signs of the turmoil of last night. People were milling around, and although the streets were blocked off, there was some traffic making it through. Shops were out, and the centre of the roundabout is filled with tents and people. Flags flying everywhere and an over abundance of graffiti. Most well done. We had seen anti government graffiti yesterday as well, but here it is everywhere. Walking across the square, if you believe the press, you would expect to be raped, kidnapped or murdered. We never got so much as a sour look. Granted, we wouldn’t try it at night, but during the day, it is mostly business as normal.
In the massive building that serves as the immigration centre, we were dreading what Egyptian bureaucracy would be like. Having had to get some paperwork notarised in Jordan, we expected the same issues, and only expected to find out the process today. We were scanned on entering the building, and our cameras confiscated, but we were given a card to get them back on leaving. Then told to go to the second floor. Here we asked a man where to go, and were ushered into an office. The man behind the desk asked what we wanted. Just a few months extension to our visa. We arrived yesterday, but want to stay longer. Given a form each to fill out, he took our passports. Form filled out, we returned. They had photocopied our passports a couple of times, and he got another man to take us to a different section of the building. Here there are long rows of windows. Some with large groups of people hanging around them. We were taken right to the end, and the woman was given the papers. Job done, our guide thanked us! and left.
The woman wanted a passport photo of us. Finding out we didn’t have one, she ripped the photo from one of the passport copies and stapled that onto the form. Apparently this will do. Told to go to a different section to buy stamps. These were then attached to the form. Process done, we were told to come back in two days as tomorrow is Friday. Having just wanted to find out if it was possible and what to do, we had just completed the process! Not too bad for a mornings work.
Catching the metro out to the Coptic centre of Cairo was easy. The station at the square is still working, even if most of the lights are not. 1 pound tickets and we were off. 4 stations. Although busy, the train was not overflowing, and with a bit of pushing, you can get on. The train deposited us at Mar Girgis station. Right in front of the Hanging Church. So called, as it is above some ancient Roman watergate. The area is important to everyone.
It has the oldest churches, synagogue, Roman ruins, and supposedly where Moses was found in his reed basket, and Mary washed Jesus while in exile from Judea. It is also close to the oldest mosque in Cairo. The churches are all very different and all impressive. From the stain glass windows, vaulted ceilings and saints relics to grand bell towers and domes. There is very detailed stucco, wooden inlay, carvings and geometrical signs everywhere. These are similar to the Islamic ones with a small cross in places.
Near by the Hanging church (full of relics) is the Greek Orthodox church of St George (Mar Girgis). It has an impressive dome, but under repairs at the moment. There are little grottos dotting the place, and a shrine everywhere you look. From here we went into the graveyard. You could be mistaken in thinking this is a construction site, as the remains of old tombs litter the area, however there are some grand old mausoleums and graves are plentiful. Somewhere it said to watch out for flashers as they “hang” around the place, but we never got to see one.
Going down into a small alleyway between these two churches are plenty more places of worship. Maybe not as ornate, but still impressive. Right at the end is Ben Ezra Synagogue. Here we were met by security. A look in our bags, and through a metal detector and we could go in. It is no longer used, and has been recently restored, but is important for its age (9th century) and the discovery of over 250,000 fragments of scrolls and papers dating from the 11-13 centuries. Out behind this is the underground spring where Moses was found and Mary cleaned Jesus’s nappies. The whole area is worth a visit, but with it closing at 4pm, we missed out on one or two of the churches, although someone did open up one of them for us to take a quick peak.
We thought we would do a stroll around and came to Amr Ibn Al-As mosque. While it may be the oldest, it has been constantly reworked and we decided not to go in. The walk around gave a good look at local life, with donkeys vieing for space along side the cars. Someone was working on an old shell of a vehicle, and asked us if we wanted a taxi, while gesturing at the car he was working on. About 70 years old, held together by rust, no insides, and a mechanic trying to get the engine working. We said we would take him up on the offer tomorrow after he got it working again. Seeing the cars driving around here, I would not be surprised to see him driving it around in a week or two!
After dinner we went back to the cafe to meet Ali again, and see some dancing. He appeared quickly, and we were off with him and a friend. Catching a taxi had us slightly worried, but the trip was great. We passed along the banks of the Nile at night, seeing all the lit up river boats, and lights reflecting off the water. There is something to be said for a river flowing through a city. Crossing over it, we entered a different section of the city. Bustling night life and everything lit up with coloured lights. The shop fronts and local buses, the neon advertisements and the tuk-tuks decorated with tacky Christmas ornaments and brand logo’s.
Cairo is not the cleanest of cities (although they do sweep the streets at night) but this section had an entire lane of the road filled with refuse. Cats looking for a meal, and people trying to go over it, some sections have been cleared so trafic can turn, but it is just mostly sitting around. It has been there for a long time. I finally realised the importance of cats in these cities. They are to keep the mice down, as this is a perfect breeding ground for them. The taxi driver was a bit lost, and we circled the street for a bit before we got out to walk. We dived into a small lane way and through the shops. Mainly clothing for sale, but almost everything else as well. A lot of people were staring at us, and Ali mentioned that it is probably the first time a tourist has ever walked down these streets, and may be the first time some of the people have ever seen a tourist. Especially one with dreads.
Making it to our destination, we were greeted by people in the street. Apparently we have come to a wedding. Everyone is waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. Here we proved to be the entertainment for the kids, just by sitting there and posing for photo’s.
The new couple would be welcomed here, and then move on to the party at their house. With much fanfare and gun fire the couple arrived by car (although we are not sure how it fitted through the alleys to get here). She was beautiful, all in white, with masses of white make-up on. A western style hoop dress with a white headscarf, but both intricately decorated with golden beads in Arabic patterns. He was tall and elegant in a standard tux.
Getting out, they took seats to have everyone presented to them. At the end we were also presented to give our congratulations. They got back into the car and drove off (This isn’t well written, you just had to be there) Thinking this was it, we expected to head home, but we were told to continue on. Walking with the kids and family we came to a bigger street and were piled onto a bus. This took us a little way and then we were walking down some more dark alleys. Around the corner, everything was light. There were coloured lights strung from building to building. Large paper lanterns in the middle. About half way a DJ was set up and music was shaking the street. Then at the end a big stage with more lights and decorations. From this distance we could just see the bride and groom sitting there. King & Queen overlooking the court. People were going up and presenting themselves, and a few others were dancing. We were shown seats only to be quickly moved on. Going with the flow, as we don’t know proper protocol in a situation like this, we were stunned to be moved to one of the front groups. We found out later that we were guests of honour, and sitting with the father of the bride! For the rest of the evening the Bride and Groom hardly left the platform, occasionally up and dancing, or sitting there talking to people. By the end they looked extremely exhausted.
Back to the beginning. The music was pounding, kids were running around, and the line between females at the front and men after was clearly marked. Mostly the women were dancing, and some of them can really dance! For a society that is so strict on interaction between the sexes, to say it is suggestive is an understatement. The family is from Upper Egypt (to the south) and when they played traditional music, with slow strong rhythms, you could see that the style of dance resembled belly dancing. Occasionally some of the men were dragged into the dance, and even Anna & I were forced to join in. Much to the merriment of all involved. You have to grow up surrounded by this to be able to even think of dancing that way. The men were as suggestive with their movements as well, and gave the cliche’d thought of peacocks without plumage. (Sorry, we did not bring the camera, so no photo’s)
Soft drinks, beer and hash appeared, and there were several people waiting on the different groups. This is again the wrong way to say it, as they were also masters of ceremony, getting people to mingle and dance, controlling the kids and making sure what needed doing was done.
This all makes it sound like a very well organised wedding, but it did not feel like that at all. It is held in a back alleyway, with the neighbours laundry still out in between the wedding lights. Sometimes you could see them stick their head out of the balconies, wondering when they might be able to go to sleep. Crazy, fun chaos..
It was a fantastic night, and much wishes go to the happy couple and their families that allowed us to join in on this special day.