June 19, 2009

In Cairo

June 11 @ Pension Roma

I still can't believe the day I had yesterday. I'm so thankful I feel extremely humble... and vulnerable. I'm so blessed... I am.

I was picked up at the airport by Seif -Meda's friend. I think we recognized each other immediately, maybe from another life... maybe from the pictures that were sent to each of us. We greeted each other like old friends and began a non-stop conversation. The first thing he said to me on the car was that Meda had said we would get along perfectly because we were both out of our minds. I laughed when he said this, but it didn't take long for me to learn it was true. As we were leaving the airport's parking lot, either he read my mind or I read his "I have a surprise for you" he said. Let the journey begin.

How to describe the city? Chaos might be the right word. As we drove down the busy streets, I couldn't believe my eyes. I'm in Egypt! I'm in Cairo! From the moment I woke up from my sleep, on the plane, and saw the pyramids of Giza from the window, I've been in some sort of trance... like dreaming... being fully awake. The city smells like Buenos Aires: a mixture of laundry powder, dust from construction sites, street meat and car's exhausts. Nah... it's quite impossible to describe this smell, specially because it's quite a personal experience, impossible to reproduce in words. The streets are crazy busy with cars and people here drive like maniacs, including my driver. But I guess you have to go with the flow of cars if you want to avoid accidents. But this flow is not a stream of water, is more like the break of a water fall, it has no particular order and it is fierce whichever way you look. Now, there's people everywhere. I understand now what Brandon meant when he said this place is crazy busy... The architecture is extraordinary. I'm truly mesmerized by the contrasts, specially alongside the Nile's shores.

As we drove to Seif's house -he wanted to switch cars- all of a sudden the car stops in the middle of a busy street, on the streetcar rails and with the traffic honking at us like animals on heat. No more gas. High as a kite, it was pretty hard to tell what was going on. Was this a joke? This guy looks like someone who would pull one of these jokes, just for the fun of it... I'm not quite sure. So Seif got off the car and started pushing. I attempted to do the same but he ordered me to stay inside. Silently, I begged for someone to come help cause the incoming traffic was getting quite aggravated. Out of the blue, a guy came to help with Seif's struggle. Finally, we crossed the busy street, parked in the nearest spot available and walked five minutes to his house, where we switched to a more "elegant" car. I was quite confused the entire time, but this guy is quite nice, constantly asking me what I want, paying for everything and telling me it was "non-sense" when I said I would pay for my stuff. After driving around and exchanging some euros to EP, we went to meet up with Psycho. This is the guy I've been in touch with before coming to Egypt, and the one who was originally supposed to pick me up at the airport. However, he just got a new job... not being able to come greet me, he made sure someone would. So, after picking him up, we went to contemplate the Nile River for a while and when I had enough "quality time", we went for lunch.

After some good pizza at Thomas, we decided to go drop off my luggage. On the way to Pension Roma, Psycho pulls out a cell phone from his bag and gives it to me "I got you this so you can call us. It will be easier to be in touch" Wow. Wooow. Speechless. Not even my closest friends are so considerate. These guys are unbelievable! So nice, so thoughtful, so welcoming, so generous... I truly don't know how to express my gratitude at this point. Can this get any cooler? Well, it did... but I just finished my breakfast and I want to get going. Walking alone around Cairo... exciting, eh?

2pm @ Cairo Museum

Sitting outside the Cairo Museum, a bit overwhelmed by so much. I seem to get exhausted inside museums reached a certain point, but I still feel a sense of ease. I want to learn, I want to comprehend history a bit better, to understand how is it that we reached this point as a civilization. How did it all start? If you think about it, there's connections everywhere you look, amongst different cultures. For example, the throne of Tutankhamen was decorated with many symbols, including two winged-snakes. Mayan's highest deity, Quetzalcoatl, was indeed a feathered-serpent. The Egyptians and the Mayans were probably the biggest and most mysterious ancient civilizations on the planet, on opposite sides of the world. How do you explain their symbols being almost identical?

It's hot, maybe 35C, I can't really theorize in these conditions, I just don't feel like doing it right now... but I'll leave it as a thought, maybe to come back to it later. So, as I wait for Seif to pick me up and drive me to the Pyramids, I will continue where I left at breakfast...

While we were on the car, on our way to drop off my stuff, Meda called to check how I was doing. For a person I hardly know, this is a huge gesture. I feel quite protected and I'm aware of how much I'm being taking care of... like never before. When I got off the phone Seif tells me he had booked a room for me at Sharm el Sheikh, so that I could go diving with them. Half an hour prior to my conversation with Meda, I expressed how much I would love to do so, knowing that Seif was going to go on a diving trip on Friday. "All it took was two phone calls" he says. Apparently, while I was on the phone, he made sure my wish was granted. So YES! Friday morning I leave till Sunday to dive in the Red Sea... these guys are AMAZING!!!

Now another surprise was awaiting downtown: the hotel. Well, it's actually more like a pension, with shared washrooms and single rooms. Antique and cozy, my room has a sink, two mirrors, a bed with a hard mattress -I did sleep like a baby, however- an old wardrobe, a night table, shelves, a desk and a cute coffee table. I could live here... There's also a common living room, a kitchen, a diner -where I had breakfast this morning- and a reading room. To access Pension Roma, you have to go up to the 4th floor of the building, on a very old elevator; the kind that has double doors which open manually. I love these kind, the way they are built allows you to see all around as you ride it. In Buenos Aires, there are very common in the old buildings and getting inside it here in Cairo, is bringing back memories from my childhood. The staff is very welcoming. Last night, I chatted for a bit with Nehal, the front desk person during the night shift; he truly made me feel at home and because of his warmth, I went to bed with a big smile on my face.

Once in the hotel, I had a quick shower while Seif and Psycho waited for me at some coffee place near by. When I was ready, I called and they picked me up. We drove for half an hour away from downtown and into a very different part of the city...

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