Tuesday, 2 March, Cairo: When I picked up my two items at Modern Laundry [المغسلة الحديثة] (Zamalek), young Samih walked with me and carried them to Qasr Abu al-Feda [قصر أبو الفدا]. On the way, he tried to chat with me but couldn’t speak any English. He did say “Anta gamil” (“انت جميل„ “You’re pretty”). I invited him in for a drink or use of the bathroom, but he declined entry. I wanted to try a particular tiny restaurant, but it was full, so I went to the nearby Hardee’s, another big mistake. The staff was friendly and helpful, but my chicken sandwich was fatty, the soda tasted funny, annoying children were present, and the most vulgar, curse-laden, shouting rap was playing. Even though one places one’s order at the counter, the food is brought to the table, so I thought a gratuity would be in order, but the server refused it. Walking down Mrs. Umm Kolthum Street, a truck passed that filled the street and sidewalk area with an inescapable cloud of what I presume was pesticide. Taking a different route than my usual, I crossed Gezira [الجزيرة] on the 6th of October Bridge, saw numerous young men playing soccer on fields in the bridge’s shadow, got a really good bird’s-eye view of the Andalusian Garden and saw lots of the bugs the truck’s occupants were likely trying to kill.
I stopped in an Arabic bookstore near the intersection of 26th of July Street and Ramses Street (Central Cairo) in which Polly and I had been on 15 February, and I bought two books about Cairo. (If the name on the bag is any indication, the store is the General Egyptian Book Organization, al-Hi’et al-Masriyyat al-‘Amat lil-Ketab [الهيئة المصرية العامة للكتاب].) They had a whole Jewish section, but my inability to read Arabic kept me from figuring out whether there were any positive, pro-Jewish books there. Based presumably on my dress, the worker at the door while I was leaving asked if I were a Muslim [مسلم], and seemed quite pleased when told I was a Jew. I continued walking past Ezbekiyya Gardens to ‘Ataba Square looking for cheap cassettes under advisement of Mohamed W., but I never found them. I walked for hours, eventually got lost and saw lots of interesting things, but I probably went in various wrong directions. I saw what appeared to be the firefighting suq [سوق] and the toilet suq, walking possibly near Ghamra and then was surprised to wind up near Ramses Square. Giving up on my music quest based on my location and intense desire to sit, I walked Downtown and found the lovely Tawfiqiyya, a bunch of small streets without cars, and ate shrimp in a sauce full of garlic and oil at ‘Id [عيد] (not to be confused with the restaurant on Hussein Square). Seeing it was nearly 20:30, I even gave up on my intent to visit downtown galleries, as most of them close by 21:00. Instead I walked a little more and returned to À l’Américaine for what I remembered to be fabulous dessert. This time, Mahmud Salah [محمود صلاح] was my waiter. He had served my macaroni last time, and always has a smile for me, but it couldn’t make up for the fact the cake in my cake à la mode was terribly hard and stale.
Since I had sat in various eateries for quite a long time, I decided to walk to the Khan (Islamic Cairo). I bumped into my friend the jasmine lady who doesn’t pester me to buy because she thinks I’m allergic, and I found out her name is “Rashida,” although it seems most of the Khan workers call her “‘Amru” or something like that because it’s her son’s name. I said hello to Ahmad at ad-Dahan, and then spent more time with Mohamed W. at the Ahmad ‘Orabi shop as little Magdi stood on a chair and rearranged the window display with Mohamed’s little brother “Nusf” (actually Ahmad). I sat around there for a while, frequently with brother merchants from the opposite side of Badestan Road, Muhammad (the older) and Karim [كريم] (the younger). They paid a lot of attention to me, asking me lots of questions. They even took me on a small detour with friend Mustafa to a little factory to see another friend, Hankash, and to show me some of the gorgeous Medieval Gates off Badestan. Magdi kept calling me by my proper Hebrew name “Mosheh” [משה] rather than the Arabic counterpart “Musa” [موسى] asked my opinions of the window arrangements and kept telling me how much he and everyone else there liked me. The cigarette lady to whom Polly used to give jasmine in 2002 laughed a hearty laugh.
Wednesday, 3 March, Cairo: Midnight probably struck while I was chatting with folk at Ahmad ‘Orabi in the Khan (Islamic Cairo). Mohamed W. and Magdi had both expressed interest in spending time with me after the store closed and seemed to anticipate closing the store soon. I was getting a little bored, so I decided to visit Ahmad at ad-Dahan again and maybe walk around. One of the poor ladies I frequently see selling facial tissues approached me with her “bambino” in tow, and while she was asking for a handout, it seemed she was telling me the baby was her father. She was still with me when I reached Ahmad, she requested he translate, and he told me she meant the baby’s father pays them no mind. Now, she should be asking the father for money instead of me, but I finally relented after four-and-a-half weeks of requests and gave her four pounds (less than US$1). Ahmad seemed happy again, likely because he had had more sleep, and convinced me to stay and try hot milk with cinnamon and sugar. Before drinking it, I quickly ran to Mohamed W. and Magdi to tell them (more or less) where I would be. At ad-Dahan, I met a friendly but anti-Jewish middle-aged Egyptian man there, probably an owner or manager of the café, although I’m sure he wouldn’t describe himself as anti-Jewish. He was interested in Jewish culture, asking me what certain Hebrew names meant, and seemed to miss the formerly numerous Jewish community in Egypt, but was clearly highly biased by his unwavering belief in the anti-Jewish media. He didn’t understand how Yishaq Rabin [יצחק רבין] could have been killed by another Jew. Apparently, the media must portray Jews as monolithic, because he seemed to recognize diversity of opinion and ideology in every ethnic group on the globe except the Jews. (Anwar Sadat was killed by another Egyptian.) Nothing I could say would convince him some Jews, even some Isra’elis, hate the new West Bank barrier or don’t support Isra’el’s West Bank and Gaza occupation. After all, the Isra’eli [ישׂראלי] people had elected Ari’el Sharon [אריאל שרון] so they must support him. He also regurgitated the media fabrication that Isra’el wants to expand beyond the borders of Palestine into all the Near East. After all, he argued, Isra’el [ישׂראל] had occupied the Sinai peninsula, and the intent to expand territory to the Nile and Euphrates rivers is chiseled onto the entrance of the Kenesset (the “Nile-to-Euphrates calumny”). I couldn’t convince him the calumny was false. After all, it had been in all the newspapers. Realizing it was quite late, I returned to Ahmed ‘Orabi to find both Mohamed W. and Magdi gone. Perhaps they had misunderstood me, and my books were still inside the now-locked store. (Mohamed W. would later tell me he looked for me but couldn’t find me.) I decided to go home, but by this time I was probably the only tourist remaining around Hussein Square, so the merchants and beggars converged on me one by one. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I did feel occasionally disrespected and uncomfortable. I walked to Azhar Street to get a taxi home, but a babbling crazy man followed me back and forth down the block as I attempted to distance myself from the Khan to get a cheaper taxi. I finally shook him by reentering the Khan/Muski area. A chatty little street rat named Muhammad also had no one else to bother, so he followed me back and forth from Azhar Street up near the north face of Hussein Mosque. While he was with me, a restaurant hawker asked if I were Muslim. By the time I responded I was Jewish, a group of about five people, including little Muhammad and another restaurant hawker, were standing around me. The hawker seemed to get an annoyed sneer on his face and asked if I supported Sharon. (I do not.) A street merchant on the west face of Hussein Mosque said only “Yahudi Amriki” (“Jewish-American”) as I passed him, not necessarily anti-Jewish or anti-American sentiment, but certainly raising my level of discomfort. I finally shook little Muhammad by walking near a police officer and making an annoyed face. I got away from the Khan and the clustered overpriced taxis near it, and caught a moving taxi. There was already another occupant who expressed great discontent the driver took on a passenger Zamalek-bound, even opening the door while the car was moving. We traveled quite a while south to reach her destination and then back north, and I was annoyed by this further delay.
I brought more clothing to the Modern Laundry and saw Samih there. Then by the time I made my way over to Ya Mal el-Sham, the little restaurant I wanted to try, Samih was there too. He was walking out with a plastic sack of hot food in his hand, but stuck around smiling at me while I looked at the menu. The food was good and cheap, and I had two small sandwiches for under US$2. There were caricatures of numerous Egyptian stars, including Umm Kulsum and Laila Mourad, on the walls. I thought I knew Zamalek like the back of my hand, but based on an article I had read online, I wanted to find the ice cream parlor and multi-level mall I had apparently missed. I found the mall, Yamama Center [اليمامة سنتر], on Taha Hussein Street and was amazed I hadn’t noticed it before. It’s huge but not yet very occupied beyond the third floor, and there was little merchandise inside in which I had any interest, but I found two single-price stores (counterparts to American dollar or 99-cent stores) wherein each item cost two-and-a-half pounds (less than US$.50). I also found the ice cream parlor, Mandarine Koueider [شركة ماندرين قويدر], on Shagar ad-Durr Street and met cashier Husayn, but more importantly, I found the compact disc merchant. His phonograph-inscribed compact discs weren’t there, but he sent his annoying son to fetch them and told me to return in about an hour. In the meantime, I went to the Zamalek Bookstore and then la Bodega gallery in Bæhler’s Mansions [عمارات بهلر]. La Bodega had an exhibition of paintings by Fathy ‘Afifi [فتحي عفيفي]. His work I liked: They were very colorful and very Oriental and sort of pop culture, some portraying what appeared to be scenes from movies. They are rather repetitive. There’s a man with a mustache wearing a tarbush on his tilted head in a great many of the paintings. I returned to the CD merchant, and he found me recordings of the oldest broads he could dig up and threw in a free spindle adapter. His name is ‘Alaa’ el-Din Soliman [علاء الدين سليمان], and apparently, he inscribes the discs himself. I bought five “albums” consisting of eight discs. It was already getting kind of late, so I decided I’d call Mohamed W. and invite him to Zamalek, as he’d said he’d enjoy it, rather than go all the way to the Khan to sit for a few hours beforehand and use up all our discussion topics, so I stayed home trying to reach him and getting busy signals all the while.
Thursday, 4 March, Cairo: For lunch, I returned to Yamama Center in Zamalek thinking there would likely be a nice restaurant there, and there was: Gallery. Being there during the daytime, I could see numerous teens there doing nothing but passing time like at any other mall in the world. It seems there is a store there called “Akhr al-‘Anqud” [آخر العنقود] (or something like that) located on numerous levels, usually in the same corner; two of these locations are “uni price” stores, the one on ground level called “Hettet Sokkara.” Desiring something sweet, I decided to walk to Sultana for ice cream. On the way, I encountered Samih from Modern Laundry delivering someone’s clothing and looking like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. When he saw me, he metamorphosed into a smiling, happy person. It’s nice to know I can still have that effect on a good-looking young man. Sultana was nice, but no better than Mandarine Koueider. I paid with a twenty-pound bill, and three workers were needed to give me change. I went to Modern Laundry to pick up my clothes but was disappointed Samih had not yet returned and thus wouldn’t accompany me to my apartment. I went to the Netherlands-Flemish Institute and heard a lecture and saw a slideshow (“The Forty-Days Road”) by Dutch writer Arita Baaijens about her traveling with a camel caravan through Sudan [السودان]. The lecture was interesting enough, and Arita didn’t seem to glorify herself and her familiarity with Near Eastern culture too much. In the audience were two young Europeans who coincidentally had been sitting at the next table at Insomnia Snack Bar when I was there Monday. Afterward, I met an Egyptian-born Panjabi-Pakistani [پاکستانی] man who spoke English with an Egyptian accent and knew no Urdu [اردو] or Panjabi [पंजाबी, ਪਜਾਬੀ, پنجابی], and a Palestinian who lives in Egypt and thus feels more like an Egyptian. (It’s true; I felt him.) Then I walked the maybe three blocks to the Instituto Italiano di Cultura for an incredible combination photograph exhibit and concert in collaboration with the Egyptian Center for Culture and Art. The series is called “Samraa’ [سمراء]: Songs from the Black Earth,” and it “focuses on the African influence on traditional Egyptian music” and features photographic portraits of the musicians by Karim ‘Omar el Hakim. They served some good food, including caviar [خاویار], and the musicians were present stuffing their faces while I stuffed mine. Afterwards was a concert of zar music by the incredible Mazaher group. The press release described it so:
On March 4, Mazaher will present ancient songs and powerful rhythms inspired by various traditions of Zar music. The group consists mainly of women and uses percussion instruments as well as the tamboura [طنبور], a string instrument used since Pharaonic times.They were a bunch of fairly glamorously dressed, hefty, middle-aged ladies sometimes performing quietly and mesmerizingly, other times shouting, frantically dancing and beating their drums. I was amazed how much it sounded like Moroccan music, particularly the singing, tamboura and finger cymbals. One of the few men in the group had an odd percussion instrument either hanging behind him from his waist or concealed in his shirt, and would shake his torso and hips to use it. Because it was free and connected with an exhibit, I expected the concert would be short, but it kept going and going. Every time I thought they might be finished, they’d only rearrange themselves. The concert was fabulous, and I videotaped far more of it than I had anticipated. The whole event began at 20:00 and ended around 22:00. Actually, guests were still milling about after the concert, but I wanted to get home and attempt calling Mohamed W. to invite him to Zamalek. Again, I could not get through, so I just up and went to the Khan (Islamic Cairo), and I’m glad I did.
When I walked down Badestan Road, some young men I did not recognize must have recognized me because they called my attention to someone sitting with them. It was Ahmed M., one of my dearest friends from 2002, who had been in Europe so far my entire visit to Egypt! His friends and co-workers in the Khan had told me he had been in Portugal and Hungary, but Ahmed assured me he had only been to Italy and Romania. (This of course put the old song “Rumenye Rumenye” [“רומעניע רומעניע„] in my head.) (Sadly, I would not see him again before going home to America.) Mohamed W. invited me into the Ahmed ‘Orabi shop to sit with him and his friends. He told me I hadn’t been able to contact him because he’d changed his mobile telephone number. I stuck around for a long while, but as the conversation was entirely in Arabic, Magdi invited me outside to chat with him and his cohorts. As usual, little “Nusf” was hyperactive and out of control. Mustafa [مصطفى] and Muhammad (Karim’s brother) again paid a lot of attention to me; Muhammad sat next to and quite close to me, looking through my dictionary and phrase book and asking me when I’d leave (not as unwelcoming as it might sound). Magdi continued fawning all over me.
Friday, 5 March, Cairo: Midnight struck while I was hanging at Ahmed ‘Orabi in the Khan (Islamic Cairo). Eventually the store closed, and Mohamed wanted to go home rather than go to a café or anywhere in Zamalek, again indicating by gesture his trousers were somehow related to the reason. I continued to Mohamed W.’s other store with Magdi, and worker Mahmud was there wearing a tank top. Magdi, Mahmud and I spent some time together in the fly-infested store, but they were busy, and I was a little bored. I decided to leave around 02:00, and Magdi decided to go with me, so we went to eat at the little restaurant directly under the Abu Hamza Coffee Shop, Hussein Square. We had a lovely little sandwich meal while we discussed Hebrew and Arabic number words, and either the food was ludicrously cheap or Magdi got a free meal, because the final bill, drinks and all, came to only four pounds (less than a U. S. dollar). We parted company so Magdi could return to work. I must have seen it before and hadn’t noticed, but in the taxi going home I made sure to take note of the Mosque of al-Qadi Yahya (the older one on Port Sa‘id Street, not the building by the same name in Bulaq). The building immediately west of it is really nice also.
Back in Zamalek, I went to the Metro supermarket and found little Hani [هاني] reaching a top shelf by standing on an overturned basket. It was adorable! With his constantly cracking voice, he recommended some Egyptian candies. Even though I chose Western candies, he (now cashier) gave them to me for free. He’s really sweet and assured me he’d write me upon acquiring an e-mail address. And Sue was there too! I’m still surprised not only at my celebrity in the Metro, but that it seems to extend beyond the Metro’s borders: On different days, one of the workers outside the Ritz Dry Cleaners (in the same complex as the Metro) said “Hello, Musa!” as I passed, a security guard at the Hotel Flamenco (Falamanko) (across the street from the Metro) smiled and yelled out my name as I passed, and a security guard or police officer in front of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute even said hello to me using my name. There’s even a delivery man at Pizza Hut who, although he hasn’t used my name, always says hello and raises his eyebrows at me. After I woke, I saw it was a rainy day in Cairo, so I stayed in Zamalek. After doing some local chores, I returned to Ya Mal el-Sham for a dirt cheap lunch. I wondered how to surreptitiously videotape one of the employees there but eventually gave up trying. Just before I left, he insisted on being taped waving hello. Later, I went downstairs in front of my building and met Ahmad (from ad-Dahan), and we proceeded to Goal restaurant together. We each ordered a sandwich (chicken) and shared a third (liver) as he told me all about his goofy marital problems. Afterward, he wanted to pay, but I talked him out of it. Later on, I considered going out, perhaps to the Khan, but spoke to Mohamed W. on the telephone, and he said he wanted to come to Zamalek, so I stayed home and did a lot of packing.
Saturday, 6 March, Cairo: (‘Ereb Purim [ערב פורים].) Well, it was good I did the packing because Mohamed W. said he’d call back for a 02:00 visit, but neither called nor visited. I had lunch back in Gallery in the Yamama Center (Zamalek), primarily because Ya Mal el-Sham was full. While sitting there, I saw Usama from Sigma Net who introduced me to his friend Adham(?), and then I met a Pakistani named Imtiaz working in Cairo. Perhaps it was my conspicuous position right in the middle near the fountain. I went to the Semiramis laundry [مغسلة سميراميس] to pick up some clothes, and Sharif [شريف] accompanied me to my apartment carrying my laundry (à la Samih from Modern Laundry). He also didn’t want to come in for a drink or toilet use, and even requested I close the door rather than spend time with him while he waited for the elevator. (I hope he wasn’t uncomfortable due to noticing my undressing him with my eyes.) I returned to Mandarine Koueider to chat with Husayn; he’s really friendly and is determined to live in the United States. I went to the Metro supermarket to get some ma‘amul [معمول] (fruit-filled soft cookies) to distribute to friends when saying goodbye to them, and proceeded to again walk to the area around ‘Ataba Square (Central Cairo) to look for more audiocassettes. (On the way, in Bulaq, I took notice of the old horse stables on 26th of July Street.)
I walked all over the area, this time trying not to get lost. I saw lots of stores selling mobile telephones, light fixtures and television sets, but still no cassettes! I overheard a few men discussing my or my clothing’s origins much in the same manner as I had encountered in Khan al-Maghraby [خان المغربي] on 21 February: an ‘Arabic conversation with a list of countries or ethnicities, Turkish included. I even asked a few people if they knew where the cassettes were, and no one could help me. In a Radio Shack, the friendly but unhelpful man there said goodbye to me putting his palms together and nearly bowing. Unfortunately, this means leaving Egypt with few cassettes. If only I had had Mohamed W. with me. Since I was so close, I decided to walk to the Khan (Islamic Cairo) and attempt to say goodbye to my friends. On the way, I again admired that Mosque of al-Qadi Yahya and the building next to it. Arriving at the Khan, I was approached by a camera crew and was briefly interviewed about my feelings about the Khan and whether I was familiar with certain musicians. I was stupid enough to walk away without asking them any questions about their outfit, so I have no idea whether this was for télévision or a documentary or what. (If anyone sees this clip on télévision, please let me know.) I continued to the Ahmed ‘Orabi shop and found that portion of Badestan Road plunged in darkness due to a blackout that ended shortly after I arrived. Mohamed W. told me he hadn’t had my telephone number with him that morning and was waiting for me to call him. (In fact, I had called him twice, but his mobile telephone seemed to be with someone else.) I saw wild, little Ahmad (“Nusf”) and sexy Mahmud, as well as Muhammed, Karim, Mustafa and Mudi from across Badestan. They were in great spirits, boisterous and really whooping it up, and were ferociously tearing through the ma‘amul. Mahmud was so excited, he dropped his ma‘amul on the floor (but ate it anyway). My attempts to say goodbye were obstructed after that: First of all, little Magdi wasn’t there that day. Ahmad, the waiter at ad-Dahan, seemed not to have come in to work that day either. I repeatedly visited Ekramy’s store trying to spend more time with him before returning to America and to videotape him, but in a replay of the events of my last visit to the Khan in 2002, he was always busy with one particular customer. I said goodbye to Mahmud, the one who visited me and works at the same store as Ahmed M., but he told me Ahmed, freshly back from Europe, was unavailable for goodbyes because he was in Sharm el-Sheikh. I couldn’t find Dahab at his store, and I suspect he never came in to work. I met Ahmed al-Malek (an Aswani [أسواني], which of course put the old Gershwin song “Swanee” in my head) who brought me to his shop, Luxor’s Pharos on the eastern side of Hussein Square, to meet his family and drink tea, and you know, he didn’t try to sell me anything. It was purely a gesture of friendship, and I immensely appreciated it. I high-tailed it back to Zamalek shortly before midnight only so I could give a tip to the bawab’s entourage before the last one (Isma‘il) went to sleep and to buy more ma‘amul. Then I went out again with plans to return to the Khan.
Sunday, 7 March, Cairo, New York City: (Purim.) I returned to Badestan Road (Islamic Cairo) in the Khan and found both Mahmud’s/Ahmed M.’s and Ekramy’s stores closed. I spent more time at Ahmad ‘Orabi until it closed and then left with Mohamed W. for Zamalek. I had wanted to bring him to the Insomnia Snack Bar, but it was already closed, so we went to the best restaurant I knew would be open at that ungodly hour: Goal. All we did was watch music videos, drink cola and talk, but we had a lovely time. I brought him to Sigma Net, and together we signed him up for a Yahoo! e-mail account, so I could send him pictures from both 2002 and 2004. After saying goodbye, I continued packing and eventually went out again to Sigma Net. I stayed out long enough that, upon returning home, I merely brought my heavy suitcase downstairs. Isma‘il lifted it over his head and carried it to Mustafa’s waiting taxi. Patient Mustafa brought me to the airport, waited while I checked if we were at the correct terminal and waited while I walked about a block and a half away to get a luggage trolley and return with it. Little by little, I went through three checkpoints and boarded my plane. My flight (EgyptAir 985) was uneventful other than witnessing a flight attendant drop a plate of food all over the floor. I was trapped in a window seat but didn’t mind; I only went to the bathroom once and waited until the two passengers between me and the aisle were awake.
Arriving in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, my taxi driver was annoyed I hadn’t lied and told the dispatcher I was going to Queens so he (the driver) could get a “shorty ticket.” He warmed up to me though when we each found out the other was Eastern Aşkenaziş [אַשכּנזיש] and we could pepper our conversation with Yidiş [ייִדיש] while we traveled from Long Island to the Bronx. I didn’t expect to see such traffic in the middle of the day and concluded it must be Purim traffic: all the Long Islander sons and daughters were traveling to see their Bronx mames [מאַמעס] or bobes [באָבעס] for şalax mones.