Sunday, January 23, 2011

Time Travel in Old Cairo

Today I've been one of many. Khalid brought me to old Cairo; narrow paved streets where millions of foots have walked for centuries, market stalls with eager salesmen promoting anything from "antiquities" to ornamental water pipes and lamps to scarfs and souvenirs in the shapes of pyramids, Nefertiti and golden beetles. I'm used to be the only one with a camera - I bring it pretty much everywhere and take pictures where no one else sees beauty. I prefer places that are rarely visited by tourists, I don't like hassle and avoid tourist traps as much as I can. But today, as we entered the area of Islamic Cairo, I truly understood that there's a reason why people from all over the world visit this city, and why they gather in these parts. Overlooking the annoying salesmen and false guides, the pretty face of olf Cairo shows herself and shines with glory of long gone days.

The first mosque we entered was the 625 year old Madrassa and Mausoleum of Sultan al-Zahir Barquq and although I embarressly admit that it was the first time I entered a mosque, it was an amazing introduction. Being in very old buildings, be it churches or mosques, almost always takes my breath away. Just knowing how old it is, how many people have been there and the tremendous amount of work it took to build it kinda makes you religious. The architecture and artwork still stands out, more than 600 years later, and I really hope that future generations will have the same opportunity to experience what I did today.

We spent a couple of hours sitting in a busy sheesha place in the middle of the market, listening to arab beats, smoking our pipe and drinking hot mint tea while watching people and inevitabely discussing hardcore subjects like history, science and religion. It's hard not to think along those lines in places like that, and even though we don't always agree about things, discussions like that are always rewarding.

Finding our way out of the maze of narrow streets we encountered the first tourist police to ask about our relationship. Proudly we presented our papers proving that our relationship is fully legal, allowed and that there are no shady reasons behind it. Apparently they're there to protect the tourists - that being me - but I couldn't help but feel a bit disrespected. I'm sure it's a good thing that they keep their eyes open to "protect" poor defenseless foreigners like me from the mighty evil arabs, but it makes me wonder how long we will have to prove that we're for real and that I'm not being used for some financial or stay permit reasons. Anyways, it was bound to happen sooner or later and I guess it's all good to be able to add yet another experience to the list of worldly prejudices and social rules. Once home, we were overjoyed to find out that the elevator to our rooftop apartment on the 14th floor was broken. Yeay.

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