Thursday, December 21, 2017
Today we enjoyed a trip to Old Cairo. The day started off with us enjoying a thankfully short ride with the wrong driver. Technology was both a cause and a saviour. Gabby arranged a driver for us this morning. Their trusted driver is Habib, but he wasn’t available so he sent Mohammed. Now that is a common name and I know this. So Mohammed called us to say he was outside and we went out to get our ride. We saw a car in front and I asked the driver if he was Mohammed. He said yes. I asked if he was Habib’s guy. A nod yes and we were in the car and away . . . As we pulled out I asked if he knew where we were going because we didn’t know the details. Again a simple yes. About three minutes later, both of our phones ring. Mohammed asking when we would come out and Mohammed’s client asking where he was. We realized we were in the wrong car and back we went to the hotel . . . All was well five minutes later and everyone was in the correct car.
Driving in Cairo is a lot like Naples, crazy, but here they add in pedestrians crossing everywhere anytime in moving traffic, vehicles going the wrong way in multi-lane traffic and horse and mule drawn wagons. It is spectacularly complicated, but not as dangerous as Naples as everyone is aware of the complexities and there is generally more room between dangers. The picture below is on open road and doesn’t do justice to the traffic variables, but it’s all I have.
Now as many of you know I have a lot of religion in my upbringing. Much of my time since childhood has been focused on history that is marginal and not mainstream and religion is not high on my list because it has been hijacked by modern and often twisted thinking. Today was a real pleasure as it took me through a few ideas that I didn’t know or have long forgotten and a few ideas (maybe theories) that improved my understanding of our religious heritage.
To begin, I did not know any details about Jesus’ time in Egypt, but we did learn about his path through the region and visited the crypt where he stayed for three months while hiding from the Romans. Our tour guide Ramadan (yes, that is his name) was great.
As well, we learned about the evolution of the cross as a religious symbol. The history, clearly visible in the monuments and paintings in the Coptic Museum and churches/synagogue (we saw seven places of worship today), was interesting and fits well with my preference of seeing the effects of people on history over time.
With all of this history and the recent political difficulties, it is worth mentioning that security here is super tight, visible on every corner and both comforting and unsettling at the same time. To get to the front door of our hotel, The Fairmont Nile City, requires you to stop, turn off your car, have it searched, including a bomb sniffing dog, then proceed to the front where bags are scanned on the way in at a security checkpoint. The photo below shows the security checkpoint into old Cairo, where most cars are not allowed and the security is even tighter. I can only guess at the security concerns at this axis of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Throughout the city, the contrasts between people with privilege and people who struggle are just as prevalent. As we drove to and back from old Cairo, the buildings and streets showed this ever more clearly. The number of donkey drawn carts grew, the ruins of buildings were everywhere and obvious and the garbage was distracting. This picture taken 180 degrees from the one above shows a small sample.
After this we went to take a boat tour on the Nile with Gabby’s family and friends. It was a beautiful evening and we had a chance to watch the sunset from the water (and yes, it looks good even when you live on a boat, to see it on the Nile).
(Sorry, some photos are not uploading properly and I don’t know why yet!)