Tehrir Square - 1st of December It was early in the morning, a little cold, with fog making anything in the distance hazy. We'd managed to convince our tour guide to take us down to Tehrir Square. It wasn't on the itenirary for our day in Cairo, but if it was safe, I wanted to see a revolution in progress.
The old adminstration building of president MuBaracks stood over the square, black and charred, missing windows. Clearly abandoned. It's been that way since the first protests in February. There were a few buildings around the Square, like The Ritz, that had scaffolding up and were in the process of repairing similar damage.
We were stopped just past the checkpoint, a young boy with burnt off nostrials apologetically checked our passports to make sure we were who we said we were. Tear Gas, my friend whispered. Tear gas isn't meant to be harmful, but there were rumors that the Egyptian military were using expired gas, gas that WAS harmful, one that could cause your lungs and throat and nostrils to sear and burn. I was shocked to see the effects of such rumors before we were even fully in the square.
It was quiet past the check point. We were clearly the only tourists there, which, having followed throngs of them down towards the Egyptian Museusm, felt odd and slightly spooky. There were many banners, and tents. Flags and spray painted slogans on walls. People were just starting to get up, get started with their day. Others selling food, some walking through on their way into work. Young kids roamed around in little gangs and men sat together in fold out chairs, with very serious expressions.
It was safe, but you could definitely feel the tension, the rhythym of a people waiting for an outcome. We hadn't been there long, but soon people started paying us attention. Asking our names, and where we were from. It was different from the usual 'best price beautiful lady' heckling, but it felt far from friendly. At that point our tour guide decided that enough was enough, and we should leave. We did, quickly and quietly. There were throngs of people moving in the opposite direction. We were the only ones leaving.
It was pretty shocking to see how little the media had hyped things up, to see the people act for their country, to feel how tense everyone was. It was a fairly serious revolution, people had been hurt and some killed for what they believed in.
When we came back, we were told that we were idiots for visiting Tehrir Square. That it was so volatile, and would have taken something as minor as someone throwing a stone in the wrong direction and we could have been seriously hurt. No one was, it was quiet, and seemed safe enough. It was enough to make me appreciate what was going on, and just how very safe and stable home is.
Still, I got to witness a tinsy slice of revolution, as it happened. It was a pretty humbling experience.
The stray animals
roads - no cross sections. loads of check points
We were on a tour, and apart from Tehrir Square, every place we visited was thronging with tourists. I felt like I was being shown a tourist-appropriate Cairo. I wanted to see the city proper, but I admin that going on a tour was a stupid way to do that.
Egyptian Museum - Tutunkahnum and his wife (really his sister - married at age 9, when she was 11?) and all his treasure. One of the few tombs that was found (by Howard Carter?) intact. He was buried with loads and loads of stuff. A ridiculous amount. A lot of it was pretty interesting to see, with guilded beds, and fold up chairs and chariots. They were a pretty clever people, and had loads of technology that we have today (like hinges). At that time, gold was well more plentiful than silver, and was on everything.
The museum itself was pretty unpolished. I'm beginning to think that that's standard for Egypt. It felt like they had too much stuff and we were wandering through a massive storage space, rather than a museum that's designed for artifact viewing. Our tour guide told us about the rosetta stone (currently in the british museum, I saw it on my lunch break a few months ago and when I mentioned it, he told me they wanted it back).
Learnt that the statues, if the subject is in life, the left leg is always forward, the arms down by the side. If dead, legs together, arms crossed. Often the only way the population would know their king is by statues erected in his honour in temples + things, so often the statues were quite athletic and attractive. It was not clear if that was an accurate representation of the king, but I don't think it was.
Markets - We went early, which was such a good call. Not everyone was up yet, only a few stalls here and there. This meant that there wasn't much heckling, or peer pressure to buy things. This felt more like proper cairo, people setting up and laughing together, a bunch of police men helping push a car down the road, carrying things in wagons down the roads. Selling flatbreads and coffee.
Mosques - There were many. Each city was founded with a mosque (or, rather once Egypt was ruled by Muslims, before that they were ruled by the romans, and the greeks, and before that they ruled themselves) and there were many in Cairo. We stood outside one in the old city. Was pretty fancy.
Nile - Was pretty filthy. I was excited about the prospect of seeing it, much like I was excited about seeing the famous Thames before I moved to London. Turns out they are just as exciting as each other, which is to say not really. They are both pretty disgusting. The Nile is a dirty green colour, with loads of reeds. In the reeds is a ridiculous amount of rubbish. It's piled right up there. We had lunch along side the nile, which was nice enough. Pretty touristy, but whatevs.
Pyparus - Saw how to make pyparus paper (basically, take a stalk, strip off the green bark, strip the pulp, soak in water for 6 days, place into a lattice and press for another 6 days. You'll get white pyparus paper. Soak for 12 days, and you'll get brown paper. Pretty fancy - no chemicals needed. There is apparently an awful lot of sugar in the pulp that acts as a natural binding agent. Feels all gelatin-like/mushy when you touch it.
The shop itself was very mushy. They ask you what you do, and then follow you around, trying to make you buy things you don't want buy. I brought my mothers name in arabic and hyroglyphics. I purchase I regret, but I managed to walk out of there with nothing else, so that worked out okay. It was really horrible being followed around. Even worse, she kept talking about how Egypt's tourist trade is dwindling because of the revolution, and so it would really help them out if we brought something. When I tried to walk away, she kept lowering the price of a smaller piece, jabbering something about protection ladida whatever. It was really unattractive, and made me quite angry.
Pyramids + Sphynx - Were large and dusty. I climbed up, past the door that goes in the Great One. Got yelled at (apparently you're not allowed to climb the pyramids) but I started a trend. A crowd of boys saw me climb down, and thought it a great idea to climb up. I'm such a trend setter! The pyramids themselves are made of ridiculously large rocks, about my waist height. It was dusty, they sit on the edge of the Sarhara Desert. Sadly there was rubbish everywhere, which was a bit disheartening.
Also disheartening was the pushy peddlers selling cheap and tacky merchandise, or the camel riders keen to get their photo with you, or get you on their camels. It was constant, and pushy, and pretty horrid. They objectify you as a rich tourist. I understand that their tourism industry is a bit down at the moment with the revolution going on, so their profit margins are down, but to be so pushy was not only unattractive, but it was tiring. It made me angry that so many people wanted me to buy plush camels, or pyramid statues or something cheap crap made in china. I only got fleeced twice. Once when I made the mistake of taking a photo with a guy and his camel and had to pay him 50 LE (a fiver) to go away. The other was this small little kid who was trying to sell me postcards. He was alright, though. His sales tac was to ask questions about who I was and where I was from, which gave me a chance to ask him about his life, and what school was like and his family. He was small (maybe 6?) and everyday after school (which gets out at midday) he goes with his neighbour up to the pyramids to sell postcards to tourists. He has a sister called Ali, which made him laugh when I told him my name. In the end I brought 20 postcards for 5 LE. That's 50p. I gave him one LE just for him, though.