My Last Days in Egypt

[Dear All, I’m so sorry for the delayed post, and the fact that this one has no pictures (yet!)! Internet is pretty shabby in Addis Abeba. Pictures will be forthcoming though, and I hope you enjoy reading about my last week in Egypt!]

Last Wednesday, I awoke to my first full day in Alexandria. Our hotel, the Union Hotel, was cozy enough despite a couple cockroaches and the fact that—I am pretty certain—the manager hated me. (He always glared when he saw me, and seemed angry whenever we spoke. Oh well.)

That morning, Amany and Farida met Nathan and I at Union, and we all made for the Citadel of Qaitbay. The Citadel is an exquisite castle built in 1477 on the exact site of the legendary Lighthouse of Alexandria. Those of you who know me well know that I LOVE fortresses, having spent most of my childhood studying medieval warfare and reading fantasy novels. So, upon entering this place, I had a patent nerdgasm. I gawked like a child at the cannons, the forboding metal-banded dark-wood door opening into the tall keep, and the underground tunnels which hid cannon firing points in the natural rock. I marveled at the fortress’ interior design which trapped ambient light and sea breeze in the keep, making the place comfortably cool but well-lit.

Massive, metal-bound door opening from the keep into the courtyard.

Massive, metal-bound door opening from the keep into the courtyard.

What makes the Citadel especially beautiful and set it apart from the Ottoman fortresses in Cairo and Jerusalem is its location right on the sea. Looking on from the battlements, it is easy to imagine witnessing the landing of an opposing army, or suffering a bombardment from vessels parked in the harbor. The Citadel was outstanding. I cannot wait to see how it compares with Ethiopia’s fortresses at Gonder.

After the Citadel, we all went boating on the Alex harbor in a faluuka. Alex is so beautiful from the sea, with mosques, the Bibliotecha, and countless other ornate buildings and businesses lining the waterfront. I must admit: the blue sky and relentless breeze of Alex far outmatch the smog of Cairo, though I love Cairo all the same. After the boat, we went to a café, Teatro, on Fouad Street. Teatro is a classy place, with a great banana frusia. While there, Farida’s sister, Salma; Sara and her sister, Tasnim; and everyone’s great friend, Nesrine, joined us just in time to grab dinner at a local restaurant.

I didn’t know it yet by then, but Wednesday was Amany’s 23rd birthday!!! (Here’s a quick birthday shout-out to the one and only, Amany – happy birthday again! I am so happy we could spend it together!) Since Nathan and I were still basically clueless to this wonderful detail, the girls got Amany a cake. We all had an absolute blast getting to know one another—I had never met Salma, Tasnim, or Nesrine before. By the end of the evening, I had a hunch that my little family of friends in Alex had just grown a bit bigger. 

Thursday morning saw me sick in bed. I had a quick breakfast when Amany kindly brought McDonald’s to Union, and after that, I slept until 1400 (2 PM). It was well worth it, and I felt much better. At 1600ish, Nathan and I headed over to Bamboo where Susie had promised me (she is so wonderful!!) lunch on the house. The Brew & Chew Crew (everyone we hung out with on Wednesday) came out to Bamboo, and we had a great night of talking, karaoke, and games!

A couple awesome tidbits from Bamboo that night…I caught Susie alone at one point, and thanked her for making Bamboo a place we knew we could always enjoy amazing food and companionship for as long as we wanted. She responded, saying: “Bamboo is a family. And I like it that way—small, family-oriented. That’s why I haven’t made it commercial.” Here’s just another reason why I love Susie. Her remarks were especially well-timed since Amany and I had spoken earlier about how successful Susie would be if she decided to move her business closer to the corniche.

Another awesome tidbit—Amany suggested that Nathan and I stay in Alex until Sunday, and we took her up on it! And finally, Sara and Salma were just so thoughtful, and got Nathan and I gifts by which to remember Alex and Egypt: a key-chain from Sara and a papyrus bookmark from Salma. I was really so touched by this—thank you so much, Sara and Salma 

After Bamboo, the Bamboo Crew (as the Brew & Chew Crew will hereafter be known) made it over to Azza’s ice cream shop where we got ice cream mixed with rice pudding, coconut, and raisins. I was skeptical at first, but it was quite good. Then, with curfew bearing down on us, we said our goodbyes. I was expecting to go home, but Amany had a surprise!

At nighttime (when there’s no curfew, at least), the corniche becomes very crowded with cars and people out to enjoy the sea. One fixture of this nightly scene is young men, from young teens to twenties, zooming up and down the corniche on motorcycles tricked out with flashing, multi-color lights and huge speakers blaring mahraganaat music. (The music itself can only be described as loud, synthesized, and super fun music with Arab rhthyms.) Most of the Bamboo Crew find them annoying. I find them cool as hell, and so last summer, I decided that I wanted to ride one! I didn’t fulfill this dream last year, but Amany had made up her mind to help me fulfill it this time around.

So, Amany, Farida, Nathan, and I headed down towards the Citadel where a lot of these young guys and their bikes hang out. We walked around for a bit looking for someone with a bike, and finally found Ahmed. Amany explained my desire to him, and asked him if I could hop on with him. He—so kindly—said yes, so I jumped on the back seat, he turned on the lights and sounds, and we took off. Ahmed was such a top-notch fellow. At first, I was afraid that he might drive me off somewhere where his friends were waiting to rob me. (That’s the paranoid New Yorker in me, I suppose.) But I knew he was a good guy when the bike stalled out on the way up a ramp, and his first instinct was to make sure I was still onboard. After that, we had a blast speeding around for a bit. When I finally got off, he smiled, said it was nice to meet me, and declined any money for his kindness. What a splendid guy.

Now that my dream has come true, I think the next step will be for me to buy my own mahraganaat bike and ride it around Harvard. The Bamboo Crew, Nathan, and I also joked about starting up a decent sheesha joint in Boston, and selling bootlegged mahraganaat music there.

Friday was a very chill day. Out of an abundance of caution, Nathan and I basically stayed indoors—except for my foray to get food—on account of Friday prayer and the potential for violent demonstrations. There were a few small incidents in Alex and Egypt, in general, but nothing major. I spent the night trying to write an article on the current state of politics in Egypt. As I was trying to beat bad writer’s blog, I happened to speak with an Australian journalist, named Vicki, who has made her home at Union Hotel for the last three years covering the Revolution. Vicki’s depth and breadth of knowledge of not only the Revolution but Egypt’s history itself were very impressive, and I learned a lot from speaking with her. Our conversation also led me to believe that I just could not do such an article justice without significant time spent researching. On principle, I decided not to devote days to this endeavor during my vacation. But, I decided that I am determined to write my senior thesis on how information and political messaging is spread inside Egypt.

Today, you have two (broadly speaking) groups—pro-Muslim Brotherhood and pro-military—who typically abide by two distinct and totally incompatible sets of facts. Facts within a given set are frequently completely baseless, terribly generalized, or logically impossible, and I am fascinated by the efficacy—and awful effect—with which they have been spread in Egyptian society. Next summer—God- and Harvard-willing—I will try to understand better how that source collects, crafts, and disseminates stories that are so grossly fictional (e.g. President Obama’s brother is a leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood), and why such large chunks of Egypt’s population—including so many extremely smart people—believe this news. I may entitle the thesis some version of: “The Jews Run America and Other Undisprovables Directing Egyptian Public Opinion after Morsy’s Deposition.”

Finally, we spent Saturday, our last day in Alexandria, at the nadii sayara (“The Driving Club”). The Club is a beach-side resort in Alex. Susie is a member, and she invited us all along for a day of swimming, gaming, and generally just relaxing in luxury. And boy was it luxurious! The place is absolutely gorgeous, and I had a blast swimming the seawater pool, playing Monopoly Deal (a card game based on Monopoly), and talking with Amany, Farida, Salma, Susie, and Nathan. There was also a baby! Amany’s niece joined us for a bit, and she was so cute!

After the nadii, Amany, Susie, Nathan, and I went over to Susie’s apartment to meet her husband, about whom I have heard so much! I had never been to her home before. Before we entered, Susie told us: “It’s a museum.” She wasn’t kidding, but she should have said that it was a museum of her life and personality. The place screams “Susie!” upon entry. It is made for entertaining, with beautiful artwork, sweets, and lavish couches adorning a large sitting room. Some of the artwork was actually done by Susie, and she even designed the marble-topped wooden bar at one end of the room! So impressive!

Susie’s husband, Hassan, is also just so cool! He is such a regal guy, with a commanding presence. I felt privileged to meet him, and he gave Nathan and I pointers about South Africa. Finally, we played with Susie’s lovely, blind dog named “Nu-nu.” Nu-nu was so kind, jumping on her hind paws to get some love from Susie. Unfortunately though, since she was blind, it was hard to pet her without frightening her by a sudden touch. I got her to calm down one time, and she immediately sat on my foot, and loved the attention.

After the apartment, Amany, Susie, Nathan, and I went in search of waffles. The quest was long—and in the end, roundabout, as the waffle place was actually pretty close to Susie’s—but offered very good exercise and was very fun. And the waffles were awesome! I then said my “see you laters” (I abhor saying “goodbye”) to Susie, and Amany, Nathan, and I hightailed it to the café, Teatro, where Sara and Tasnim were waiting. It was so good to see them; I had been sad to miss them that morning. Salma joined us a little later, and we all sat around with drinks and sheesha. It was Nathan’s first sheesha, and I think, a good first go! It was so nice having a last hangout, and it was even nicer when we heard that the curfew had been pushed back from 2100 to 2300! Sadly, that announcement came late so most cafes closed at around 2000 leaving us with little to do afterwards. So we finished our drinks at Teatro, played some “push-me-over”—a tradition from last summer in Alex—and made for home.

I hate goodbyes, and I am sure that I will be in Egypt again someday (next summer, insh’Allah!), so “see you later” was the word of the evening instead of “goodbye.” Farida and Nesrine came by Teatro as we were leaving to say toodles. They had both been at a prom, and could not join us sooner. We said farewells to them there, and then to Amany, Sara, and Tasnim at the door to Union.

I have said it, sang it, and written it countless times by now, but in my (probably) last post on Egypt for the next couple months, I want to say how much I adore and will miss the Bamboo Crew and Susie. For two years now, you have given me a home in Alexandria with your kindness, thoughtfulness, and eagerness to know me more. I will never forget that, and I am so grateful for your friendships. On a related note to my great friends, Ehab and Sherif, in Cairo—thank you guys so much for making a home for me in Cairo for these past years. I know I will see you soon, and I cannot wait until then.

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3 thoughts on “My Last Days in Egypt

  1. Honoured to have made it into your Alex blog, Wonderful writing and glad you had such a fabulous time. Didn’t know that you knew Susie – (if you knew Susie like……). Safe travels and look forward to more – Vickie 🙂

  2. HAHAHA @ “At first, I was afraid that he might drive me off somewhere where his friends were waiting to rob me” Love that.

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