Thursday, July 13, 2006

Islamic Cairo - A Three Hour Tour!

We signed up to go on the Intensive Islamic Cairo Tour. We thought that it would be a half-day tour...boy, were we ever wrong! Our tour ended up lasting 7 hours and 40 minutes! We were exhausted by the end of it. We learned a lot of interesting new things though!

Before you can go into a mosque you need to take off your shoes. The next thing is to make sure that the girls are modest. At some places we had to wear full robes. At other places we just had to cover our heads with a scarf. And I even had to tie a scarf around my stomach because my midriff was "immodest" (I had a layered shirt since my undershirt was showing we had to cover it...). Sometimes instead of taking off our shoes we put on shoe coverings, but this was only at mosques that are no longer used for worship.

We learned the origin of the word "chair" as used in "department chair." I'm not sure that it necessarily evolved from Arabic, but when mosques were used for places of instruction the teacher would sit on a chair and all the students would sit on the floor around them. We learned this while sitting on the floor around Mohammed Eissa, the professor who gave our tour.

Andrew was excited that he could recognize different types of architecture. Most of the minarats that we've seen in both Egypt and Jordan have been a solid tower. However, we saw one mosque, Ibn Touloun's, which was done Iraqi style, with the staircase on the outside.

The cherry on our Islamic Tour cake was the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha. It was based on the Blue Mosque in Turkey and had a lot more decoration than the other mosques that we had seen. The acoustics in this mosque were amazing! Inside there are 365 lamps to represent the days of the year.

We also went to some rather fancy houses. One was the house of Gayer Anderson: a very wealthy British man who left his house to the Egyptian government. His whole house was amazing. There was a huge collection of Islamic art, and the house was huge! It just kept going and going. If I had to make a "list of things to do in Cairo" this would definitely be on there. It was really cool.

We also went into some of "Old Cairo" which is still surrounded by the city wall. It really isn't too bad, but there is a lot of garbage on the streets and they were replacing the water lines so the road was a little torn up. We had to walk through an old gateway and through all that garbage to get to the torn up road. After we passed the construction the roads were fine...the construction went almost all the way through the center of Old Cairo so I'm not sure that we ever officially "passed" it unless we were on one of the side streets.

Another fancy house that we went to was an old schoolmaster's house. It had a series of wings that were used to house students, teachers, the headmaster's family and so forth. We had a tour guide that was taking us through the rooms one by one and explaining things to everyone in Arabic. At this point we were all so fatigued that no one was really paying attention. Gayer Anderson's house was cooler, but I think that was just because we got to explore it on our own.

This is the ticket to get into the above explained house (al Darb el Asfar). These tickets are pretty much uniform throughout Egypt.

When we got out of Old Cairo, we really were tired. It was past 2 in the afternoon and we had not eaten since breakfast. Many people were out of water. We were not a happy group. We wanted food. We wandered out onto the street and all these restaurant workers started trying to get us to eat at their place. They were moving tables out in front of us while we were walking, pushing us into their restaurants and continuously telling us to eat at their store. One guy even arm wrestled Wade, promising us all free beverages if Wade won. Wade lost. We didn't eat lunch (there was no time! we had to keep going!) because we were on a slave-drive tour again, so we all filed onto the bus after getting our water.

Kirk did end up buying us all pita bread while we were on our way to the last mosque we visited (the Muhammed-ali Mosque) from a pita seller. It was probably the best-tasting pita bread I've ever had in my life. That, or I was absolutely famished. There are bread-sellers everywhere. They carry their bread with them. We caught a guy on a bicycle...impressive, no?

Also around this area of the neighbourhood is the City of the Dead. It is actually a graveyard but people have begun to live there. So many, in fact, that the city government has gone in to put in water pipes. It is pretty crazy how desperate people are for housing and really sad that they are too poor to live elsewhere. You can't see it too well in this shot, but behind that wall is a nice mix of tombs and make-shift houses.

After finally heading home, Andrew and I went swimming to relax and then went to dinner and straight to bed. We were exhausted and rather glad that our 3 hour tour (aka 7 hour and 40 minute tour) was over!

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