It is finally getting warmer in Cairo- I can feel the ridiculous temperatures I was promised in guide books, but I will be out of here just as it reaches the unbearable point. Still, it is definitely not as warm as I thought it would be, and I know that my home state of Arizona is much worse right now.
Yesterday, I was running around between Zamalek, my favorite island ever, and Old Cairo where all of the ancient mosques and burials are located. I spent the morning at Beano’s, my new favorite cafe in Zamalek tucked across the Italian embassy where with my taco salad (which promised guacamole but none came with it) and spicy chicken wrap (it actually was spicy- flavor in food in Egypt? Possible), I was in no mood to get out of the air conditioned room to take a taxi across the city to meet my friend for our architecture project. But I did, of course.
As I hailed a taxi I somehow ended up with the same driver I had about a month ago who took my to the airport for my flight to Saudi Arabia. This was exactly what I did not want- to have to make small talks with a driver who are usually very friendly and eager to teach you Arabic but after four months living here, sometimes, it gets old. And this one in particular wanted me to be his second wife and exchange numbers as I recalled. So I made a few essential phone calls, including one to my friend so he can tell my buddy where this mosque that I had to visit was (as usual, they always say they know where you want to go but really, they don’t), said my thank yous and got off.
The Mosque of Mahmoud Pasha is much smaller than other mosques I have visited. It is in the Citadel area, and it was made during the Ottoman rule, but with a very Mumluk design. For our last project in my Art and Architecture class, we had to pick a monument and write about it and this is what we chose- a lesser known mosque built in the honor of an Ottoman minister. It was grand inside, with its high walls and thick columns, and people lying all around, taking naps and some students with their Manchester United soccer jerseys reading the Qur’an in a corner. There were stained glass windows and gorgeous wooden doors and stone work all around the small area. No one bothered me and my friend about money or tips as we did our little tour and took photos.
The mosque is right across the grand Sultan Hassan mosque, a place that I have wanted to visit for a long time but was rejected twice, once because it was closed, and another time because some minister in the government decided to have an event there and they would not let any tourists in. My mom and sister did visit it when they were here and told me that I have to go to it before I leave Cairo. Might as well be now- and we entered, and the women refused to not let me pay for my ticket even though I was Muslim (I was wearing a head scarf, and showed my ID which clearly said my last name was Hassan, and I know she probably couldn’t even read). I was a bit offended that she looked at me, shook her fingers, and told me I was not Muslim, I was a tourist. So tourists can’t be Muslim? It is not the money issue but the principle of it, and the fact that they are acting this way in a mosque of all places.
The mosque was quite gorgeous- the “marble carpet” was very detailed and the mehrab was stunning with its multi-colored marble work with gold and paint and the long chained lamps everywhere. There were a lot of dark passageways randomly around the mosque and some Gothic motif that was beautiful. Absolutely worth the trip.
In the evening, right before sunset, few of us decided to go to Al Azhar park- one of my favorite places in the city. We bought some cheese, bread, turkey slices and hummus with us to the park and found a great grassy spot where you can see all of Cairo, from Zamalek far away, to the Citadel and various mosques everywhere, to the shadows of pyramids too. The park is very well maintained- it is nice to see that the 5 pound entrance fee is actually being used), with gorgeous flowers everywhere and landscaping, and amazing few cafes including one int he man made lake. There are young Egyptian couples everywhere, heavily dressed up and holding hands.
And then there were these bunch of children who decided to come talk to us, spill our orange juice on my friend’s Mac laptop, and then being shooed away by this young Egyptian guy, and then coming back again saying “f$#% you!” over and over..and then coming back again to apologize. These were nine to ten year olds. We all thought it was pretty funny and odd…especially when one of them wanted to teach me Arabic and told me their parents were not their and they took a taxi on their own. Hmm…
Overall, I saw a lot of Cairo in one day and it felt nice- a way for me to start saying my goodbyes. I cannot believe that I am out of here in two weeks, this week being my last at AUC. And then off to Istanbul for a few days to celebrate on Friday. And in the meanwhile, Arabic vocabulary words, here I come!