Thursday, January 7

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Cairo adventures

That title doesn't make much sense, does it? What does Cairo, a very Egyptian city, have to do with a year (or two) in Kenya? A terrible lot in my case. Kenya is very generous in its tourist visas. For just $25 you can stay in the country for six months and only need to check in with the immigration office once at the three-month mark. After that, though, it gets a little more difficult. Not only do you have to leave Kenya but all of East Africa for at least one night before buying a new visa. Kind of eliminated my original plan of quick bus ride across the Ugandan border.

Thus, Cairo. For a month or two it was struggling with Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates for the privilege of my visit. Flights to both were of roughly equal price, but EgyptAir won out for actually accepting my credit card. Kind of disappointing, actually. Cairo was my first choice because I had heard of it before, but after checking out Sharjah's Wikitravel entry, I got excited. Cultural capital of the Arab world? A museum with letters written by Muhammed? Yes, please, but some other year, I hope.

Anyway. First day in Cairo? Absolutely terrifying. I've been to enormous cities before. See London, Paris, Jakarta. I've been to cities with ridiculous traffic. See Istanbul, Jakarta. After six months in Nakuru, I've even grown used to not looking like everybody else. Those aren't so scary. Not being able to read anything is. Not that my Kiswahili is all that great, but at least it uses the same alphabet as English. If it comes down to it, I can give pronouncing "ndengu" the old college effort. At the very least, I'll recognize the word the next time I see the menu. Not happening here. They don't even use the same numbers. All I see are some backward 3's and dots. It's awfully disconcerting not knowing how much my lunch costs until I get my change back and praying the guy on the street isn't screwing me over. Doesn't help that spoken English isn't as common here as Kenya either.

It's gotten better since then. Kind of hard not to. Mostly I've just walked around, strolling along the Nile, crossing bridges, wandering the streets. You have no idea how wonderful that is until you've been denied it for six months. To walk without direction, just to move and enjoy the motion is something special that I may not have appreciated fully while still in Spokane and made regular trips down the Centennial Trail and across the falls. Nakuru is too small for good walking and way too many people yelling at me when I pass kind of kills the experience. It helps, too, that Khedive Ismail put some really effort into Midan Tahrir, the part of town my hostel is in, around the turn of the century and turned it into "Paris on the Nile." The buildings and their columns and all those other designs and elements make me wish I knew anything about architecture and could properly describe them. Wasn't really expecting the massive window displays of women's nightwear that probably isn't meant to stay on long. Bit of cognitive dissonance there when not infrequently passing women with the full headdress on.

In between seeing where this street would take me if followed long enough, I did manage to visit the Egyptian Museum yesterday. It's described as one of the largest collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world. I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing. Despite having several millennia of history, the range of Egyptian art was rather limited. They did sarcophagi, sculpture and some jewelry. Then it all begins to look the same. Every coffin has the same face, and every statue is either sitting straight or standing straight with the left leg out. As impressive as the excessive bounty of Tutankhamun's tomb was, it was just more of the same, just bumped up a few hundred notches on the money scale. The Egyptian Museum definitely could have profited from a "less is more" approach. The ancients must have wasted all their imagination creating however many thousands of pictographs their hieroglyphics demanded. I did, however, very much enjoy learning about the various deities that weren't Horus and Anubis. Like the ones with cobra, rabbit and dog heads. The one with a hippopotamus head was for fertility. Seems just a mite insensitive.

Until I leave late next Tuesday, the plan is visits to the Citadel, the surrounding Al-Azhar Park, Blood Wedding and Carmen at the opera, and, of course, the Pyramids and Sphinx. Other ideas will be considered.

No comments: