4-5 August, Alexandria to Cairo
I get up and catch a bus to the train station, I end up getting on a crowded bus. They hang off the bus and it is pretty old and decrepit. I find even though I can’t speak Arabic, I find people seem to be able to help me. My Egyptian friend wrote my instructions in an English form of Arabic and then in the Arabic language so at the very least I can show someone. I was on the bus a while and sought advice about where to get off, not sure what the Central Station looks like. So I was advised to get off and asked people along the road which way. I was advised to go straight and keep walking. Fortunately when I first arrived in Cairo I was shown the façade of the station which has cloth and green scaffolding so I had a little idea. I walked for about 20 minutes and felt completely at peace, not afraid of anyone. I walked past men drinking tea and lots of little shops. I looked up and saw multi-story buildings with washing hung out.
I arrive at the station and a porter comes up to me and tells me the train leaves in 5 minutes, I should buy a ticket on the train. I only have 60 pounds on me so am told it should be 30 pounds each way. The porter indicates he wants a tip and I give him 10 pounds. I get on the train unaware it is first class. It is nice and air conditioned and I am always relieved to get out of the heat. I am keen to see Alexandria so I take any seat. The conductor comes up and he charges me 57 pounds I find out later this is one way as it is first class. I also find out on my return trip that first and second are not much different. So I should be paying 24 pounds it turns out. The beauty of being a foreigner you never really know. I get a coffee with the last of my money it costs 10 pounds, he lets me off to pay 6 pounds. Very expensive.
I arrive at Alexandria with literally no money. So I remember Manar telling me the library is in walking distance. As I walk I approach a young girl for directions. She offers to walk with me and suggests I’d be better getting a car. I tell her I don’t have any money, slightly embarrassed as this is a poor country. She offers to pay for me. I say it is fine and she keeps walking with me. She tells me that she is 21 years and a student and she wants to travel around the world. She says she loves risk. It is so interesting talking to a girl with a hajab who is spirited. We get on very well and we walk up to the Mediterranean sea. She says we will get a mini bus. They are small buses that ferry people around the city. She pays my ticket and walks me to the library. She lends her mobile phone so I can ring the Institute for Peace Studies. She helps me locate the entrance and then we hug and she leaves. The library is a significant location as Alexandria was historically perceived as the centre of learning. Out the front of this very modern library is a Greek philosopher. The designer was influenced by Greek philosophy. Of course Greece is just across the Mediterranean. Not far geographically.
I go through security and meet the people in the Institute for Peace Studies. It is a skeleton staff as most of the staff have gone to a conference in Jordan. Interestingly enough there was a missile attack from Israel into Lebanon and there is concern about the Middle East. Probably timely for a peace conference. This unit works on conflict resolution and peace education and apparently Suzanne Mubarack is the patron. I’ve been told that hospitals have been opened and there is no equipment. It was suggested to me that the community works are more for the perception of humanitarianism. However, the peace centre is a functioning centre and it is funded by the University of Peace, Costa Rica. So maybe this is one project that may at some point in the future contribute to a culture of peace. I can only hope.
I speak to the staff about my work and they give me reports on nuclear free middle east and terrorism issues. So when I get time I will read through. I am then taken on a tour of the library and shown this modern facility which has natural lighting and much art work in hallways around the library. I was also shown an 8 panel partial panoramic film on the pyramids and the history of Egypt. I was the only viewer, so I can thank the Institute of Peace for organizing that.
I was then given the opportunity to use the computer and I had to check the couch surfing to see if I had accommodation in Alexandria. Thankfully one responded, her name was Julie. Julie was living in Alexandria for 4 months with her boyfriend who is doing a internship in archeology, he has a particular interest in astronomy. I was able to find a ATM and after several attempts with my password (got wrong one) I finally had a flash and remembered it. I was surprised how easily I forgot. Had I not got the 3rd attempts right, I may have been in a spot.
I caught a taxi to the couch surfing place. The taxi driver says ‘pay what you want’ so I pay him 6 pounds and he doesn’t look happy. Just another ploy to try and get more money, I am getting wiser to this exploitation of foreigners. So I am watching the meter if there is one. I stayed with Julie and her partner Ellier. He took me down the beach and we looked at the sea (not ocean). I observed it had big concrete blocks that looked like large H symbols or TV shapes. They apparently are used to stop erosion of the coast line. You look and see highrise apartment blocks everywhere. It was nice to have a friend, Ellier is French and spoke good English. We talked by the water and some Egyptian boys came up curious about where we are from, one in particular spent time talking and then introduced his friends. They took photos and then walked on. Ellier and I walked back and I started juggling. People started to smile and interact, it is a great tool for getting attention and building positive connection as well. They seem to like this.
I met Julie and her Italian flat mates. One of them had been there 2 years and spoke Arabic. She was a lovely girl very experienced. She indicated there is a lot of corruption in Egypt and she said she was aware of political camps where people are sent and not heard from. So political opposition is not tolerated in Egypt there is a distinct one rule by one man and it is not challengeable. Human rights is an issue that is not discussed. She said the Egyptians are very black and white and can be very persuasive to get what they want. So they can be dishonest. Also she indicated they are extremely generous. I had certainly noted that by people helping me when I needed it and going out of their way.
I leave the next day to return to Cairo. I am again escorted to the train station by a friendly Alexandrian person. I am again helped at the counter and given a cheaper ticket this time. A nice lady is watching over my shoulder. I go to the platform and I am thinking about juggling, testing it out here. I lean against a bin and start juggling to myself. People start looking at me, mostly men on the platform. They start to smile and are intrigued by my juggling skills. Then I end up playing a ball game with a young guy and we are laughing and having fun. I start to notice a crowd is gathering and I bring out my juggling clubs. The people are impressed by this and smiles going around the group. They ask me where I am from I say ‘Australia’, some indicate it is a good country. They are really happy that I am juggling for them. After a while the police intervene and ask me to stop juggling. Incredible to think this is oppressed. It is just juggling three balls and many gather just to simply look, but the people here are not allowed to gather and for me the oppression becomes visible. Very interesting experiment.
I find I have friends in the crowd and as they leave for their train they are waving to me and very happy. One guy sits with me on my train and tells me he was very impressed by my juggling. He is an agricultural engineer. He shows me his son and we talk on the train about our lives. He wishes to keep in touch and I give him my card he exchanges with his number.
I get into Cairo station and make my way to the metro. I go to Sadat station and make my way to the Cairo museum. I am very interested in looking at the mummies and statues and learning more about the pyramids and antiquity. It costs 60 pounds to get in which is quite expensive. I look around and see ancient pottery, sculptures of Egyptian men and women, the pharohs and sarcophycus. I look closely at the hieroglyphics and get the feeling they are not to be read like a book but rather impressed onto memory. They are all pictorial and I notice the most recurring symbol is the ankh which is a symbol for the female goddess. There were also symbols of Egyptians walking (sideways profile), what appeared to be crows, and stories depicted in the glyphs. It was very interesting. I saw giant statues of pharaohs in the main part of the gallery and the burial sarcophagus with etchings of hieroglyphics and buried with artifacts for the afterlife. They had a deep spirituality and I suspect that the feminine was central to their power. I am also intrigued by what the hieroglyphics mean and the knowledge they conveyed. I still have to research this.
At the end of my tour I waited out the front of the museum for Kamal. I met him a few days earlier. A very handsome Egyptian man. He wishes to live in his integrity. I admire that. I was pleased to see him turn up and he took me for something to eat. He took me to KFC as it was air conditioned. I had some chips and a coffee. I noticed some young girls nearby they seem interested in westerners. They asked for a photo. I often get asked to be in a photo, so there is a perception of westerners. I had a nice conversation with Kamal and he then took me to a tea place and we got to know each other more. We went to a café for coffee and cake and then he walked me around the Nile. There were many people and it was beautiful seeing all the restaurant boats and buildings lite up. It was quite romantic. He kissed me and I felt happy to have met him. I couldn’t think of a more lovely way to spend my last night in the Egypt. He was a lovely guy and a gentleman. He walked me home and felt sad I was leaving. I am on a world trip and have to leave.
The corruption and problems in Egypt didn’t make me feel I would want to live there. I prefer a freer society where I, as a woman, have more choices.
In respect of a little information about how Cairo looks it has tall buildings, flat on top. There are satellite dishes on most buildings. So they are becoming globalised, particularly the young. That will affect how traditions are enforced and the expansion of ideas and other ways will challenge the status quo.