Monday, January 16, 2012

Travelogue: The Colourful Friday of Cairo

Taxi Tips: Know Your Numbers

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Evening at a Tahrir Cafe

Can’t Everyday in Cairo be a Friday?
I wish everyday of our trip would have been a Friday, so that I could get the opportunity to offer the grand prayers, جمعہ, in five different historical mosques! 

Out of the innumerable, the Mosque of Huusain (RA), مسجد حسین, is special. It is believed to bury the head of Hussein ibn ‘Alī (RA), امام حسین, the beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), حضرت محمّد. The awareness also resolved my confusion of choice!

حیی علی خیر الفلاح 
It was already full house when I reached the mosque around 11. Consequently, I had to sneak around to find a place to squeeze inside the hall in a rather uncivilized manner. Imam of the prayers, خطیب, sounded like an exceptional orator. He was quoting historical references, especially from the life of the Prophet, to stimulate the responding audience to quit the bad habits and to come back towards an honest life. 

After the inspiring speech, خطبہ, he led the official prayers, during which I was observing the fine difference in the prayers when compared to how it is observed in Pakistan. The most notable was the use of Muakabbir, مکبر, which has now been obsolete in most of the Subcontinent after the acceptance of microphone. 

The other major difference was the better communication between the Imam and the audience, during the speech. 

Post prayers, a group made a couple of standing rows facing towards each other and started chanting ‘Allah-Allah’ in a chorus with a man in the traditional attire walking in between as their leader. That was the variant of Zikr, ذکر, which is observed among the followers of Islamic mysticism quite seriously.
Masjid Hussain
The Sunday Market
During the walking marathon to and from the mosque, located off the busy Azhar street in the heart of Khan Kahlili bazaar, I observed how the Friday prayers produce a contrast in the lifestyle. Before the congregation, the outdoors was peaceful and festive. And once that was done, it looked like that whole of Cairo was out on the streets. They were actually! 
Within no time, the whole area turned into a gigantic bazaar, with literally no space even to walk, especially in the inner narrow streets! 

Getting Lost in the Narrow Cairo Streets
Soon I got lost in the zigzag alleyways – abundant with the consumer stuff on one hand and historical structures on the other! I only realized that when the sun went behind me instead of being in the front initially! 
Getting Lost
Mosque Al-qamar b. 1125 AD
The City of Minarets
City Gates
Thick Walls
Some Food Now!
Want to Buy One?
Shop Till Drop
A couple of hours later I came back to the bazaar district, this time with the better half, for the shopping spree to follow!

We took the taxi to the the Al-Hussain mosque before diving into the Khan Al-Khalili, خان خلیلی. 

After an hour of meandering, we actually found ourselves at the same place we started from and without a clue what to buy at what price. In this fix, we saw an Egyptian family – out for shopping – and impulsively decided to follow them! 

Soon we found ourselves in a bottleneck type gully which fortunately opened in a big shop selling stitched as well as unstitched clothes. It was like coming out of a deep buried tunnel and suddenly exposing to a refreshingly inspiring landscape in front!

The fixed price store had something to offer for everyone; even for the Misha’s aunt gang! The feeling of not being ripped-off made us more confident so that we could also shop from the vendors spread all around. For us, the biggest challenge was not those hard selling touts, as many tourists complain, but to actually found artifacts which are not ‘Made in China’! And that was a tough task, I bet. 
The 'Sunday Market'!
Khan Khalili
Local Experience
Emad's call saved me from bankrupting who was free in the evening to take us to the famous Tahrir cafes. Although working as a Sales Engineer, Emad has not only got good insight of the ongoing political transformation but is also an eyewitness of the historical happening around the square.

"There are already 30,000 inmates and all is ok till we are one of them", he replied casually when I asked if there are still touts around while sipping the hot and tasty Sahlab!

The corrupt regime brought the country to a point where even the educated middle-class youth did not mind getting imprisoned.
Mubarak is No Longer Required
The Conspiracy Theory
The uncertainty whether the army would easily give the long held luxuries still prevailed in the air with all sort of rumors spreading around. "You know many even believe that there are Pakistani Jihadis positioned around the Tahrir to conquer the turbulent country?", I failed to swallow the peanut when he further enlightened me!

It was around midnight when we came back to our hotel only to find out that we are missing something!

Going back home after visiting an Arab country without carrying Halawa would have been a bad omen. So we dived into the market again, this time in the downtown to pack a few kilograms of mixed sweets, مشکّہ, before creeping into the warm blankets!

Today's Expense Sheet
EGP 10 Mobile Credit
EGP 35 Food
EGP 5 Taxi
EGP 35 Taxi to Airport (Next Morning)
EGP 740 Can you guess?
1 USD = 6 EGP
1 EGP = 15 PKR

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