Saturday, September 20, 2008

An Evening in Cairo

As noted previously, I recently returned from leave. Rather than going home, The Wife was able to come over here, and see some of Egypt with me. Day one was a trip from the post to Cairo in a hired taxi.

The process for getting a taxi from post is a little different from getting one in the States. Here, one goes to either the laundry facility or the barbershop, and negotiates in broken English with the local version of the New Jersey Dockworkers Union. They'll take your money (cash only, in dollars only) now, and then arrange a ride for you. Don't bother asking for a receipt; there'll be a sudden failure of communication that will last until you quit asking for one. Then the day of leave, you negotiate our front gate (which is a lot more than just a gate), and wait for somebody to show up. You won't know their name, or have a cell phone number. Or get someone who speaks more than 20 words of English. If you're lucky, like I was, they'll even show up on time.

Then into the car, with an MP3 player of non-stop prayer tracks (Ramdan, don't you know) for four hours to Cairo. With a quick stop to pick up the driver's brother in a slum on the way. On the upside, he speaks more English. On the downside, he's got a fundamentalist beard and a callous on his forehead from the time spent with his head on the floor. And on the wierd side...he's wearing a U.S. Army PT shirt. I tell him I like his shirt, which he thinks is pretty funny. From there, we drive on, passing through at least four different checkpoints, each one with military/police in a different uniform. But the AK 47s are pretty consistent.

As we approach Cairo, the traffic, horns, air, and driving gets worse. Lines on the road and lights are taken as suggestions. In Cairo itself, it's the ultimate example of individuality on the road. Everyone does what they want, horns are used more than brakes, turn signals are non-existent.

Finally, we reach the airport. I'm dropped off at the opposite end of the airport, due to commo problems. After five minutes of trying to get the point across, I give up and hump luggage over to where The Wife is going to show up. Heading to the restroom to offload the morning's coffee, I encounter an Egyptian tradition: the restroom attendant. His job is to hand you some paper towels and wait for a tip. Unless there's no paper towels, in which case he'll hand you a big wad of toilet paper to wipe your hands on. Then stare at you, until you cough it up.

Eventually finding the wife, and our travel agent rep, we're swept into a van and driven to the hotel. Which I'm pleasantly suprised to find is quite nice. Except for the metal detector in all the entrances, staffed by the tourist police. Where I find out carrying a folder with a four inch blade is quite illegal in Egypt. Thanks to being an ignorant American with an Egyptian Ministry of Defence ID, I'm permitted to hand the blade over to my tour rep, who will return it to me at the end of my leave. In the meantime, I have instantly become the most recognizable foreigner in the hotel to the tourist police, who apparently think I'm borderline insane. I'm informally questioned on it by the police at the metal detector, who can't believe people are allowed to walk around with weapons in the United States. The same officer has difficulty believing there aren't police with automatic weapons every few blocks in the US. Regardless, we make it to our room and settle in until our scheduled sound and light show at the pyramids in the evening.

Which will follow later, when my fingers are more coordinated ......

No comments: