Friday August 23, 2013 Egypt Impressions
Kostya and I have just arrived in Maadi Cairo after a long day of twists and turns. It began this morning in Pasadena, Los Angeles, California. We finished packing and had a very hard time capturing our cats for the trip back to Egypt. Bossa and Donya were afraid and after lots of hissing, running, scaring and scratches we got them both in the bag. After a discussion we decided they had gained so much weight living in US for two months that they could no longer fit in one bag comfortably. We decided to leave Donya behind with Christopher, split them up and just take Bossa back to Egypt with us. On the way to the airport Kostya said he felt like we were doing the wrong thing, just like in the film Black Fish when they captured young orcas and took them away from their families, we were dividing the two sister cats.
At LAX it was a mad house, millions of people flying everywhere. Nile had reserved for the two cats with Delta Air via Paris to Cairo, but we soon found out that the flight was operated by Air France and there was no way they were going to let our cat fly without a micro chip. Nile complained and said that Delta had the reservation and never mentioned this to us. Air France was awful and took no responsibility for the lack of information and their partnership with Delta. Both Delta and Air France were incompetent. Many people were complaining on the flight about AF treatment. The Air France lady told us that we would have to go through customs in Paris even though it was just a one hour transit connection. She told us they would “kill our cat” if we took her. Obvioiusly Bossa went back to Pasadena with Christopher. In Paris there was no customs and we just changed gates. The AF lady had lied. A passenger near us had her dog with her and no one checked it at all. In the end, it was probably for the best that we did not bring Bossa so that the two cats were not separated. (Kostya is planning on adopting another baby cat. He wants to get a cat bag and carry it with us everywhere we go in case he sees the cat that he wants.)
Aboard the flight we were calm and comfortable. We watched movies, slept and ate. We arrived in Paris and had less than an hour to change planes. We met my WHO colleague Dr. Hassan Salah and his family at the gate and the kids got along great. The flight to Cairo was uneventful and we arrived to an empty airport at 5:15pm. Our flight was the only one that landed. Everyone rushed us through customs and immigration and baggage claim because everyone including those who work at the airport have to be home by 7:00pm curfew and everyone is taking this very seriously. None of our bags arrived, thanks to AF. I suppose they never made it on the flight from Paris. So we left with only our carry-ons.
Aunt Laila’s driver Salama met us and drove us home stopping at a grocery store to get some quick purchases milk, cereal, tomatoes, cucumbers, tea and pasta. We made it to Leila’s apartment by 6:45. Salama left us and told me not to go out at all in the evening.
Kostya watched TV and I phoned friends to tell them we had arrived.
It is extremely strange here in Egypt, not like ever before. Normally we would find it bustling, busy and gay. At the airport I saw three different peasant women crying out of stress and uncertainty. Maybe they were Syrian refugees or Egyptian peasants. I don’t know. They were most likely going to be spending the night on the airport floor. The streets were empty as we drove to Maadi, compared to normal. The curfew has really changed life here. Nothing is open after 6pm and there is no one walking on the streets or on the Corniche Il Nile holding hands or dancing to music or eating sweets. It is just dead and the feeling is anything but Egypt.
Our rented apartment is on the 23rd floor over-looking the Nile River on the Maadi Cornish. The view is extraordinary and we can see the Pyramids directly across the river. The balcony is usually full of life and food and people. Today it is quiet and no one is laughing together. The Nile is quiet. One lone felucca sailed in front of us, probably the felucca owner who is trying to hold on to the love and gift of Egypt in his heart just one more day. There is no noise from boats playing loud obnoxious Arabic music. Now that it is gone, I miss it. Now that there are no young men selling roses on the Corniche, I miss them. Now that the horns are not honking and the youngsters are not singing and dancing in the streets, on their car roofs and on the sidewalks, I miss it.
I am sad to know that Khan El Khalil Souk is closed and dark. I am stunned to think that the ancient Cafe Fishawy in the heart of the Khan is without Egyptians and their rhythm, sellers, incense, tea, fortune tellers, tourists and cats, stunned that this might be the first time in her 700 year old history that this elderly Cafe is resting in its life. Fishawy Cafe is one of the only places on the planet where you can get a cup of tea at any time of the day, week, month or year, any time. This may be the first time it is closed. Salaam All
Saturday evening 24 August
Today we took care of business, banks, rent, phones, internet, etc. and visiting one friend before the curfew.
Our apartment is on the Maadi Corniche 23rd floor overlooking the Nile with the Pyramids straight across the Nile. Just below the balcony is a check point with tanks and soldiers. They are keeping the peace and looking for thugs or anyone that is trying to make trouble. It is the main entrance to Maadi. Today the curfew was extended to 9pm. Yesterday it was 7pm. Any cars or people who are out after curfew are questioned and then go on. It is calm and well done so far. There was a bit of normalcy this evening when one boat on the Nile played music and people partied aboard for a small wedding group. The jokes about the situation are quite funny. CNN is called CNZift (which means CNShit and it rhymes) Al Jazeera is called “Alkharrea” which means the Pigs and it also rhymes. Everyone is really pissed off at how the American, Saudi and Qatari media are representing Egypt’s revolution.
The Egyptian people are fighting the same terrorists as the West, fundamentalist Muslims who represent less than 1% of Muslims. Egyptians are mostly Muslim (85%) but they are NOT fundamentalists – they are regular people who want normalcy in their lives and happen to be Muslim – just like most Americans who are Christian by birth. Don’t let the media make you think otherwise. Imagine if the radical Tea Party – SOME of whom are people who kill doctors that perform abortions were backed by another country. This is how the Egyptians feel about other nations (those mentioned above) backing the Muslim Brotherhood. The hate it.
Enough politics……but you can imagine that is what is on everyone’s mind these days in Egypt. Egyptians want their country back. The country that welcomed millions of tourists every year, the country that sang and danced at the drop of a hat, the country that has been tolerant and open for thousands of years. They want all that and democracy, freedom and justice too. It is not easy to get and it will take years. The French revolution took 100 years and their constitution was rewritten 13 times before they got it right. Freedom, democracy and justice is messy business because there many (mostly outside Egypt) who do not want that to happen for various reasons.
I believe that in the end the Egyptian people will prevail. I have never seen a people that love their country so very much; the history, the culture, the food, the social life, the relationships, the language, the music, dance, the people are all of that.
This was written in haste and I have not re-read it – so please be kind – I have to sleep – don’t worry we are fine and surrounded by good friends that care about us and our safety.