Sunday, February 5, 2012

Observations #3

13. These are the Abul Gheit Dervishes. Their name comes from an island in the Nile Delta where a queen used to live. She enslaved the island's inhabitants, angering an old pious man named Hassan. One night, Hassan found a dead body floating in the canal. He buried the body, and then fell asleep, to be awakened by a "messenger of God" who made him a saint, capable of performing miracles. The queen tried many times to kill Hassan, but he always survived, which led people to believe that he had in fact received a special kind of blessing. His son started the group of chanters and singers to perform a kind of exorcism of malicious spirits. The descendants, above, now perform to tourists and don't talk a lot about exorcisms or special powers, though the music is great.

14. An Egyptian friend who spends time in Tahrir square told me that a lot of the teenage protesters lie to their parents about where they are. More than once, she said, someone will ask her for a quick idea, a believable story, for when they get home. One boy told his parents he was spending three days on the Mediterranean beach, when in fact he was running from tear gas and sleeping under tents shaking in the freezing wind.

15. Roughly twenty young men hijacked a police lorry and took it for a joy ride through the streets of downtown last Sunday, to the confusion of shopkeepers and café goers.

16. Amazingly, there are no rats in the Cairo subway. You can, however, buy remote controlled toy rats that glow and wag their little plastic tails.

17. Cairo’s best Chinese food can be found off a small side street in the working class neighborhood of Abbaseya, where emigrants of northwest China’s Uyghur minority cook to support their studies at Al Azhar University. We ate soups of homemade noodles and endless dishes of tofu, seaweed, and cabbage. The owner speaks no Arabic, the menu is all pictures, and the chefs are Sudanese.

18. A hookah and dessert stop-in downtown called Jungle Land is the Rainforest Café with an added dose of camp. Fake foliage covers the low ceilings, faux taxidermy tigers and monkeys stand with their mouths agape, and waiters cross a bridge over a little fake stream to deliver your drinks. One night in the winter, the waiters brought out wispy bunt (the kind used for spider webs in haunted houses) and covered the trees in a white haze. I asked one what they were doing. “It’s winter, so we have snow,” he said, with absolutely no irony.  

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