Monday, March 24, 2008

Birthday of the Prophet

If I was a Muslim, maybe I'd be a Sufi.

Sufis sing and dance, unlike some more conservative sects of Islam. They also celebrate the Prophet's birthday with a moulid, or festival, and stage a massive procession to Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque in Islamic Cairo, one of the most sacred religious sites in Egypt.

The moulid An-Nabi Mohammed, as it is called, draws thousands of people to the parade and the spiritual parties that last late into the night.

This was the best shooting experience I've had since I arrived in Egypt. I didn't bring my long lens, but it would have come in handy. Oh well. I did wear a head scarf to be on the safe side, but I didn't have any problems with wandering hands or harassment, despite the extremely crowded streets. People were really friendly and in that festive mood.

Most of the people marching were men, while the women lined the streets to watch the procession, sometimes breaking into song or chanting.

I'm a sucker for a cute kid saying "Sura, sura!" ("Picture, picture!")

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Maktaba Alexandria

Sorry I haven't posted all week. Things have been busy.

On the day trip to Alexandria last weekend, I visited the new library, which is gigantic. It's supposed to be a resurrection of sorts for Alexandria's ancient library which was torched in the 3rd century.

Check the Bibliotheca Alexandria website here

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Hitting the rails

A friend and I took the train to Alexandria Friday morning. I love the relaxed atmosphere, extra space and scenery that comes with train travel, plus I was excited to get out of Cairo. Since the trip was supposed to take only two and a half hours, we decided to make it a day trip.

The trip actually took four hours. Maelisch. (Nevermind!)

My brave travel companion Grace.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

City Oasis

Cairo is without doubt the noisiest place I have ever lived. It has been described to me several times as the New York City of the Middle East, a comparison that seems to fit because of the noise, traffic, grime and chaos.

The relative peace on the Nile is surprising and welcome.

On Tuesday, a new photojournalist friend arranged a Nile felucca ride, my first since moving to Cairo. A felucca is an Egyptian sailboat, and you pay by the hour to sail around on the river. It is affordable and definitely one of life's little pleasures.

There was plenty of wind to fill the sails, and we spent an hour and a half touring around.

Yes that is the Four Seasons Hotel in the background. The feluccas are understandably popular with tourists.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I had to learn the Egyptian way to cross the street, an art which requires timing, concentration, depth perception and guts.

Crossing the street seems like a pretty basic thing, but in Cairo, a city of 20-25 million people, where cars, buses, trucks, donkey carts and motorcycles all traveling as fast as they can pack the roads, it's a whole new experience. Stoplights, crosswalks and blinkers are optional (and often ignored), as are the lane markings on the road. Cars sometimes go the wrong way down the street. Drivers may slow down for people on foot or swerve within inches. They rarely seem to stop.

Like driving in Egypt, crossing the street takes a little aggression. Egyptian pedestrians generally just step into traffic and start walking across, stopping between "lanes" when cars are coming too quickly. Hopping, running, walking, weaving and holding a hand up to slow cars may all be involved. It's actually easier to cross when traffic is really heavy and cars are moving slowly. I have the most trouble when traffic is only moderate, because people drive too fast.

Tourists just confuse Egyptian motorists. They get confused if you don't just GO already, like all the other pedestrians. I am actually much better at it now, but I have spent many an afternoon working up the nerve to cross a busy street, only to have every taxi slow down in front of me to see if I need a ride. So I finally GO already but I chicken out halfway through and just run across, saying, "Please don't hit me, please don't hit me."

Of course drivers don't intend to hit anyone with their cars, traffic just moves quickly here, and if you drive too slow, someone will surely pull around you, pull out in front of you or use some other aggressive tactic.

Luckily crossing the street Egyptian-style does get easier.