These were originally a series of emails sent to my immediate family and friends. Their ormatting has been left largely intact.
Hey Fam! (and random friends that I have convinced to receive these emails)
It is practically noon here and I just woke up. We were out until 4am last night watching dancing and music and smoking hookah. Cairo by night is a whole other scene and I love it.
We started the day yesterday with a tour of Coptic Cairo with Nibal and our driver. We saw the Cavern Church (famous for housing baby Jesus and Mary when they came to Egypt), the Church of St. George (who defeated a dragon and had a tragic death involving chains and dragging. You were allowed to take a selfie with the chains that he supposedly died in around your neck. I declined), a beautiful synagogue, and the Hanging Church (named for being built above ground) where there was an active service happening during our visit and where I had to have a little cry in the back row because it was all so moving.
We grabbed street falafels on the way to our next destination, the fortress of Salahdin. Built above the city to protect it, it was the city center for many hundreds of years and from it we could see the Giza pyramids in the distance.
There was a beautiful mosque there, built a little later then the fortress, the Muhammad Ali Mosque. We had to have shoe coverings to go inside. There were quite a few active solo or family worshipers there with us, probably all fellow tourists. We got a passionate lecture from Nibal about Islam and how many misconceptions there are about how they treat women and what they believe about violence. Although it is well known what a divide there is between regular Islamic practitioners and extremists who twist its meaning for evil, it was still pretty heartbreaking to hear how much Nibal was affected personally by it.
We finished out our day with Nibal at the Egyptian Museum. I was really glad we had her around because the sheer volume of artifacts was overwhelming. The crown jewel of the museum is the King Tutankhamen collection, which is over 5,000 pieces of gold, wood, and stone work on items that might be used in everyday ancient Egyptian life. I can’t quite explain how amazing it was in detail, size (both huge and teeny tiny work), and especially in opulence. Of course, King Tut was actually a minor ruler of not much clout- he only led for 10 years. His importance in history is really more that his tomb was the least disturbed (read: robbed) from the Valley of the Kings. Can you imagine what the tomb of a ruler of many years might look like?
Next we rested for a few hours at an American dancer named Shahrzad’s flat in Zamalek, a wealthy neighborhood with a lot of expats. Shahrzad has been living here for two years with her boyfriend and has managed to build herself an amazing career dancing at weddings and hotels with her band. She also teaches worldwide and is recording a CD of original dance music with musicians here because she is a music nerd. Basically, she is the coolest. We tagged along with her to two gigs, each at a different hotel across town. She made a joke that the dressing rooms are the same everywhere- hers was a store room- however, she had an assistant at each place to serve her coffee and wheel her suitcase around. This is something I’ve never gotten at a gig…! She also performed with a six man band and singers at both places. Her shows were roughly an hour long, with breaks for costumes changes, all things you don’t often find at gigs in the US. She performed to many classic sing-alongs and had audience members clapping and dancing in their seats. Lots of Um Kalthoum, who is a singer with no real Western counterpart to compare to. Maybe most close to Elvis, but with a much more enduring and worshipful fandom. Her funeral drew hundreds of thousands of mourners to the streets in 1975.
I really want to nerd out on you all more about music and dance in Egypt but I have to get going on our planned day! We are going shopping at a fancy costume atelier, have a private lesson in Mahgranat Shaabi (a street style dance to accompany a style of music here that mostly closely resembles rap), and dinner with a life coach friend of mine who was born here but usually lives in the UAE.