May 232008

After spending an hour or so exploring the Citadel and its surrounding areas, Mike and I were approached on the street by a friendly Egyptian with a perfect American accent claiming to be a History teacher. We chatted while waiting for our chance to dash across a busy street, and in doing so, he mentioned that there was a cool mosque right on his way home if we’d like to walk with him. Sure, sounds good!

The neighborhood he took us through was one of the most interesting we’d seen – a glimpse at how some of the poorer citizens of Cairo really live. Unlike the glistening main thoroughfares we’d seen earlier, these back alleys were the same unpaved roads and dilapidated buildings as I’d noticed in Suez. Lots and lots of litter. Camel carcasses hanging outside meat shops with flies half-covering the exposed flesh. Little old ladies with wooden crates of pigeons sitting on the street corner. And faint Arabic music coming from inside any of the countless sheesha cafes – by which I mean a few overturned buckets outside a small eatery with old men sitting on them and blowing smoke out onto the streets. Very, very…authentic.

But once we arrived at the Mosque, we realized that once again, we’d been scammed.

First, he wanted 50 pounds each to go inside. Except for the major tourist attractions, mosque entrances are free – you tip whatever you feel is appropriate when leaving. Never more than 5 pounds or so. 50 would be outrageous. We told him we couldn’t afford it and were going to explore the area on our own, but the man was quick to start guilting us for a tip in exchange for his troubles. To get rid of him, we handed over 10 pounds. “It’s very small money! You should give me 20 at least…!” Again, 20 pounds would be outrageous.

Alright, now it’s REALLY starting to get old. But at least this time it had a cool result.

We continued exploring the area, eventually stumbling on a local bazaar that grew and grew until we realized that we’d walked all the way back to Khan al-Khalili.

It was in this market that I got the call about Papa’s declining health. It was very loud and difficult to hear, but I managed to get the message. “Papa’s dying.”

I went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day on Skype trying to figure out what to do. Based on his condition and the doctors’ recommendations, my dad and I determined that I should wait a day or two to see what happens before hurrying back home to California. Mike and I canceled all our plans and changed things around to do the pyramids the next day, in case I’d have to leave Egypt on a whim. The Pyramids were pretty much the only reason I came to this country in the first place.

The next morning, when I called to check on his status, I learned that he’d passed away during the night. Only my dad was with him. It came as a surprise to all of us.

The memorial will be June 8th, 4 days after my ticket home.

(Note: This post was originally part of the previous, later split into two.)

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