Sunday, October 22, 2006

My failed expedition

As you may have discerned from my previous post, I am supposed to be on vacation right now, admiring the marvels of Istanbul; however, a minor error of my intelligence has postponed the trip to a later date. You see, while I was writing the previous post, I should have been scrambling to throw my things into my suitcase and rush to the airport. I purchased the ticket around 2:30 on Wednesday for the next day at 2:45. The AUC travel agent told me 2:45, and the ticket read 02:45, so I assumed that this meant 2:45 pm. Alas, the stupidity of Amercians understanding military time. Had I thought about it, I would have realized that the flight was Thursday morning, but, no, I spent Thursday morning leisurely packing and arriving at the airport around 12:45. Not seeing my flight listed on the screen, I went to the information desk, asked where I should go, and they said "No Turkey flight now."
"But my ticket says 2:45!"
"Not until tonight."
I snatched the ticket back from them, examine the numbers more closely, and discover that, truly, the flight is an am, and even worse, that I missed it. Surprisingly, I didn't panic, but asked , "Feen Al-Mekteb Turkee?" Drat it, foiled again, for the Turkish Airlines office only operates from 11-5 in the morning; so, I caught a cab back to Zamalek, callled the Turkish airlines affice at the Hilton, which does, thankfully, prescribe to normal operating hours, and learned that seats for which my ticket are valid were full, but I could go to the airport and see if any opened up. Well, fine, I decided to go to the airport that evening and argue my way onto the plane. Before returning to the rather dreadful airport, I went out with Frannie and another friend to a great pseudo-Mexican restaurant in Mohendiseen, my anticiapation building yet again for Turkey. Arriving at the airport, I argued with the Turkish Airlines man for at least 20 minutes, until he finally told me to wait until about 2, and then he'dsee if any seats are still available. I waited, rather patiently, especially for me, until about 2:15, and then, in my politest voice, asked if any seats or available. During the over 10 minutes it takes him to inquire, I began planning the route to the gate, estimating how long it will take to sprint there with a suitcase and small duffel bag. All of this planning was for naught, because he finally returned and saud, "mafeesh." ARGGHHHH! I honestly think that there were tickets available, as he showed me the computer screen with empty seats, but that either he or his boss were too indolent or intent upon me not flying the plane. I returned home, defeated, showered and climbed into bed miserably.
I awoke the next morning to realize my roommate had already left for her adventure in Jordan, and contemplated wallowing in my despair for the next four days. Since I'd already done that enough during the SCUBA incident, and this was basically my fault, and I am going to Siwa Oasis and the Mediterannean on Tuesday, I instead reposed around the apartment, went to the gym and booked a massage for the next day, and set up a date with my friend.
I met this friend on the internet, a fact which rather infuriated my parents, but Carolyn's actually really nice, more like a surrogate mother with a sense of adventure than anything. An English teacher in Maadi (that's where all of the American ex-pats live), she's only been here for about a year and enjoying exploring all of Cairo's eccentricites, like me. I met her on the Fodor's Africa and Middle East Forum, whose members provided copious, intelligent advice for my upcoming Tanzania trip (2.5 months to go!). I occasionally answer people's questions abou Egypt, and so does Carolyn, so we met up about a month ago at the Cilantro across the street from AUC. We met again yesterday to visit an intriguing arts and crafts gallery she'd read about in the newspaper and in a guidebook. We knew the address but nothing else of the dukan gemb al-Khan El-Khalili, store next to the Khan. Using my innate, precise sense of direction (wink, wink ;-) we found it without any wrong turns down serpentine alleyways. Seriously, though, it was rather difficult to find, and the address was very vague, behind the Al-Azhar mosque between Beit Al-Halawi and Beit Al-Khatoun, but I led us right there! It was the most fascinating store I've yet to encounter, with goods ranging from wrought iron lamps to hand-painted platters to soft cotton scarves to mirrors, and managed to emerge only15 LE poorer, but with an adorable doll with a veil that raises (to really understand the significance of this, you should read Al-Kitab, part 2, the chapter on women's rights). After that, we wandered the streets around the Citadel for a bit, then I caught a taxi to the Hilton. I emerged from that massage more relaxed, oiled, and pliable then I've been in a long while, and even after the walk home through Ramadan rush hour (you've never faced death until you step into the street and see a car roaring towards you at 60 mph and know the driver is starving, thirsty, and in fear of the wrath of his wife if he doesn't return home for iftaar), I still felt kneaded and loose.
Of course, I had to relate my excitements to Frannie, who was eager to visit the store, so back I went to the Khan (twice in a day is a record!). Our landlord, however peculiar and disturbingly attentive, has not provided any of the bedrooms with adequate light. My room had a bedside lamp, but there was a red lightbulb in it, with no lampshade, so that got swiftly hidden away, and we've all been searching for suitable lamps in the souks ever since. I'm not sure how to describe them, but the lamps at Al-Khatoun are wonderfully Egyptian, with swirling Arabic script or literary characters of old painted in black on canvas in various shapes and sizes. Needleless to say, we each emerged with one or two lamps to yet again depress Mr. Desouki and hide more of his hideous furnishings. No trip to the Khan is complete without a visit to Fushawi's, so we sat and watched the naas watch us for a hour, visited Karama perfumes, where they will duplicate any famous perfume supposedly cheaper, haggled over some jasmine essence (2 dollars, mum), and returned home. In search of fodder, Frances and I immediately left to wander the streets of Zamalek, eventually ending up at Cafe Tobasco, where I read a fascinating Arab-English magazine with articles on women's rights in the Middle East, proper beach etiquette, how to tell if he/she is in to you (if he tries to get your attention, he's interested, in case you were a doornail and didn't realize that), why male/female friendships don't work in the ME (apparently, he's always looking for more), and one entitled, "The Secret to Yessssss!" for women (I'll let you extrapolate the topic of that one).
Today was a Wust El-Belad day, no not the eponymous Cairo band, but a downtown day. I'm running low on Lantus, and checked the stocks of a pharmacy, and Frances needed to go to a bookstore on Talaat Harb. Besides, I'd been meaning to do a little clothes shopping, but I discovered to my horror that all of the stores are now displaying there winter collections, composed almost solely of sweaters. It's Cairo, people, land of the Sahara, of stifling summers and mild, read mild, winters! After a bit of searching, I found two non-sweatery things and headed back home, exhausted as usual after the sensory overload of downtown. Ramadan ends tomorrow, I think, and traffic was the worst I'd ever seen it, with most people turning of their cars during the intervals of waiting to merge into Medan Tahrir.
Cairo is as polluted as usual, unfortunately, and even as I sit in the dining room with the balcony doors thrown open, a slight wiff of smoke drifts in to infuse everything with a vague odor of, well, Cairo, and it doesn't help that, because smoking is forbidden during the daylight of Ramadan, taxi drivers believe it is necessary to make up for lost time and smoke cigarette after cigarette while stuck in traffic. Uggh! Siwa in two days, and pure natural springs, and I will not miss this trip!