topics: baba ganouj (food), Living Cemetery, Fortress of Babylon, Nile River, religious sites, architecture; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: November 23, 1997

Breakfast: Although andrEa has rebelled against breakfast entirely, preferring to go to the market for something more exciting to start her day (often bananas and yogurt), the rest of us are too lazy! We simply munched on the plain bread with jam and sipped the tea offered at our pension.

Lunch: On our way to Coptic Cairo, some of us grabbed a falafel sandwich just across the street from our hotel. The fun thing is that for these, we can always point at all the other goodies we want stuffed inside with the falafel. While Anthony took the standard route of tahini (a sesame seed paste) sauce, Corinne and andrEa had a flavorful salad and baba ganouj (see the Food of the Day) added to theirs.

Dinner: Working at the inTouch offices late into the night, Corinne and andrEa ordered out for pizza — a favorite urban habit around the world! The boys, however, have developed a very serious addiction to kushari, which they happily ate (again) to calm the craving.

Food of the Day: Baba ganouj click to view a photograph

Baba ganouj is a wonderful Mediterranean dish composed of ground eggplant, garlic, onions, spices, tahini, and sometimes parsley, cilantro, or basil. click to view a photograph It is served cool or at room temperature, and used as a vegetable dip or bread spread. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Word of the Day: Lazeez — "delicious"

All too often we are without words that fully express our joy at some of the new foods we taste. This is especially true when the restaurateur, chef, or waiter is inquiring how we like the meal . . . and speak little or no English. Now we have the perfect word: lazeez click to hear an audio clip, the Arabic word for "delicious"!

Person of the Day: Shady Samir

The Web developer or "Graphics Guru" (as we call him) at inTouch Communications, Shady (pronounced "sheddy") Samir is a hard-working young man of 22. We have dubbed him "Saint Shady" in honor of today's sacred visits, and we truly feel that he is one of the many people we would consider BikeAbout's divine saviors at inTouch. Shady frequently spends late nights at the office, which means that we are able to visit him and get our work done without disturbing the rest of the inTouch staff.

After-hours today, Corinne and andrEa were able to get lots of Web research and important e-mail taken care of, while sharing with Shady their tastes in music CDs, movies, neat Web sites, and projects we've done previously that are on the Internet. Also, because Shady has a scanner and andrEa has many non-digital photos that needed to be scanned for storage as computer files, they were able to do this project together and share insight into the mystery of graphics as a time vacuum. Shady's help has been essential to the effectiveness of our stay, and we are delighted that this new dear friend of ours will spend this coming Wednesday with us as a special guest during our weekly on-line chat 'n' debate.

Also, now, on occasion, when reading a few lucky BikeAbout dispatches, you will find yourself amazed even more by the brilliance and depth of color to certain photographs. If your heart is touched more than usual ("Oh, what a beauty"), then you will know you are looking at a print photograph taken by andrEa and scanned by Shady. Thank goodness for grace on earth and Cairo's saints, like Shady.

Place of the Day: Living cemetery in Old Cairo click to view a photograph

The cemetery in Coptic Cairo was one of the strangest cemeteries any of us has ever seen. It was an interesting example of the intermingling of the Christian and Islamic religions in terms of icons and decorations. click to view a photograph Made up of single-car-garage–sized buildings, complete with steps and doorways, and arranged in "streets," it seemed more like a living neighborhood for the dead. click to view a photograph There were even signs of people living amongst the tombs, but we couldn't be sure.

Tech Fact of the Day: Egyptian Arabic

While in most Arab countries the local dialect is so regional that it becomes its own version of the Arabic language, Egyptian Arabic is widely understood and very faithful to classic Arabic. This is due to the proliferation of Egyptian art throughout the Arab world. The Egyptian film, television, and music industries dominate in Arab countries, allowing a diversity of Arabic speakers to hear and familiarize themselves with the Egyptian dialect.

Group Dispatch, November 23

picture of Corinne

Since the work week officially began today in Egypt (where the weekend is Friday and Saturday), we worked in our hotel rooms–cum–offices until about noon. There is so much reading and writing to be done for the remainder of our visit, we could have been there all day! However, the best way to learn is by doing, so after filling our brains with knowledge, we decided to go out exploring. Despite feeling pretty "woozy," both Anthony and Corinne were real troopers and set off with the group to Old Cairo, also known as "Coptic Cairo."

We had to scurry to take in as many important sites as possible before they would close for the day, so we decided to take the Egyptian Metro (which can be confusing for tourists since many of the interior maps are only in Arabic). But we managed. And the relatively new underground station was still a pleasure: surprisingly clean and serene, complete with piped-in classical music and informational television screens near the seating areas. On the trains, there is even a special car just for women, should they choose to ride separately, but our group rode together. The Metro (still very new) is expanding, which is great news, since other solutions to the traffic problem in Cairo seem few and far between.

The word "Coptic" is used to describe the monastic, desert-dwelling life of solitude that developed during the short-lived times of Egyptian Christianity. Nevertheless, the traditions and practices have been maintained throughout the centuries by a small, but sometimes important population. (The most famous Copt is Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.) The Coptic sect even has an ancient language, although it is rarely used.

"Coptic" Cairo is, however, not devoted entirely to landmarks or houses of worship belonging to Coptic Christians. This area is particularly important to all religions, due basically to the many legends about important religious people and their experiences here. In this very neighborhood, Moses' floating basket was said to have been found by the pharaoh's daughter as she sat along the Nile River. It is also believed that the Judean prophet Jeremiah may be buried in the area. But that's just the beginning.

The first thing we saw as we approached the walled area of Coptic Cairo were the ruins of the Fortress of Babylon. Built in 98 AD, it was at the heart of an ancient Roman town strategically placed on the Nile. With time, however, the river slowly but surely changed its course westward. In other words, the Nile took a left!

Surrounded now by a markedly more serene part of town, we thought how glad we were to have missed the annual spring season when zealots from around the world descend on this part of Cairo to look at, among other things, the Holy Family hide out. According to the Bible, King Herod, having heard rumor that the Savior had been born to a couple living in his kingdom, ordered that all the infant, firstborn, male children be killed. Mary and Joseph fled into Egypt with their baby and apparently spent some time in a settlement that preceded the Fortress of Babylon. One spring nearby is even supposedly where the baby Jesus had a bath!

Our first visit was to the very dimly lit Church of St. George the Martyr. click to view a photograph Amidst a fury of burning candles, scenes from St. George's valiant fight for Christianity were depicted through the art of many different styles, periods and media (metals, oils, and more). In the nearby Convent of Saint George there was also a dramatic chain ceremony — people wrap themselves in metal clasps at the ankle and neck — that many people took part in as acknowledgement of the suffering and persecution of St. George and others. No BikeAbouters had the desire to partake.

In fact, in many of these places, people were crying or emphatically worshiping the different displayed icons and paraphernalia with kisses and prayers, often touching the artwork, or burying their faces in the fabric on the altars and doorways. As if this weren't unusual enough to our unpracticed eyes, there was an even stranger place to visit, which we called the "living cemetery" click to view a photograph (see our Place of the Day).

Before the lights were turned off for the day, we also squeezed in a few moments in the Church of Saint Barbara, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

One fascinating element of this fast-paced jaunt through so many houses of worship, especially having visited so many mosques the previous day in Islamic Cairo, were the similarities of décor and architecture. The way the structures seemed to have developed and the doorways were used, the art, altars, and different podia used for special prayers all became comprehensible, and, regardless of the religion, the commonality of purpose was very clear. Somehow the universality of all religions in terms of the importance of community, meditation, expression, and reflection was solidified.

This was even more intriguing given the diversity of the other people worshiping around us. It can be easy to forget that religion, race, and nationality are often not the same. Hence, the presence of people of Arab heritage walking around and praying with other tourists at Christian sites was at first a curiosity to us.

Another perfect example came later in the day when Corinne and andrEa took off for an Internet research session at inTouch and to hang out with "Saint Shady," our Person of the Day (who also will be participating in this Wednesday's live chat 'n' debate). Shady mentioned that he is Baha'i, which is an international faith with only eight temples worldwide. Since so much of Egypt is Muslim, this was a great reminder of the uniqueness of every individual. You just need a chance to get to know someone (or someplace) better to learn all about your similarities and differences.

While the boys were in bed by 10 p.m. (as usual), having returned to the hotel after satisfying their kushari craving, the gals had an adventure before them. Like the ladies, "Saint Shady" is a night owl, and the threesome shared a pizza and worked until nearly 3 a.m.

Unfortunately, upon arriving "home" in a cab, andrEa and Corinne found themselves locked out of their hotel rooms. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph They banged on the huge door for nearly twenty minutes, fearing they would wake up the entire city, but to no avail. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Finally, a sleepy but kind hotel porter arrived with the key to their floor and let them into their rooms. Sleep came easily after this ordeal — just as the rest of Cairo was waking up!

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