EGYPT: It has now been a week since my eight-hour flight from the foot of Africa to the tip. I have been able to squeeze in a few trips around Cairo between the African Union of Journalists (AUJ) workshops and dinner time.
Sitting on the balcony of what has become my home here at the Al Forsan Hotel and enjoying the evening breeze, I feel for everyone back home. I hear temperatures are hovering above freezing point. It makes me wish I had the capacity to extend my stay here beyond the winter season.
In the absence of such resources, I shall continue to enjoy as much of the land of the Pharaohs as I can. For someone whose initial response was to reject an invitation to come here, I have taken quite a liking to Cairo.
It does not take that long to fall in love with the city.
Even the Pope was here just a week ago although we never got the opportunity to see him.
On the second day of our stay here my friend Hoosen Bhai and I took the liberty of exploring one of the most popular locations here in Cairo called Khan al-Khalili. The medieval style mall, with its long never ending criss-crossing streets is every antique consumer’s heaven.
The cluster of shops and stalls also provide everything from traditional inspired garments, models of various Egyptian monuments, spices, perfumes, toys, fabrics, etc. If you are not careful the Cairenes will trick you into buying stuff you wouldn’t purchase under normal circumstances.
The merchants here would call you from all directions each of them offering a better deal for similar products. They are some of the best smooth talkers you will ever meet.
The best thing is, cheap as Khan al-Khalili is, you can always negotiate a price. It would suit most Batswana. None of us ever want to buy any product at its set price.
Just on the opposite side of the Khan is the Wekalet El Ghouri, an architecturally stunning arts centre where we wound down the evening being serenaded by a traditional Egyptian percussion group.
The El Ghouri original structure is said to have been built in 1504AD by Sultan Qunsuwah El Ghouri. It is said that during the Mamluk era, the Wekalet Sultan El Ghouri was one of several trade points, known at the time as ‘wekala’ a place where merchants gathered for trade, and also served as a residence for the merchants and their families.
Our day three Cairo excursion took us to the luxurious and exclusive First Mall. With clothing items that can cost up to P12 000 each, First Mall is a far cry from the hullabaloo, and dusty streets of Khan al-Khalili.
Even Hoosen and I knew from the onset the best we could do there was window shop. It reminded me of former president Festus Mogae’s statement following a visit to a Monaco (?) shopping mall that the people who buy there (Monaco) do not ask for a price tag, “they just buy,” he said, adding, “asking for the price would indicate you don’t belong there.” Well, if there was no price tag we did not ask. The classy shopping mall houses some of the finest shops that include Queeny, Essam El Askary, Emotions, Paul and Shark, and Seasons. Also situated at First Mall is the La Gourmandise Restaurant. If we could not afford the P3 000 golf shirts at Seasons or the P12 000 Mona Lisa look-alike painting at Genny Gallery, we knew we could at least afford some ice cream at La Gourmandise. I enjoyed their Desir Chocolate Ice cream while my friend indulged in nutella crepe (crepe with nutella, spread chocolate & chocolate sauce and whipped cream).
Accessible from the ground floor via a direct entrance to The First Mall, La Gourmandise offers a wide selection of French cakes, pastries, confectionaries, freshly baked baguettes and breads, and serves a Mediterranean fusion of fresh light meals, salads and sandwiches.
Day three also took us to the Fish Market and the TGI Friday’s restaurants, both floating on the Nile River. With their wide variety of fish on display, Fish Market allows you to choose your favourite fish and method of preparation. Whether you want it oven or char grilled, fried, boiled or baked in salt.
We also enjoyed Volcano Burgers at TGI Fridays with spicy ginger volcano sauce, fresh pickled onions, lemon aioli, melted cheese, pepper bacon, and roasted jalapenos. Despite the reckless and uncoordinated driving here in Cairo I have still yet to witness an accident. The drivers here are so confident a taxi driver wouldn’t even let me buckle up. “This is Cairo man,” he insisted.
Seat belts don’t mean a thing here. Guys on motorbikes don’t rock helmets either and there is so much respect and understanding between bikers and motorists. This time around we decided to take the subway train back to the hotel. Security here in Cairo is of the highest level. There’s police presence on every street corner. Theirs is a more serious threat than that of petty thief. They are after terrorists. We even had our backpacks scanned as we entered the subway station.
Cairo has always been referred to as the city that never sleeps and now I understand why. As I wrap up this article now it is midnight and the streets down there are as busy as ever. Even clothing shops here don’t seem to close.