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Two Years Ago Christmas & a Funny Story/Cairo


Two years ago I was in Cairo for Christmas, with my friend Altu. I even blogged a little that day, but I was paying by the minute at the business center at the Marriott, and I could not download photographs.

We decided to stay in the hotel room that day, to just laze around and celebrate by relaxing in our jammies. We were in Africa a total of 38 days and very few were relaxation days, we packed in as much as we could. This was near the end of our trip and we were ready for a “down” day. We had been in Alexandria the day or two before, and got some wonderful mideastern “fingers” which are honey/cashew and puff pastry… and we also had tangerines and guavas from a stand in Alexandria.

We slept in for Christmas. We figured out when to call home (I think it was about 8 hours’ difference between time zones, maybe more) and we ate breakfast of fruit, tea and pastry, on the 19th floor balcony of the Cairo Marriott on the nile. This is the view we had during breakfast. It is the world’s second-largest city, next to Mexico City (which I have also visited). From this vantage point, when there is not a lot of smog, it really looked as though we could see the tops of the pyramids in Giza. It makes sense… we were looking the right direction, and mountains can be seen for long distances as well.

That day we watched a lot of TV. In Ethiopia, the government controls the media, but in Egypt we had satellite and saw shows in at least four different languages. That was the week of the Tsunami (and Altu and I had been on the Indian Ocean at Mombasa, Kenya only 11 days previous), so there was lots of that coverage, as well as holiday stuff. Even though Egypt is only about 12% Christian, there were Christmas decorations at the hotel for folks like us, and the TV shows reflected the season.

alexandriacastlefriendssm.jpgEgypt is a fascinating place for many reasons. It is in Africa but also is middle-eastern/Arabic in culture/language. The radio station would say (in English) the “music of Africa and the Middle East!” Alexandria (less than 2 hours by car from Cairo) is on the Mediteranean and has that influence as well. When we visited the Christian churches on Dec. 26, we had to walk through a very old burial ground where the tombstones were written in Greek. We visited a castle on the Mediteranean (in Alexandria), and it looked very European.

The funniest thing that happened on Christmas two years ago, though, was a personal thing that could have happened anywhere in the world. We ordered room service for our midday meal, ate (it was disappointing, as hotel food can be, though the tea was just fine), and then decided to push the table back out into the hall to make more room.

We had to fuss with putting down the leaves on the table to get it to fit through the door. Before we knew it, we were out in the hall with the table, in our jammies, and the door locked behind us. Dang!

I got elected to go down to the front desk and get help. I was certainly covered up but not at all dressed for the elegant Marriott (part of which once was a bit of a palace built for Napoleon’s Josephine III if I remember right, an incredible building). We were in a second building, and it required walking outdoors under a covered area to get to the main building, then down some halls and past some stores and restaurants, before getting to the front desk.

So here I was, this obvious foreigner not dressed for prime time on Christmas day. I kept laughing out loud because it was so funny. I tried not to look at anyone while laughing because they can take funny looks very seriously in Arabic cultures and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

I made my way to the desk and had no trouble convincing them of my situation, one look and it was really clear. So I got a key and walked, walked, walked and took my elevator back to the 19th floor, to rescue Altu who was still stuck in the hallway. What a way to spend part of a lazy holiday!!!

Photos (for the record, I went through the trouble to make all these smaller photos clickable to large images this time if you want close-ups): 1) Skyline from our balcony, Christmas Morning, 2004; 2) Pastries called fingers; 3) Castle in Alexandria, posing with Altu 4) Fruit Stand where Christmas breakfast was purchased; 5) Same Castle, looking out at the Mediteranean Sea; 6 &7) Rooms in the Marriott which were originally built in a French style to make Josephine III comfortable away from home; 8 ) Dancer in Marriott restaurant which is in the back garden of the hotel; 9) Garden of hotel from balcony, showing several restaurants.

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