Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back in Cairo

My mother is in town - and despite being my mother is fit and well and still going strong. I think she is getting used to immediate questions about her age, but I am starting to feel a bit testy about perpetual comments that she looks like my sister. Or worse - my daughter.

We have done so much. We have seen pyramids - she even attended a performance of Peer Gynt at the Pyramids at Giza with Queen Sonja in attendance. We have bumped around the Western Desert in a four-wheel-drive with a good looking bedouin at the wheel. She has had a ride on a felluca with Ron Barassi who helped her to cross another felucca to get to the dock when we returned. She wished there had been more feluccas. We have had a cruise from Luxor to Aswan in the total luxury of the Sonesta Star Goddess. More on that later.

We are now just back from Syria.

Centamin, an Australian gold-mining company opening the first gold mine in Egypt since the days of the Pharoahs - no - they were still operating in Roman times - have agreed to sponsor the planned exhibition of work from the Tentmakers' Khan in Cairo. Expertise Events had arranged sponsorship to cover the space allocated for the exhibition, and now I have funds available for two men to travel with me so people can watch the work as it is done. I am so thrilled and grateful. Quilters coming to the Australasian Quilt Convention in Melbourne in February will now be able to see something formerly only seen in Egypt.

On my way to break the news to the men I had an unusual taxi ride.

My mother had decided to come with me. We got into an old Lada with a Mercedes crest firmly mounted on the front. I always have trouble getting local drivers to understand where I want to go. The area I always think of as Bab Zuweilah has never worked - somehow the old gates of the city are just not known to local cabbies. Khan Khayamyeh is the Arabic name for the Tentmakers' Khan - but that does not usually work either. I had started getting them to take me to King Farouk's old headquarters - and then I direct them from there, but that leads to a lot of annoyance - usually with cabbies twisting around to tell me that Abdeen Palace was 'back there' with lots of hand waving. Egyptians look at you when they speak to you. That is fine when you are face to face across a desk or a cocktail party - but a bit worrying when you are sitting in the back of a cab with a driver who insists on facing you as he speaks.

One of the Embassy drivers told me to ask for the Police Headquarters and Gaol. It gets me some odd looks but it works and I do get to where I am going.

This time we got into the cab and the driver told me he loved England. I said I was not English.

"I love America," he said.

"I am Australian."

"Ahhh - Ozzzzie Ozzie Ozzie."

However - he actually knew Bab Zuwelah - so we got in.

The driving got more erratic as we approached Port Said Street - a huge road intended to be three lanes on each side but usually running at least twelve lanes of traffic. You have to take a deep breathe and just push your way through this, and he did. We turned left and then he started to get impatient. Traffic was banked solidly in front of us and we had at least three blocks to go. I would have got out and walked but my mother is 83 and squeezing between large trucks and buses is not my favourite occupation at the best of times.

The driver muttered something and swing hard across all the traffic to dive into a very very narrow lane. He just missed the feet of a man being shaved in the street, and from the imprecations hurled at us he obviously upset the barber too. Then the ride was like something out of a video game. We met a lot of cars, all going the opposite way and apparently thinking that we were wrong. We probably were.

We dodged and scraped and all the time the driver kept up a stream of swearing - very loudly and at everyone within sight. I did not know exactly where we were and decided that the only way to get my mother out of an extremely local area was by staying in the car. At one stage we squeezed through a large flock of sheep and goats obviously waiting out their time to be slaughtered for the Eid.

Finally we belted with increasing speed around vegetable stalls and a drink seller, and swung out in to the open area in front of Bab Zuweilah and the Tentmakers.

We staggered out of the cab and gratefully accepted the offered tea from my freinds in the Khan. I love this area. It is one of the gentler areas of Cairo, and I leave every time feeling recharged and serene. Usually.

Our friends laughed at my imitation of the taxi driver and walked us back to the gate. A taxi was standing in a parking area and Ayman woke up the driver to tell him to take us to Zamalek. He didn't want to - and entreaties got more noisy and voluble. I heard Aymen telling the driver that my mother was very old and he should be ashamed to make her walk further. He very very grudgingly agreed to take us, and Ayman insisted on prepaying.

I started to get into the back so that my mother could follow without the awkwardness of that shuffle across the seat - a woman does not sit next to a driver in Cairo. The driver shouted a warning and our friends immediately insisted that only my mother should sit in the back - the other side of the seat was not attached and it would tip over. Mum sat down - gingerly.

I got into the front and as I sat I realised that what looked like a car seat was nothing of the sort. It must have been about six separate cubes of foam rubber with an old and somewhat smelly rug on top. It was very soft foam rubber and as my nether regions descended they touched the rubber - and unnervingly kept descending. As I went down - and down - the rubber cubes separated. I hit metal at one point - not nice smooth floor but what must have been the support metal strips for the seat. I am still dented.

We took off with a lurch and a puff of smoke and with every lurch the bonnet flew up, momentarily blinding the driver. He didn't seem to care. He wasn't very happy about taking us and other than a question about the exact location of the house he was silent. We swerved - often late enough to frighten me - around several pedestrians.

Then in the middle of peak hour Downtown he pulled in to the side of the road and left the car double parked. "One minute," he shouted in Arabic while he ran down an alley into an office.

I could see it was a specialty eye surgeon and was wondering to myself whether he intended to come back when he did.

He was positively loquacious and explained to me that he had to have an operation in two days so he could see again.

Then he drove us the rest of the way home through rapidly moving and overcrowded Cairo traffic.

10 Comments:

Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,

It is so good to hear from you again. It must be wonderful for you to have your mother over there. I am sure that I wouldn't be nearly as adventurous at her age.

The weather in Canberra is hot and sunny today.

Cheers Helen

5:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny: How wonderful for you to have your mother there. She is an amazing traveller, as I think she was recently in Nairobi as well? I bet she is enjoying every minute with you. Love to you all. Tena

6:21 pm  
Blogger catsmum said...

oh my... sounds like the script of a highly improbable slapstick comedy !
May your nether regions recover quickly.
cheers
Susan I

7:47 pm  
Blogger Lisa Walton said...

You do get into some interesting scrapes don't you Jenny. Nothing seems simple in Cairo.

10:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear jenny,

I have so missed you while you have been away, but what wonderful adventures you have been having. It must be lovely to have your mother with you and for her to have visited the tent makers.

doubly wonderful for all us quilters that you have managed to organize a visit to Australia for the tent makers to show us their work. Hooray to you for such a result.

Judy.

2:25 pm  
Blogger QuiltingFitzy said...

Jenny,

You have a gift of keeping your readers entertained. I appreciate your efforts greatly.

6:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second everything said above, and am just so grateful that you and your mother lived to tell the tale! Would that I could come to Australia to see the tentmakers, but I'll just have to be content with hearing from you at Symposium.
Take care.
Margaret in NZ

3:14 pm  
Blogger Sam Bowker, somewhere distant and exotic. said...

Great to see the new blog updates Mum, and that's an amazing taxi story! Sorry I haven't been able to email lately. Internet problems until recently at home, and no gmail access at work. I enjoyed the quick vignette style too. Let Granny know we're looking forward to seeing her soon.

Love, FBS.

1:03 pm  
Anonymous Lynette Day said...

Hi Jenny, I'm horrified when people mistakenly comment about my daughter who is really my baby sister (8yrs younger than me) and I thought I was doing so well in the looks department. Obviously not!

1:55 am  
Blogger Sarah Ann Smith said...

Oh Jenny, thank you so much for the laughs....my two sons were looking at me wondering what I was chortling about.... of course, it helps having lived in the third world, too....

Cheers, Sarah, now fiarly permanently ensconced in Camden, Maine

12:00 pm  

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