Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cairo Citadel and My Social Anxiety


From Cairo Citadel

During my semester at AUC, any time one of the foreign women had an issue, our  instructors would advise us to get an Egyptian male friend to handle it or take an Egyptian man with you to this or that. No matter how large or how small, there solution was to always have an Egyptian man by your side in order to get the desired results. Initially, to be quite honest, I found this frustrating and sexist. Gradually, I realized the blunt wisdom of this advice. I began to realize how differently my interactions with people were just based on having an Egyptian guy (or just Egyptian-looking guy) along. Suddenly the prices of things would be lower, the customer service would be more attentive and polite, and the sexual harrasment that plagues Cairo would be non-existent! People would still stare and whisper but no one would dare say anything to the Egyptian man's face.

 I never imagined there would be a point in my life where I'd gladly want a male escort when I go out but that is the case for Islamic Cairo and many of it's tourist attractions. I refuse to go to places in this area-Khan-el Khalili bazaar, the El-Hussein mosque, the Citadel,etc- alone. Some of the worst harrasment and swindling I've faced in Cairo is from people in low socio-economic classes. Islamic Cairo, with all it's historic attractions, is surrounded by government housing turned into slums and people who make a living off the naivety of tourists. I've wanted to visit the sites since I arrived in Cairo but after my experiences near the El-Hussien Mosque and Al-Azhar Park nearby, I try to avoid the area as much as possible. Thus, when my American male friend and Egyptian male friend, Omar, said they'd be visiting the Citadel, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along and have them act as deterrence to anyone who'd think of harassing me.

 The Cairo Citadel (also known as the Muhammed Ali Citadel) is part of the Muqattam hill near in Islmaic Cairo. It was fortified by the Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din between 1176 and 1183 AD, to protect it from the Crusaders. We arrived at the Citadel at noon on a sizzling 105 degree day. First, we visited the Mohamed Ali mosque in the Citadel. This is the first mosque I've been inside of. The most historic and beautiful mosques in Cairo are in the Islamic Cairo area. We had to remove our shoes before walking into the marble courtyard area. An elaborate marble structure stood in the center of the marble courtyard to provide people with water to wash their hands and feet with before entering the mosque. I was very excited to see the interior! Inside the mosque was decorated in elaborate patterns, rich velvets, marble, and gold. Lamps hung from the ceiling and illuminated the interior.
the domed interior ceiling of the mosque

Behind Muhammad 'Ali's gilded mosque stands the Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad. This mosque had far less visitors than the first and looked much more subdued. The attendant there desribed for us the workmanship in each distinct column and minaret. The conquering Ottomans carried much of the original interior decoration off to Istanbul, but the space is nevertheless impressive.

After the mosques, we walked towards the palace turned into The Military Museum. I was lagging behind the guys a little and trying to catch up when 2 Egyptian guys approached me, blocking the exit, and making kissing noises and yelling, "Michelle Obama!" I tensed up for a moment and Omar turned around and barked at them in Arabic. The men crept away, making apologetic motions with their hands as I passed through the corridor. At the museum, relics of war planes were positioned in the yard outside of the museum. The decor of the museum was beautiful and ornate. It's what the Egyptian Museum downtown should look like. Elaborate winding marble staircases. rich velvets, and gilded frames lined every surface. Unlike the Egyptian Museum, the artifact in the military Museum were well preserved, polished, and safely displayed behind glass panes. It reminded me of a smaller version of Versailles.The museum highlighted Egyptian military history (and government propaganda). We wandered around the elaborate corridors as my Omar described the  historical significance of each war or armed struggle to Egyptian history. It was interesting to hear his perspective on wars we know as the Yom Kippur War and the first Gulf War, for example. I've been to a similar war museum in Seoul, but I'd have to say that the Egyptian  Military Museum was much nicer. Altogether, I enjoyed the Citadel, and being accompanied there.


Anonymous said...

the citidel is amazing, i love the winding streets as you never know what your going to find at the end of it. how you finding your time in egypt? ive just moved here and loving it :)

Frenchie said...

Cairo: when it good, it's enchanting. when it's bad, its appalling.

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