Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Colonialist and the Cretan Woman

Mujib and I were done with the mosque fairly quickly.

I'm not one for grand mosques. They're all basically the same - big, once opulent, built more to glorify the builder, rather than who the builder prays to.

Houses, I can spend hours in. And the House of the Cretan Woman (now known as the Gayer Anderson Museum), next to the Ibn Tulun Mosque is a real gem.

Actually, it's two 17th century houses joined together. Used to belong to a couple of wealthy ladies, one of whom was from Crete.

When the brits were here, a major by the name of Gayer Anderson (an unfortunate first name in the schoolyard, I'm sure) took over the place, restored it, and filled it with quite a bit of stuff - kitsch, stolen artifacts, and lots of paintings of himself.

Everything in this place - from furniture, to cushions, to books - is over a hundred years old, and in really good shape.

I read somewhere that part of the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me was also shot here. Couldn't tell you what part, though.
Look it up.
All pictures in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Mosque of Ibn Tulun

I spent my second day here with Mujib Khan (no relation) - the managing director of AIG Egypt (the insurance company). I was introduced to him in Toronto by my friend Atique Azad of Butler's Pantry. Mujib's moving to Dubai, and wants to do a quick tour of Cairo before flying off.

So we meet up at the uber posh Conrad Hotel in the downtown area, hop into a chauffeured SUV, with his lovely guide Dina (almost all the Muslim Egyptian women I've met here so far are Dinas or Monas or Hodas), and head out to the Ibn Tulun mosque in old Cairo. Dina tells us it's the oldest surviving mosque in Egypt - all the way from 879AD.
All pictures in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007.

Where there's no smoke detector, there's no fire.

Drove out to the boonies with Marie and Craig last night to try out the "world's best hamburger". Took us a while. Our driver Mohyi, a sweet guy, was completely directionless... and perhaps a little intimidated, since Marie's his boss' boss.

The burgers at Lucille's were good. No question. Maybe even the best I've had in the last little while. But I know I've had better.

Next, it's on to Carrefour, a "hypermarket" further out in the boonies. Marie needs to buy smoke detectors for her new office so she could insure the place.

Trouble is, no one here knows what the hell a smoke detector is. And why should they? Everyone smokes like a fiend. Everywhere. Smoke detectors would be an absolute nuisance.

It's 10pm by the time we get to Carrefour, and the place is jumping. It reminds me of Mecca during hajj season.

Craig and Marie decide to soldier on, and after some time, we find a clerk who doesn't understand what we want. I point to a smoke detector on the ceiling. Marie makes beeping noises.

In my broken Arabic, ask if he has any. No. The only place we might get them is somewhere called Bavaria in downtown Cairo.

But there's a Radio Shack right outside, so we try them. And what we think is a smoke detector, turns out to be a spy camera. They do have a real one on display. We tell them we need four. About 20 minutes of frantic searching ensues. But it turns out to be the last smoke detector "in the whole company." For the record, here's a picture of the last smoke detector in Radio Shack's entire Egyptian inventory.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Our new digs

Talk about royal treatment. I was picked up at the airport, whisked thru customs, and driven to my new apartment building by about 4am on Friday morning... only to find the street pitch dark.

"Ya doctoor Yasir! Zere is no electric," said a voice. My eyes adjusted to a short, very dark dude - Mohamed from faculty housing. So we spent an hour outside on the street, me sweating, Mohamed telling me how he'd worked for the the university since he was fourteen.

Lights came on after about 1/2 an hour, and I was ushered into an elevator, and taken up to the 14th floor to our new home in Cairo.

"Zis is very unusual doctoor Yasir," said the other housing officer who gave me a tour of the place as I staggered around (no sleep for 24 hours - can't sleep on planes). "Zamalek is full of embassies. Special area. Lights go off only in poor areas. Very unusual."

Zamalek, my new neighbourhood, is on an island in the middle of the Nile. It's supposed to be the greenest part of the city, and quite posh.

In the past, it's been home to the city's aristocrats, princesses, businessmen, etc. There are stories about nazi sympathizers, as well as wealthy jews living around here.

More thoughts on the place as I discover it. Been walking around a fair bit (it's pretty small - smaller than Toronto's downtown core).

My street is quite interesting - the Cuban embassy used to be in my building, the Libyans are right beside us.

And pre-wwII, the Deutsches Archaelogisches Institut used to be about 5 doors down. It closed during the war. The villa was bought by a Jewish businessman, who later leased it to a former queen of Egypt.

Then, it was sold to the Canadian government, and turned into the ambassador's residence.

Don't have a cell phone or an internet connection at home yet. Things take time here.

Here's an article that helped me figure this place out. Here's another.
All pictures in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007.