Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Today: Tourism generates approximately eleven percent of the total gross domestic product of the country. The jewelry stores that we visit today are gone; a victim of the looting and burning that consumed Cairo in the height of the demonstrations. The bazaar known as Kh el-Khalili in Cairo’s Islamic district is empty of tourists and the shop owners are ready for life to return to normal….but half of the shops are closed because of a lack of customers and the wild cats run in and out of the shops looking for food.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005 Cairo Churches and Khan el-Khalil Bazaar

Hello all...before I tell you about our touring day; thought I'd give you some notes from observations and a lecture that we had before starting our day.....

Notes: Security is very high. We have an armed guard on our bus at all times; plus a car or truck with several guards behind us and sometimes another one out in front. Really feel very safe. Also; we see lots of VW buses and Toyota Vans. They are used for mini buses. The population of Egypt only uses six percent of the land so it is very expensive. Single family homes hardly exist anywhere in the cities, but you do find them in the countryside. Several generations of families build and/or purchase tall building together. Most of the homes in the north are unfinished brick buildings. They continue to build additional floors as the family grows. Family is very important in Egypt. Sons and daughters always live with their parents until they marry. Then the daughter moves to her husband’s family home. Sons stay with parents most of the time. In order to date a person…the family must approve and then they become engaged so that people will know that the family has approved of the relationship. A gold ring on right hand indicates that they are “engaged”. More than one engagement is common. The girls have the right to chose but family must approve. Generally the parents want someone who has same or similar status as their family.

Women now attend college. They hold jobs but the income is their own; even after they are married. The husband pays for all of the household expenses. If they are divorced and the wife remarries; daughters go to the husband so that they are not open to abuse from the unrelated new male in the family. After the age of sixteen; children can decide which parent they want to live with.

Main crops in Egypt: cotton, sugar cane, corn, wheat and rice

Notes from the Islamic Traditions lecture given by a guest speaker this morning:

Ramadan is the time to make changes and equalizes the difference between the rich and the poor. Similar to the Christian’s Lent it is a time to give up “things” . They do fast during the day (dawn to dusk and do not eat meat, fish, chicken or any by products such as eggs, milk, etc.) Also in addition to abstaining from food, they abstain from liquor and sex.

Haj: that is the pilgrimage that Muslims make at least once in the lifetime to Mecca. No one is allowed in Mecca unless you are Muslim. This custom teaches equality and harmony.

Prayers are always said facing Mecca. They have electronic gadgets that show the directions and also have alarms for the times during the day to pray.

Islam equals Submission

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today (in 2005)

The Koran is the word of Mohammad

Mohammad was born in 570 BC in Mecca. At the age of 40 he started to write the Koran. He was given the words by the angel Gabriel. It took his 23 years to write the Koran.

The Hadith are the teachings of Mohammad.

Beliefs: Allah/God

Resurrection/ After life

There are always two angels with us: they check the good and bad things we do

Everything counts in life

Selah is prayer…Azan is the call for prayer…they must wash face (ears), arms to elbows, feet and impure thoughts from mind.

Prayers last for five to ten minutes and are a way to connect with God/Allah. The leader of each Mosque (and there are lots and lots of Mosques in every town) chants over a loudspeaker from the top of the one can miss hearing it even when you're asleep!

After our lecture on Islam/Muslin traditions and practices we left on the bus for a spiritual tour of Cairo.

Note: While driving on the major highway on Tuesday evening I noticed that there were police cars stationed in the middle of the road (there was a large center divider) for security. They were permanent enough that there was a permanent overhead shade for the autos. I also notice that there were many pedestrians walking on the highway. I saw one man sitting on a box reading a book in the center of the highway. I’m finding some strange things or should I say very different customs in this country.

Condition of the city: Trash litters the ground everywhere. Rita says that the poor can not afford to pay the government cost for trash disposal so they dump it everywhere. Conditions are not good and we need to overlook the poverty. It is not the American standards that we enjoy. The south in Aswan is much cleaner but the population is not as large and is definitely more affluent.

We first went to two different Coptic Churches. The second one had a crypt where the holy family stayed while in Egypt for three months. Our guide noticed a Mosque that was getting ready for a funeral…we stopped and watched from the bus. All of the women were dressed head to toe in black and stood off to the side outside. The men came walking down the street carrying the coffin and went into the mosque. The women then walked near the doors but still stayed outside to grieve for the deceased.

Then we went to a Jewish Synagogue before entering the fort that holds the most important Mosque in Cairo. There we had to take our shoes off before entering the main area of the Mosque. There were several groups of school children visiting the Mosque also. The boys could have passed for Americans but the majority of the girls were beautifully garbed in pastel scarves.

Our lunch was at a local restaurant and we enjoyed skewered lamb and a sweet dessert that we all enjoyed as opposed to fresh fruit. From there we spent an hour at the bazaar where most spent too much money but had another learning experience. Jim found the scarab that he wanted and took half an hour to negotiate the price much to Martha’s dismay as we’d decided to stay together in the bazaar; so she cooled her heels as she stood nearby. We later changed that plan and decided to each go our own way while shopping. We definitely have different styles of negotiating price. On the way to the hotel we stopped at the Jewelry Store where several in our group spent hundreds of dollars purchasing silver or gold Cartouche pendants with their names in Egyptian letters. We saved money as we really weren’t speaking to each other at this point in the day!

Solved the problems before leaving in the evening for a trip to the suburbs to visit with a family in their home and have dinner with them. Long trip, heavy traffic but well worth the effort. Some notes on traffic: First of all they only use their headlights when there are no street lights. Even then, they turn them on and off and drive for long stretches without any headlights. At one point our lanes were very crowded and they took over several lanes going in the opposite direction. There were police cars stationed about every five miles; there were specially built sunshades for their cars to sit under.

Our visit took us to the private home of an upper class family; they all live in one building. The Grandmother lives on first level; brother on second level; our family unit on third level and an aunt on fourth level. Still more unused apartments in the building we were told for the sons to live in after they marry. The family also owns a compound in Alexander where they have individual villas to spend two months each summer during the worst of the heat. The father is a gentleman farmer…owns land where he grows crops and raises cattle; we didn't see him as he spends weekdays in the country at the farm.

His wife, their twenty three year old daughter and twin sons about nineteen hosted our group. Lots of antique furniture, herringbone wood floors, beautifully decorated. Very open design…like four large rooms combined; perfect for entertaining large groups. We were allowed to ask lots of questions and they were very open with us. The boys are in a private university, all the classes are taught in English; they will graduate next year. They will then serve one year in the army. Both are majoring in International Marketing and foreign Investments; one was more into the intellectual aspects while the other enjoyed working with his hands. Both hope to own their own business after graduation. Neither seemed interested in taking over the father’s business. The daughter graduated with a degree in economics and now works for a bank. She has been engaged once and has a new possible suitor and is waiting for family approval so that they can announce their engagement and start the courting process required before considering marriage.

Wonderful dinner served family style/buffet; we ate on our lap seated in a circle in the living room after finishing the open discussion with the family. They were very kind and tried to answer all of our questions after they gave us information on their family and daily activities. Several of us had followed the suggestion of the tour company and brought small gifts for the family. We brought a small book on the Nixon Library which represented our hometown of Yorba Linda.

The trip home was much easier as traffic was much lighter. When we arrived back at the hotel we all rushed to the top floor for night time photos of the pyramids before heading to bed after a long day.

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