Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dinner and farewell

Our last day in Cairo we were free to do whatever we wanted. Some visited museums, or took that Camel ride near Giza that they had been dreaming about. Most rested.

It was with great effort that we dragged ourselves out of bed. I haven't had a good nights sleep since getting back to Cairo. But we HAD to buy another piece of luggage. Our purchases simply would not fit in our bags even after our usual pre departure jettison ritual.

We made our way to a small shop and for ten bucks got a bag that zippped out to four times its original size. Like most items here it is a knockoff. The badge logo says "HR High. Laplink out longitude".

We spent a good chunk of the previous night in the Khan el Khalilli engaged in serious haggling with a scarf merchant. After an hour we had hammered his price down and bought 40. The purchase was slowed by our lack of funds and the fact he did not take credit cards. Of course he said he took them, but in the souks that means he has a cousin who has a friend who works at a place that takes them. This involves literally running all over the souk and paying a hefty fee. Eventually we managed to pool our Egyptian and US money and made the deal. On our return we had more time to browse. I found many treasures. Yes the modern world is intruding here, but there is much of the old Cairo here. Dark alleyways that lead to crafters who have practiced their trade since before the time of the Mamluks. Fragrant spices fight with the smell of rotting matter. Small awah's or coffee shops feature unsavory looking types, men who can be hired to obtain certain forbidden items. All you need do!
is slide a thick stack of money across the table through the smoke of the shisha pipes and it is done. And we only scratched the surface of this place. But time is our eternal enemy and we had to get back.

Our last dinner together was at the Cairo Businessmens Club at the unfortunately named World Trade Center. The club featured a rich European decor with leather sofas, oak paneling and wingback chairs. Its the kind of place one sits with a Congac and a Cuban cigar discussing the empire over freshly ironed copies of the London Times. Since our empire, unlike the British one is neither secure nor profitable I contented myself with a sprite (stirred not shaken) with a lime twist and some snacks. Dr Weeks was presented with our donations to the Theban Mapping Project and thanked us profusely. He told us how the project started with zero budget and a five year plan. The project actually took 20 years. After the discovery of KV5 there was a flood of donation money, chiefly from three oil companies. Those companies have all undergone mergers and none donate any more. So they are once again in need of funds to help with the website, the translation of their 250 page conservation plan!
n and continued excavation and exploration. I hope they are able to do it all

We also said our official thank you's and farewells to our guides Fathy and Morad as well as our fixer and all around tourist wrangler Hatem. It was actually kind of teary. I have actually enjoyed traveling with this tour group a great deal. There is no way we could have gotten the kind of access we do if we'd done this solo. There is even talk of a reunion in Chicago this spring when the Tutankhamen exhibit arrives there.

And what of Egypt? This grand and glorious country. Will I ever return here? I feel I must. There are still wonders to be seen, tombs to be uncovered and adventures to be had. Yes, someday I shall return to Egypt, the land of the Pharohs. And I urge you to as well.

Sallah Malaychum

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