Chapter 3 in the saga.

Monday, May 24, 2010 is a shopping day, not ever to be forgotten or repeated.  The first half dozen of us (see chapter two for details of participants) decided to visit the old (and I mean really old) Islamic Market Place.  We took a Peugeot station wagon taxi (all doors were still on the car) from our affordable hotel to pick up the twin sisters at the30 star Marriott hotel where I was fortunate enough to get out of the taxi to go pick up the twins.  However, the marketing department t at the Marriott did ask our driver to take the chariot around the block while I went inside to find the twins.  When we were fully loaded into our chariot, we took our lives to the maximum risk by driving through Old Cairo to the market (in no way to be confused with the Galleria in Dallas).  One side of the vast street is the Old Islamic Market and the other side is referred to as the "Chinese Market (made in China products).  As we got out of our golden "non air conditioned " chariot, we were approached by a nice looking young man who was going to the Islamic University.   He offered to be our guide "free" because he wanted to practice his English.  He said that we should only go to the real Islamic market.  We immediately went from a dirty paved highway into a path towards what was left from the 1992 earthquake (no real repairs since that date and only a few structural timbers were in place to keep the buildings from collapsing together.  We turned a corner to find a muddy path going here and there until we reached the end of civilization.  On the right was a shop where a young man (the ladies liked his eyes and so we were bound to buy something here) making (taking out of packages-writer's opinion) original handmade, hand inlaid precious mother of pearl  jewelry boxes.  On the  left was the local trash dump, stacked up about 50 feet, with 3,000 loose cats, none of which appeared to have used the syringe looking up at me from the dirt. 


From this end of the road, we were taken down a hidden opening to another path to see about eight loose goats just wandering around the labyrinth with no particular ownership involved.  We were lead further down another opening to a large open area of shops full of vendors and people.  There were lots of bicycles, mopeds, carts and a few mini-trucks (about four feet wide) zipping around all of the million people (at least that is what it seemed  to be) walking, sitting or just standing around.  Other than our six, I did not see anyone that remotely resembled anyone from Texas in the crowd.  The ladies found (with the help of our new found guide) a step down to a shop that had bright orange wrap around dresses hanging from the rope above the entrance.  There, they each all found "normal" color wrap dresses that they could see in the broken piece of mirror that was held by the sales staff.  Much bartering preceded the actual purchases.  Once this massive purchase was consummated, we traversed further along a path (I was desperately looking for a long piece of twine to leave on the path for possible retreat to the outside world).  I looked up about three stories as we wandered along our merry way and saw that the next area to transcend was being held apart at the top by about two thousand timbers that had been spread between the two buildings to keep them from collapsing down upon us (this construction would never have been approved by PDG Dave Mcspadden for his bride to consider approaching, even though we did).  I held my breath and started to race through the obstacle course when to my dismay,  the four shoppers were immediately stopped at a booth offering camel Christmas ornaments for grandchildren.   Traffic in  this thin passage was backed up for miles as the lucky vendor had an opportunity to be able to dispose of a full year's worth of sales to four Texan's.  However, due to extensive bartering and change of Egyptian money between the buyers to achieve the maximum purchasing power, I am not sure if the vendor made any money on the disposition of his goods.


With haste, we finally made a exit to the light at the end of the tunnel only to be taken by our new friend and guide to a "special place" to get original Papyrus art work by "Said", renowned among the village to be the "best" and his work was not to be confused by those fakes that only use banana paper.  We rose to the occasion by walking up about three stories in what appeared to be a deserted and vacant building .  However, when we arrived to the door, we were invited into a spacious room, fully decorated with "original works of art"  of all sizes.  Here, as is the custom, we were all offered (Mother Sandy whispered that it was a polite custom and all had to abide) hot tea (Bud and I declined but were served anyway).  I knew that we were all going to be drugged and sold as slaves but I was polite and did as Sandy did.  After tea, no crumpets, the bartering began.  It was a site to see, but the poor merchant was no match for the fabulous four.  Each, in their own special fashion, beat down the asking price by hugh amounts.  I felt as if the poor vendor was going to give us the works of art and Egyptian money just to make us Americans happy!  At the end, the foursome was content and somehow I think the vendor was very content.


As we left this special shop, we walked up another two flights to the top of the building, which, like most of them in the area, were partly destroyed by the earthquake (and have not been repaired because there is no money for repairs).  Next door, were could see the entrance to the Old Islamic Mosque and behind us we could see about six of the Mosque towers (at one time there were about 1,000 of these towers in Cairo).  The roof top was stacked with trash (there is no real trash service) and debris from years of neglect and there were three dilapidated tin sheds which were occupied by the night  guard of the building.  One of the sheds had some goats (for milk and possibly food), one was not open and the last one had three women (probably three generations of one family) and a young girl, maybe two years old.  All were barefooted, walking in and around the debris.   From the appearance of the grandmother, I do not think dentistry is a known science.  The teen age girl and the two year old were very pretty.  Our hearts and money were left with these two.  I  am guessing that there is no running water on the rooftop. 


Anyway, we departed back into the deserted building to descend back to the pathway. On our way down, we noticed the smell of fresh leather and peered into a unlighted door opening to see a number of men bent over metal shoe forms making shoes.  I do not think that they were being made for Papagallo's.   


Once we arrived to the pathway, we determined that it was time to go back to the starting point to meet our promised, and hoped for,  taxi ride back to the 30 star Marriott.  To my amazement and relief (remember, I did not have a string line back to reality), our "free" guide returned us to our beginning spot even though he took various short cuts through "no man's land" which none of us remembered from our original transverse. 


Bud, always hungry, talked us all into leaving our chariot and having lunch at Thomas's (see chapter 2 comments re rave reviews in the tour guides).  As usual, I had my Mexico Pizza.  Once we all were finished and full,  we asked Barbara to go request a piece of chocolate with caramel and walnuts cake and six forks. I guess her Texas accent was not too good.  We were served a full cake with six forks.


We then went shopping at the local non-governmental agency for Egyptian handmade crafts for local artisans.  This was our third outing to this shop since our arrival and more money has been exchanged during each new trip.  Bud has gotten to know the sales staff and used their computer to check his email during two of our visitations.  Once ever available item was purchased, Sandy inquired as to when the next shipment will be received and she promised to return by next Saturday.  With all of our shopping complete for this day, we departed to our affordable lodging and promised to approach the 30 Star Marriott for beverages and snacks  about dusk to enjoy the wonderful view of the Nile River (one can almost see the beginning of the Nile from the twins 15th floor room of this 30 Star Hotel).  As we were guests of the twins, we did agree to have our taxi drop us off away from the magnificent entrance as part of their agreement with the Marriott marketing department.  We enjoyed very private, yet humorous  stories from one of our nurses and closed the evening down with a light dinner at the hotel.


More later, your Egyptian scribe, lbs