Around 4:30 on December 16th during the bus ride home, I finally understood. Shannon and I chat regularly on Facebook, and some of her comments over the previous two days had confused me. I figured that she was extremely excited to come so she was packing early and was saying her 'see you really soons' in case we weren't able to connect on the day before her departure. I had it in my mind that I had a full day away from school before she arrived on the 17th. Sometime just before stepping off the bus, my mind was awash in phrases such as "oopsie daisy" and "oh gosh, I haven't booked the driver for tomorrow yet" ... she was arriving tomorrow. Luckily, I got the ride booked, and the Cairene dust hadn't yet started to hide my weekend mopping work.
Given the joys of arriving in an airport with no access to a telephone and difficulties speaking the local language, I'd promised her that I would be waiting on her arrival at the airport. Traffic was good during the trip and her flight was scheduled to arrive at 8:00 so my 8:05 arrival at the airport seemed just right. Until Mohamed, the driver, advised me that the flight board indicated that she'd touched down 30 minutes early. Given I didn't know the Cairo airport too well, as my first and only visit occurred after my own sleepless odyssey to Egypt, I wasn't able to arrange a meeting place. Well, I spent the next 15 minutes pacing up and down the airport in frantic 3 minute bursts trying to see if she'd already cleared customs while ensuring that I wouldn't miss her if she was just clearing. About 20 minutes after my arrival, she cleared customs, we successfully navigated the gauntlet of 200 LE airport taxi offers (should be 75-100) and we started the trip home.
Two of the three things that come to mind when I describe Cairo are traffic and feral cats. Wouldn't you know it, our ride home was one of those rare "where are all the cars" trips. Don't worry, our trip home from Heliopolis ensured that she got a proper taste of proper traffic. Also, for the next two days, there were no cats to be seen on my street. Given Shannon's love of cats, I was worried that she'd purchase all of the local store's tuna in an effort to ensure that the local kittens were properly fed for a while. Shannon did get her fill of feline friends though ... but initially, Cairo showed its sense of humour (at least the pollution was still there).
Given how energized most people feel after a long flight, I didn't really plan too much for Shannon's time here. I was tired and I knew she was tired, so we both had decided to play it by ear. In the land of pyramids, temples and souks ... our first destination ended up being the Maadi Grand Mall. Ok, it's not a typical tourist spot, but it is a great place to get a feel for being in a different city. (also, I needed to pick up the printer cartridge I'd ordered). I introduced Shannon to the joys of clothing shopping here along with my secret addiction. No, I haven't developed a taste for Shisha and likely never will. On the 4th floor of Grand Mall is the watch kiosk. Shannon showed the same love of knock-off watches that I enjoy. (Sandi - ignore the next sentence). There is something special about a replica watch that costs less than most dinners out.
No trip to Cairo is complete without a trip to the Cairo museum. As life is much more fun taking the train, (and the 1 LE / $0.16 fare doesn't hurt), we hopped on the train and headed down there. Well, despite having taken the train a few times to the museum area, I can never remember which stop to get off at. They're both named after famous Egyptian leaders (Nasser and Sadat) and I completely forgot to check which one was correct. Yes, I now know that Sadat is one stop too far. Instead of getting back on the train, we elected to walk to Tahrir Square from Sadat station. I'm not sure that my "this will be a great way for you to see the less expat areas of the city" excuse held water. Eventually, we made it to Tahrir Square and got ready for the Government Store representatives.
Cameras are always magnets in Tahrir Sq. Sometimes, they're incredibly helpful as you get help crossing an extremely busy street. The rules for crossing the street are extremely simple. Close your eyes, say a quick prayer to Allah, take a deep breath and start walking ... and never stop. Cameras also seem to attract "museum employees" that are on their breaks. Strangely enough the museum is always closed at the time of your arrival. Sometimes it's prayer time, sometimes it's reserved for Egyptian residents only, sometimes it's closed that morning ... but inevitably, there is a reason why it's not advised to go to the museum quite yet. Thank goodness, they always have a ready invite to an "art gallery", a "perfume shop" or a "jewelry shop" ready for you. Each of these come under the umbrella of the "government shop." Well, we dodged our couple of invites to the government shop and headed into the museum despite being told it was prayer time (at 10:30 instead of the normal 12:00).
So yes, even in the courtyard, Shannon was able to find a cat to say hello to. I was glad to be returning to the museum as I hadn't brought my point and shoot the first time I toured the museum. Given the multitude of replica statues in the courtyard, there were plenty of opportunities to take pictures of both of us in various poses.
The museum is an exhausting visit. I find that my personal limit is about 2 hours before everything becomes a blur. During my first visit, 2 hours hit while I was still on the first floor so I never made it upstairs. This time, Shannon and I made it upstairs to see the two funerary treasures exhibits. I hadn't seen Tutankhamen's death mask for 36 years and it's still as awe inspiring as the first time I saw it.
I recognize that cats are special, but the little tabby on the right might have taken elegance to a new extreme. There were many places around the museum to sleep, and this one's tastes must have leaned more towards sculpture than most.
So, we left the museum and started the trip back home (this time via Nasser station instead of Sadat). If I haven't mentioned it before, Egyptians are incredibly friendly people. So, as we approached the entrance to the subway, we met Sherif. After a brief discussion on our visit and the political situation, he asked us if we'd like to grab a drink. I couldn't possibly duplicate the route (and I doubt that without him we would be welcome there), but he lead us through a serpentine trail of alleys & sidewalks and we ended up at an alley cafe where the real museum employees take their breaks. Shisha pipes dotted the landscape where the three of us sat down to enjoy tea and mango juice. We discussed everything from the geography of the Bible (as a narrative of people journeying between Egypt and Jerusalem) to politics to his job at the museum. I'll definitely be arranging a time to see him again as he had previously discovered a mummified cat and would be willing to take me on a tour of the hidden exhibits (along with his cat). It really was a fascinating discussion and if Shannon and I hadn't needed to rush back to Maadi so quickly, we likely would've spent more time chatting with him.
In the end, Sherif showed us one of the government shops that catered more to the locals than the one by the museum. As his daughter was getting married, he was buying some orchid essence as a gift for her. During our discussions, he had commented on Shannon's Psoriasis as Egyptian herbal remedies was one of his areas of study. He helped negotiate the price for us and recommended a sandalwood blend that should help Shannon's skin. She'll be doing a test run shortly ... even if it doesn't work it smells wonderful and lasts far longer than other "essences" (wait for the Luxor update).
So, we rushed home as we had decided that we would take the Luxor->Aswan cruise and needed to get the deposit to the travel agent. Overall, it was a great first couple days and ... Shannon hadn't even seen the Nile yet. (coming soon ... sunset on the Nile).