Last night, the group of AUC study abroad students went to El Khan el Khalili, which is the oldest Egyptian bazaar. A vendor on the street told us that it was over 800 years old. I assumed he was simply trying to impress us to get us to buy his wares. However, it actually is close to that, dating from 1382! But I know you all are probably not as interested in its history as I am. I digress.
El Khan el Khalili has these narrow winding alleys lined with minuscule shops filled to the brim with knickknacks, scarves, sheeshas, King Tut statuettes, jewelry, spices, and pharaonic scenes depicted on banana leaf paper. These shops sell anything and everything. Entering these alleys is an experience itself as people are pushing their way through masses of humankind. Some are tourists, others are shopkeepers and vendors, and many are men carrying trays of “aysh” or flatbread on their heads.
We were not there for more than two minutes before teenage boys began to yell in broken English, “AMERICA!! U.S.A!!” Americans stick out like a sore thumb in Egypt, and there are very few things you can do to blend in … and you can never blend in completely.
Entering the alley, I was swarmed by about six vendors at a time, throwing scarves on me telling me that it’s my color and asking me what I was looking for, insisting that they have it. Everyone wants to know where you’re from.
At one point a group of us were walking and seven men started shouting from their shops, “OBAMA!” Then their friends would join them shouting “OBAMA! OBAMA!” Several men shouted “Tell Obama we say hi! Hi to Obama from Egypt!” Laughing, we went down another alley and one man shouted to the other vendors “The Obamas are here!!!!!” Needless to say, Obama is very popular in Egypt. Also one man shouted the word “Alaska” at us as well. Egyptians obviously are keeping up with world news and American government!
Vendors are very persistent about their sale offers, and very quickly we learned to say “La shockran,” or “No thank you”. It was an amazing experience, so completely different from any of the malls or markets I have been to! I plan to go back again when I learn how to barter a little better!
Tonight, however, was a lot of fun. The American University in Cairo threw the study abroad students a party in which they served traditional Egyptian food and had traditional forms of dance. They even gave out scarves at the entrance! I got a chicken shwarma, which is shaved spiced chicken served in flatbread, and I also had some hibiscus juice! It was delicious, very sweet and tasted a bit like pomegranate or plum juice.
They then had performances for our viewing pleasure in a new outdoor theatre. One such performance involved about five drummers providing the music while two men spun colorful fabric tent-like objects over their heads, while spinning themselves as well! This is very hard to explain, so I provided pictures.
After this performance they had a Nubian dance group perform some of their traditional dances. They invited everyone down to come dance with the Nubian group! At first, we tried to mimic what they were doing, which involved us in a line with our arms around each other kicking our feet from side to side.
What was hysterical was what we did next. The Nubian group started to do a different line dance, and we all watched carefully so as to follow their steps. It took us about 15 seconds to realize they were doing the electric slide! We all jumped in and joined them in their dance! I never thought I would ever dance the electric slide with a Nubian dance group! There’s a first time for everything!
After this, they played an assortment of dance music ranging from Middle Eastern pop to techno to salsa. It was so much fun! It was like a huge dance party that everyone wanted to be a part of. If this is how the whole semester is going to be, I might never want to leave!
Ma Salima! (Goodbye!)