Some perspective, for you and for me.
Since May 2, we have:
– taken four flights on two different airlines
– acquired two new visas
– eaten (or politely disposed of) multiple transit versions of breakfast, lunch and dinner
– slept in five hotels and at least six different rooms
– spent too many hours to count in vans and buses, like this weekend, when we stayed in two major Syrian cities in two days
All those numbers change tomorrow, when we fly to Qatar around 5 p.m. And after four days on the gulf coast, we fly to Boston.
American movies being shown on Syrian hotel televisions, culled from overnight stays in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo:
– The Flintstones
– The Butterfly Effect
– Something with Martin Lawrence, tough to determine through the static
Oh man. If Cairo had a single marketplace as tranquil as the khan in Old Damascus.*
We spent the afternoon in its maze of shops, generally unperturbed and soaking up the smells of fresh spices and soaps. Right now, those scents are seeping from plastic bags near my bed, all jumbled together: honey and curry, cinnamon sticks, olive oil and cardamom. Pretty good.
For the sake of illuminating the exchange rate here, I made a list of stuff I bought at the khan. Altogether, the day cost about $35.
– falafel sandwich
– orange soda
– 1 bar of honey soap, 2 bars of olive oil soap, 2 bars of mysteriously perfumed soap for Grandma
– 8 keffiyehs
– 25 grams of cardamom, 50 grams of curry, 50 grams of spicy curry, 50 grams of rice seasoning, a bundle of cinnamon sticks
– 300 grams of loose-leaf black tea
*Oops. Carlene said she did find a serene, secluded shopping spot in Cairo. I should have poked around more.
Almost everyone drove to Alexandria for the weekend. A gorgeous trip to a gorgeous place, for sure. But Katie and I stayed behind for a couple of reasons so exciting, I need to share ’em.
In sort of particular order (particularly the first particular):
1. Katie is the best, and landed an extraordinary interview for the series we’re writing with Nick on Egyptian grassroots politics and opposition parties. We’re sitting down with former opposition leader and political contender Ayman Nour, who gained enough popular support on the liberal Al-Ghad ticket, the Egyptian government tossed him in jail four years ago. His hellish experience was well-covered by international media and he was released in February. This is an enormous opportunity. Enormous, enormous. We’re doing our homework pretty good, and drafting questions to do this chance some justice.
2. After we meet with Mr. Nour, Katie, Nick and I are flocking downtown for a conversation over coffee with an Egyptian blogger to learn about a nascent opposition group called the 6th of April Youth Movement. Also, in one of the ten worst countries to blog, she’ll help us understand the challenges and significance of her work.
3. Tomorrow afternoon, we’re meeting downtown with local opposition kids for interviews and a tour of the Almasry-Alyoum newsroom.
4. Electronic artist Machine Eat Man is playing Zamalek’s cultural center tomorrow night. He channels stuff like Brian Eno, The Beatles and Peter Gabriel, and has strong opinions about the Egyptian music scene. Sometime before his performance, we’re meeting up for coffee and an interview.
So, keep an eye on the main blog. We’ll be churning out more stories soon!
Do you care?
Not sure, but since serious belly aches (etc.) swept our group last week, I’ve cautiously limited my diet to a handful of simple things – at least until my body bounces back – that I want to memorialize via list:
– 27-cent falafel from a friendly vendor on Ismail Mohamed
– Corn Flakes
+ water, + Fanta
A two-day progression of wireless passwords from an Internet cafe in Cairo, which we aggressively tried to guess for free service:
Last night, Katie discovered a guide to televised treasures available in our Luxor hotel room:
– Egypt 1
– Egypt 2
– Al Jazeera News
– Dream 2
– Rotana Cinema
– Melody Cinema
– DW (Dutch)
– RTL 1 (Dutch)
– ZDF (Dutch)
– MBC 2 (movie channel in English)
– MBC Action (action movies in English)
– Dubai 1(movies in English)
– Fox Movies (movies in English)
– BBC World
– TV 5 Monde (French)
– The Japanese Channel (Japanese)
– The Sport Channel
– Modern Sport
– Space Toon (English)
– The Music Channel