Ma’a Salaama Masr [Farewell Egypt!]

After almost 10 hours on the bus, with multiple checkpoints and even drug dogs sniffing our luggage, Becca and I finally made it back to Cairo late Saturday night. We had about 20 minutes at her apartment to freshen up before heading back out, because we had already made plans with two Egyptians that I had to see while I was in CairoRamy and Amgad, the brothers Khattab. We used to hang out all the time when I was studying and living in Cairo during college, and my trip wouldn’t have been complete without seeing and catching up with them. We even picked one of our old haunts for the reunion, an adorable outdoor cafe called Harawi’s where we spent many a night hanging out back in the day. Since then its been remodeled, and it looks better than ever! Here’s a picture of us at Harawi’s.

Amgad, Ramy, myself, and Becca

Then next morning, reminiscing was at the top of my list of things to do with my last day in Cairo. Our first stop was a place in Zamalek called All Saints Cathedral, where I used to teach English to Sudanese refugees. I think this experience was one of the main things that encouraged me to join Peace Corps, well, that and meeting a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Ethiopia who pretty much converted me to the Peace Corps gospel and encouraged me to apply. Both of these experiences happened while I was living in Cairo, so sometimes I attribute my decision to join Peace Corps as the outcome of my time and experiences in Egypt. Its so interesting to me how one chapter in your life can lead to subsequent chapters you never saw coming…

After All saints, our next stop was Agouza, the neighborhood where Becca and I lived while studying with the Middle East Studies Program. Walking through the streets of Agouza, it felt like nothing had changed. We saw Mr. Koko, our favorite street-side vendor who makes the best shwarma in Cairo, and he even remembered us! We used to be very loyal customers back in the day… that was Before Peace Corps (B.P.C.), when I didn’t know how to cook AT ALL and ate out 90% of the time. Oh the memories : )

Mr. Koko makes the meanest shwarma in Cairo… he’s so good he should be in the guide books.

Becca and I ordered some shwarma to go, and walked down the street to the Villa, the home of the Middle East Studies Program and the place where we used to go for class every day. I have such fond memories of the Villa, from spending massive amounts of time in our Arabic immersion classes with Nahed, to learning how to dance Dabka, the Palestinian form of line-dancing, to spending hours on the shaded roof with my friends and classmates, discussing everything we were learning. I think my semester with MESP was the best semester of my college experience, just don’t tell anyone I studied with in Indiana, Ireland, or Ecuador that I said that : P

The Villa, where we had an impromptu shwarma picnic.

Becca, me, and fellow former MESPer Laura, eating Mr. Koko’s shwarma at our old stomping ground.

Unfortunately for us, the Villa was locked. The Middle East Studies Program (MESP) had to relocate after the Revolution in Egypt, so its currently based in Jerusalem. The Villa is locked and unoccupied, and it felt like we were visiting a historical place that nobody remembers except us. Its been three years since we lived in Agouza, but sitting there reminiscing made it seem like a lifetime ago. I miss Cairo.

MESP how I miss thee.

After our stop in Agouza, where our friend Ismail joined us, we went to Islamic Cairo to the Khan-el-Khalili, which is kind of like tourist-central. I wanted to buy some souvenirs for my Ukrainian friends and stop by the famous Fishawi’s cafe. We got a table, and Ismail and Becca talked about their upcoming trip to Siwa, a beautiful desert Oasis in western Egypt where Ismail is from. It made me wish I was in Egypt for longer than a week, because Siwa’s an amazing place to visit. While they made plans, I was approached by a lady offering henna tattoos. I was secretly hoping this opportunity would present itself, so I willing put out my arm and let her do her magic. I like henna tattoos; they’re beautiful, and by the time you’re sick of looking at them, they’ve already disappeared.

My friend Omer also came to join us so he could say goodbye, and he proved to be a huge help when I wanted to go souvenir shopping. He did all the talking and bargaining (in Arabic) and I just stood there and smiled. It made the experience much more enjoyable for me, because I didn’t get ripped off and I didn’t have to worry : ) I’m glad he came and that we got to hang out one last time.

For my last evening in Egypt, Becca and I headed out to Nasser City to meet Khadra, who was a dear friend from when I was a student studying in Cairo. She’s originally from Djibouti, but her father is a diplomat working in Saudi Arabia, so that’s where she grew up and where her family currently lives. She’s been living in Cairo the last few years to study law, but she’s concerned that she’ll never get hired as a lawyer because she wears the naqab (the full veil that only shows a woman’s eyes). It’s always so interesting to hear her perspective on things, she’s such an intelligent, witty woman and I love her dearly!

What the naqab looks like. (And no, this is not my friend Khadra!)

We went to a new cafe that just opened for dinner, and to be honest, the service was terrible. We were all starving, and it took forever for the food to come. But I ordered hooka (it was my last night, I had to!), and the hooka man at least was attentive. Egyptians have smoking hooka down to an art form, its probably for the best that I’m not living in Egypt because I’m sure I would damage my lungs with the amount of hooka I’d smoke ; )  Becca and I had a great time hanging out with Khadra, and we even took some pictures to remember it by. I can’t share them here, so you’ll just have to imagine our smiling faces. 🙂

So having seen almost all of my favorite Egyptians, and having spent a few glorious days in the sunshine at Dahab, the time had come at last for my departure. Becca’s friend Ayman came with his car to drive us to the airport, and I could hardly take in the fact that the week was over and the time had come to return to Ukraine. It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to Becca and made my way through the airport, bound for Moscow and then finally Kiev.

So for now, Ma’a Salaama MasrFarewell Egypt! Until next time, you’ll be in my heart.

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