I had been in Egypt for almost 3 weeks and was not feeling well, my head was suffering flu-like symptoms. But there were still a lot of sites in Cairo that I wanted to visit before returning home the next day. I didn’t feel like traveling around Cairo alone, so I asked the grumpy hotel manager to line me up with a guide. I was a little leary about what I might get, given the price quoted was so low.
My guide showed up on time with a driver and an empty Mercedes mini-bus. He spoke excellent English and the driver was extremely adept at negotiating Cairo’s difficult traffic. I sequestered myself in the back of the bus in an effort to not pollute my hosts.
First we visited the Nilometer, an historic monument for measuring the stages of the Nile River. Then we walked the back streets of Coptic (Christian) Cairo. We visited one of the old Coptic churches. I really enjoyed the religious iconography; it had a wonderful medieval feel. After lunch at a backstreet eatery, we drove, walked, trekked, and explored several surviving reaches of the historic Cairo aqueduct as it extends from the Nile River to the city’s ancient citadel. The guide was very knowledgeable and had no trouble locating the spots I wanted to visit.
Midway through the afternoon, my guide asked me if I wanted to visit a mosque, and he mentionned the one in the citadel. I had run out of items that I “had” to see, so I answered “Sure”. We drove to citadel and eventually walked into the Mosque of Mohammed Ali. We left our shoes at main entrance. The interior had a few tourists milling about, several behaving badly. My guide asked if I wanted a brief introduction to Islam? Given post-9/11 issues, I was a little nervous, but said “Sure.” We moved to middle of the mosque, and sat cross-legged on the floor.
Sitting on the floor (I’m old enough that it was a bit uncomfortable), he provided a brief but informative introduction to Islam. He wasn’t trying to convert me, but he did seem to care that I had his version of what his religion stood for. When I travel, I try to understand a little bit about the culture I’m visiting. To come to Egypt and not experience a little of Islamic society would have been wrong.