Al-Qahirah

Working and living in Cairo, Egypt.

As tourists…

Hello again, it’s been a while… Now we are already in Finland but we still want to share some memories from Cairo. This time we’ll tell you something about the sights and what you can do on your spare time in Cairo.

On our first week in Cairo we we visited, probably the most famous thing in Egypt, the Pyramids. We booked the whole day for it and also our trustee taxi driver 🙂 We went to two different pyramids, first our taxi driver took us to the Giza pyramids. Those really are amazing and huge! We just kept on wondering how people were able to build those years and years ago. We also went inside the biggest pyramid, which was exciting.. you shouldn’t be too claustrophobic when going in. We rode the camels as well, luckily our roommates’ friend (male one :D) was with us because otherwise we would have paid way too much, but he knew how to haggle over the price. Of course there was also the sphinx, the noseless figure with a human head and the body of a lion. We took a lot of pictures there! After Giza our taxi driver took us to the pramids of Dahshur. There we saw for example the Bent pyramid, which shape is a bit different, like its name tells: it is bent.

On the first week we also went to a felucca cruise with our roommates and their friend. Felucca is a traditional one massted sail boat of the Nile and it doesn’t have an engine so ot relies entirely on the breeze. Our cruise took one hour (you can also rent it for two hours) and it was really relaxing: we had some tea and cookies, sun was shining and there was a nice breeze. 🙂

After four weeks we visited to the Anafora Retreat Center. It was an excursion arranged by Finns in Egypt organization. Anafora is located about 70 kilometres towards Alexandria from Cairo and it is a Christian retreat center where lives dozens of Anaforans and voluntary workers. We satyed there one night (the coldest night ever!!! :D) and we enjoyed it, in spite of the night. It was wonderful to breath fresh air and hear the silence because there was no chaotic traffic at all. We met the founder of the Anafora, bishop Thomas, and he told us interesting stories about himself. We also met a Finnish Helena Nikkanen who lives in Anafora and teaches icon painting for the nuns of Anafora. She told about her work and the icon painting tradition in coptic church. There was a nice little shop in Anafora too and of course we couldn’t leave without buying something, such as a rug, shade, scarf, papyrus…

In Cairo we visited the Cairo Tower which is located on the Gezira island. Te tower is an imitation of a lotus plant and it was buit in 1962. The tower is 187 metres tall and the views are amazing! We got a better view from the Nile and the whole city.

One evening we visited the Cairo Opera House and went to see the Tosca opera with our friends. We hadn’t seen any opera before so we didn’t quite know what to expect. The ticket cost about three euros so it would not have been a problem if it wasn’t any good. The opera was sung in Italian and the translation was in Arabic, but luckily we had programmes in English where we could read the story. Opera took about two and half hours and we were really surprised how good it was, so maybe we could see one in Finland too. 😉

If you like shopping (and we do! :D) you cannot leave from Cairo without going to Khan al-Khalili, the biggest bazaar in Cairo and one of the oldest ones in Egypt. The oldest parts of the bazaar are from the 14th century. We went there three times and we could say that it was enough 😀 Khan al-Khalili is a good place to buy souvenirs, there are hundreds different little shops but you just need to remember bargain, a lot! Otherwise you are paying way too much. So it is not the fastest way to buy things but it can be fun. On the other hand you can get frustrated because there’s lots of pushing.

We didn’t shop just in Khan al-Khalili but also (quite many times) in Carrefour, also known as Maadi City Centre, we could say that it was one of our favourite places + Starbucks and White chocolate mocha, yumm! We also visited the City Stars a couple of times, it is a huge shopping centre, at least three times the size of Ideapark.

Near Sayyda Aisha, where we changed the mikrobus on our way to work, is also one place worth visiting, it’s called Citadel. Citadel is a big fortification which was built in 12th century. There are many things to see, for example three mosques and lots of different museums. When we visited the Citadel we went inside the mosque of Muhammad Ali, the most visible mosque in Cairo. It was really beautiful and it’s spectacular in the evenings too when the lights of the mosque are on. You can see it from far. It was also quite exciting because it was our first time in a mosque. After the mosque we visited the National Military Museum and the Prison museum. We would have visited the Police museum too but unfortunately it was closed. It was a really nice tourist day, the sun was shining, it was really warm and we ate ice cream :p

The Egyptian Museum is a very impressive place and there’s so much history! We only visited the museum once but it would have been better to go at least twice because there are so many things to see. We were there for four hours and it just wasn’t enough, we also got a little bit tired because we didn’t have time for a coffee break 😀 It is said that there are over 120 000 items in the museum and our travel guide (a book) says that if you look at every piece for one minute it would take nine months to see it all! Probably the greatest thing in the Egyptian Museum were the mummies. We had to buy a separate ticket to see those but we didn’t mind because it was so interesting. So, there were 12 mummies lying under the glass ”boxes” in one room. We could see their heads, fingers and toes, otherwise they were covered. Some of them had teeths and some hair left. It was so weird.. that years and years ago they actually were living people. There were animal mummies in the museum too, which were quite interesting also.

Finally we would like to tell something about the Egyptian food. To begin with fruits, we ate lots of those, mostly bananas and strawberries. Fruits were really cheap in Cairo compared for example to Finland. But our favourite food or lunch (depending on how you want to define it:D) was definitely fitiiras and mahalabeyas. Fitiira is made of puff pastry, it is rolled and inside of it you can have for example cheese or icing sugar. Mahalabeya is pudding in other words. We always had milk-chocolate or cappuccino-chocolate flavour, yum! Those were really cheap too

Abu Al-Sid is an Egyptian restaurant where we tasted pigeon and molokheya. The pigeon was stuffed with rice and it tasted almost like chicken, a little bit lighter though. Molokheya was a very interesting experience. It’s green soup which tastes like garlic and it is made of molokheya leaves. It was quite good but very slimy. :p The soup was served with rice and chicken which was really tasty!

We also visited Maison Thomas which is located in Zamalek, on gezira island. It is a famous European style pizzeria which was established in 1929, and the pizzas were sooo good!

 

So here were some of our experiences that we had in Cairo 🙂

-Pia & Saara

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Voluntary work in Mokattam

Here in Cairo we work in two different places in Mokattam. Other place is young street mother’s shelter and the other one children’s center. The way to work is quite interesting; we have to take metro and two microbuses to get to Mokattam. First we need to take metro from Sakanat el Maadi to El Malek el Saleh. There are separate carriages for women only because of the sexual harassment which is quite common here. It is really easy and comfortable to travel by metro. Although every time we travel by metro we notice many pairs of eyes staring at us, now we really know what it is to be a celebrity! 😉 And then the microbusses, there are no words… Okay, we can try to explain, first of all microbus is just like an ordinary van, but there are seats for about fifteen persons + “hanging on the door” –seats. 😉 You can recognize microbus on its white-blue color, rickety outlook and high speed. 😀 We change microbus in Sayida Aisha, which is really chaotic, noisy and always full of people. Sometimes it can be also a little bit irritating because of the crowd, pollution and cars honking. Payment in microbus can be a bit difficult unless you are good at maths, because person who is sitting nearest to the driver has to count all the other passengers money. Travelling by public transport is really cheap here in Cairo for example one metro ticket costs one pound which is 0,14 euros.

Let’s get back to work places, first we can tell you something about young street mother’s shelter. There are young girls and mothers living in the shelter, some of them have been living there longer and some may just visit there a few days. The girls are about from 13 to 20 years old and you could say that they have seen the worse sides of life. It has been really great to get to know the girls and see that in spite of their past they are lively and positive. It’s been nice that the girls have welcomed us with open arms and they often want to talk and hear something about our life. When having a conversation with the girls Aino’s help with the language has been very necessary because we only speak Arabic “swayya” (only a few words). Our host organization Kulttuurikameleontit is arranging a jewellery workshop, where the girls are making different kind of jewelleries. The host organization is selling those forward in Finland and the girls get the money from their work. We have taken part of workshop and noticed that the girls are making jewelleries concentrating properly on their work. Sometimes there is an eight year old boy taking part of the jewellery workshop and his work has been fantastic, he really is a talent! When young mothers are making jewelleries we usually take care of their babies, so they can concentrate well. Sometimes we also go to park with children to play.

And now something about the children center. There are fifteen children, aged between four months and ten year, living in the center. We go to the children’s center about three times a week and when we enter the center children often welcome us by hugging and smiling. 🙂 Our days with kids usually consist of taking care of the babies, playing with elder kids and organizing suitable activities depending on the children’s age. At the moment our help is needed because there is lack of the staff, in addition there are some girls from the young street mother’s shelter who come to help. It is easier to go to the children’s center because the language barrier isn’t so disturbing. It is easy to communicate with the children by playing and singing for example. We have sang with the kids also some Finnish songs “pää, olkapää, peppu…”, “pienen pieni veturi”, “hämähämähäkki” and “piiri pieni pyörii”, which some previous volunteers had taught to the children.

Time here has been rewarding this far and we have seen and learned a lot. To be continued…

-Saara & Pia-

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First day in Cairo

Our journey to Cairo began on 6th of January. First we flew from Helsinki-Vantaa to Frankfurt where we waited 15 hours for our next flight. The airport was really huge and it was quite difficult to find a place to sleep because of the noise but finally we saw two little couches which were just perfect for us 😀 After sleeping a few hours we continued our journey by getting on a plane to Cairo.

When we arrived Cairo airport, got our luggages and found our taxi driver, we went outside and got a first view of the metropolis and multitude. There were so many cars and lots of noise everywhere and we heard ”welcome to Egypt” many times. After sitting into our taxi we started our first crazy car trip in Cairo. We noticed that traffic here is totally different compared to Finland’s. There are no traffic lights, no lanes and no crosswalks! Goal is to drive as fast as possible and use horn every chance you get. 🙂 Finally we managed to find our apartment which is located in verdant area of Maadi. Our roommates were waiting for us and it was such a kind gesture from them to make a welcoming dinner for us. After travelling about 30 hours we were exhausted and almost right away after dinner we fell into our beds.

On the next day we woke up feeling rested after sleeping 12 hours. That’s why we managed to go out with our roommate, who introduced Maadi to us for example which are good stores and where  to get the best cupcakes. 😉 She also helped how to get prepaids and USB modems. After buying lots of food we returned to our apartment and started to prepare our first meal here in Cairo, which was regular student food. 😀

-Pia & Saara-

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Practical arrangements before going to Cairo

is-Salaamu alaikum! Here we are, in Cairo, Egypt. We arrived here ten days ago and so far everything’s okay and we have had many interesting experiences. But before we tell more about life in here, let’s start from the beginning, in other words practical arrangements and feelings before going abroad.

We found our host organization, Kulttuurikameleontit ry, last summer when we were looking for a practical training place from the Internet. We contacted Kulttuurikameleontit by e-mail and that’s how we strated our co-operation with the organization. Behalf of school we had many forms to fill in, for example learning agreement, practical training plan and grant agreement. We also filled in one form for the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, so that we could have higher student grant.

In addition to these we had to take care of many other things concerning this trip. First we had to make sure that we had required vaccinations, here in Egypt it is good to have A- and B-hepatitis vaccinations. We really want to highlight the importance of taking the vaccinations on time because other of us left it ”a little bit” late but fortunately there is a chance to take hastened hepatitis vaccination. Another important thing that we had to take care of was a visa application. It was quite easy to do but it was surprising that we had to mail our passports and also the payment which was 20 euros, but luckily passports came back safely. After these we booked flights and searched and found an apartment in Cairo. We also took travel insurance which covers everything. We think it’s important to have it in case you for example get sick or your luggage disappear.

During the autumn we had so many things to do that we didn’t actually have time to think about going abroad. Only after booking the flights, which was a day before Christmas, we realized that our journey to Egypt is really close. Autumn was quite stressing because in addition to these trip arrangements we had studying assignments and thesis to do. After getting through all of this we got really excited. We are actually going to Cairo! 🙂

-Saara & Pia-

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