Africa, Destinations, Middle East

The Key to Prosperity

February 2, 2009 • By

I’ve decided mosques are like churches after 5 or so I’ve seen enough. It’s important to note that I’m always searching for a new religion but I won’t be converting to Islam anytime soon. The problem being that the only thing I do 5 times or more a day is pee and eat and I already have a big enough forehead I don’t need a scar from bowing my head to the east in prayer everyday. In Islamic speak, the east is towards Mecca (Mecca , the birthplace of Islam for all of us uninformed, is where Muslims flock to during the month of Ramadan). The Koran says Muslims must make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life. It also says men can take up to 4 wives and as my guide put it to me nicely,”one is enough!” Besides, I really like my long flowing hair and think the whole world deserves to see it not just my imaginary husband.

While I’m on a rant, I also don’t understand why Muslim women should be forced to wear black when its 150 degrees. I can tell when a woman is shapely and I’m surprised the religion is so insistent that a woman’s body not be seen even clothed. I wore a white shirt today (yes to REFLECT the hot sun). It occurred to me I made a mistake when some guard at the oldest mosque in Egypt chased me down yelling “hair lady, hair lady,” which meant nothing to me (my hair was covered with bits showing) but apparently my guide deciphered that to mean me. As a result, I adorned a very bright green Star Wars like cape covering me from head to toe. My hair was a conversation starter once again when I stopped at the souvenir shop when the pushy sales lady (watch out New York this woman has skill) followed me around the store—the store I was in only to check out the facilities—saying long hair lady maybe you like this crystal or jewelry or…. Ok I can deal with the nickname “hair lady.” I much prefer that to baldy!

On the tourist front, I visited the oldest and the largest Egyptian mosques, the Coptic Museum and the area known as Old Cairo or the Christian section (with the most random and gorgeous synagogue- Ben Ezra). Many of the poor live in Old Cairo but even then Egypt is a relatively prosperous country. People here live in flats and apartments reminiscent of old European cities where the outside looks sketchy but the inside is perfectly respectable. In a city with 18 million people, the same problems one would find in NY, London etc. apply here. It’s expensive and overcrowded, housing and jobs are scarce and pollution is an issue. There is room for improvement but its not in complete despair.

Egypt’s biggest industry is agriculture and thank goodness. Where would we get our 1,000 count $800 Egyptian Cotton sheets? Now if I could only lug those fine sheets around in my backpack. For $150, I could purchase an incredibly soft queen set. I had to rub my face against them just to dream.

Lastly, I visited the Citadel, an area where several great mosques dating from the 12th Century were constructed. One mosque in particular resembles the design of the Hague Sofia in Istanbul and likely illustrates the influence the Ottoman Empire maintained at that time. From high atop the mountains, the Egyptians could watch for intruders along the Nile. It’s a massive complex and all around I could view the city’s vastness filled with mosques, business, housing complexes, the mighty Nile and the pyramids in the distance.

Before calling it a day, I asked to visit a papyrus store. The namesake in the US charges a great deal for the so-called stationery. The ancient Egyptians figured out they could peel the papyrus plant, wet the insides for a week and then roll out the “sheets” by crisscrossing one line over the other. The papyrus dries and becomes paper in a months time and then people could write or paint on it. The paper is very durable and does not smear the writings.

Being a hopeless romantic, I just had to buy the parchment portraying the love story of King Tut and his wife. The famous painting uses two powerful symbols uniting the couple in life and death: the locust (love) and the key to prosperity, a bow-like hieroglyphic. The “key” is very wildly used in ancient script especially in the writings for the kings who longed for prosperity in the afterlife. I have my ancient fairy tale and the band (at dinner) is now playing, “Your the Inspiration” by Chicago. Is that some kind of sign?

I’m off to eat my large helping of falafel and kebabs. Just hoping I don’t get Pharoah’s revenge as the locals call it.