Africa, Destinations, Middle East

Happy Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2009 • By

I’ve have traveled from one end of Africa to the other arriving safely in Alexandria, Egypt.  A city that sits directly on the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria is an interesting mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman culture.  The city is U-shaped around the water and the buildings are a mix of Ancient Egyptian culture with a flair of Greek and Roman.  Alexander the Great founded the city and the people still honor him today.  It’s a very diverse city and I can see it in the faces of the people.  Some people have blue eyes and reddish, brown hair and they tend to be a shade lighter than their Egyptian counterparts in Cairo.  The city is home to ancient ruins such as the Roman Theater and Pompey’s Pillar.  The Roman columns still standing paying homage to the settlers long gone.

Alexandria is quieter, cleaner and more cultural(in some ways) than Cairo.  The people seem a little more reserved yet slightly European.  On my first day sightseeing, I must have had my picture taken by 18 people.  Primarily teenage girls but also several fathers with their children.  It was definitely noticeable to me that the covered women were either not allowed to be in the photos or did not want to be in them.  Let’s just say my own camera didn’t get a workout but I am confident I am in no less than 20 other pictures and multiple cell phones.  It was a great ego boost but after awhile the allure of it wore off and I realized how celebrities must despise having their photo taken all the time.

Since Friday is the Muslim holy day and no one works it seemed everywhere I walked I was cornered by groups of people on the sidewalks or streets praying.  Many stores and cafes placed carpets on the ground and I watched men bowing up and down and then kneeling for what seemed like an hours.  The men were together on the carpets but the women were no where near them.  In fact, I noticed most women didn’t even stop walking.  The loud speakers were again blaring as the followers of Islam listened to the Koran’s prayers.  Even more fascinating to watch were the cars and buses completely stopped during the 12:00 prayer time.  People on the buses hung their heads out the window to listen to the prayers.  When the prayer ended, people filled the streets shopping and eating like a huge celebration.

Later, I somehow landed at a strip mall type of place to see a movie (Bride Wars – I do love my chick flicks).  It quickly became clear to me that if Muslim’s cannot hang out drinking Friday nights they are going to patronage two types of places:  movie theaters and coffee shops.  Keep in mind the coffee shops are primarily for men so that leaves young couples, families and women walking around the stores or seeing a movie.  I waited in line to purchase my ticket and no less than 5 men and about 5 women steamrolled me to get their tickets first.  It didn’t make any sense to me until I finally got to the window.  The seats are assigned here in Egypt.  I picked what looked like a nice seat and made my way to the theater.  Once inside, I realized my ticket was in Arabic and I couldn’t remember what seat I selected on the woman’s screen (when I bought my ticket).  The funny part was that the seats in the theater were labeled in English.  I sat and decided to see if someone would move me.  Sure enough about 8 previews in the flashlight guy moved me 5 rows back.  I figured I made a pretty good guess considering I know 3 words in Arabic.  The film started and I looked around.  There was not one adult man in the entire theater but there were plenty of mother’s with children and teenage couples.  When I left the show and walked around to check out the action, I found all the men.  They are like the cops hanging out in the donut shops….but in the coffee shops smoking hookah and watching sports.  I guess it’s the same in every country.

As far as the V-Day is concerned, it’s a sea of red and not the one your thinking.  Remarkably, the hallmark holiday has arrived in Egypt alive and well.  The Chinese caught on quickly to this willing market because the red furry bears are a huge export for them.  I’m a little scared to share with you that from an outsider’s perspective it  seems to be all about the red scarves, the lingerie and 3 foot red bears.  There are some balloons and flowers but those pale in comparison to the bears and naughty nighties.  I am beginning to believe my new friend Eheb’s theory on the covered women.  If these provocative shops are not in tourist areas, then the locals must be buying this merchandise.  Let me add, the window displays are equally outrageous…not  conservative by any means.  It’s really intriguing as I’m picturing these women putting on sex shows at home.  I just cannot figure out the contrast in the public persona versus home.  The couples strolled the sidewalks in full force today and most women were dressed in red and carrying bears or I love you bags.  Every man I walked past either at the hotel or on the street or in the stores wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day.  The newspapers even displayed ads for Valentine’s specials and most retailers expected lucrative sales.  Egyptian style Valentine’s Day is here to stay.

I’m off to the other RED SEA and Mt. Sinai tomorrow.  From there I am heading to Jordan and then Israel.  Stay tuned for my Egypt 101 in the next day.

Happy Valentine’s Day and remember there’s no such thing as the lonely hearts club.