Archie and Jesse each took one of Clorice’s too-ugly-to-steal, well-used, dirty hot pink and orange colored rolling suitcases – an antiquated chivalrous kindness that she greatly appreciated. As a staunch feminist, but a man lover none-the-less, Clorice felt that while she could do it herself, why would she if she did not have to! Furthermore, real men, straight or gay, did so love to please – and who was she to deny them pleasure?
The trio walked through the main floor of the hotel, passing by ticky-tacky-tourist stores where one can buy papyrus pictures of ankhs (the hieroglyphic symbol of everlasting life, often confused by westerners with the Christian symbol of Christ, which was itself derived from a Roman instrument of death), blue faience scarabs which are forced down the gullets of chickens and excreted to get that “original antiquity” look for one hundred times their worth, and other miscellaneous pseudo-Pharaonic-antiquities and knick-knacks. Clorice made a mental note that she must buy her nieces and nephews some of these trinkets on her way back home. She then walked out the front doors of the hotel and watched the pulsating crowds and ongoing protests in Taharir Square.
Just outside the hotel, in the now world famous Taharir Square was the Sadat central Metro Station, where they could catch a train directly to the Maadi Station. Cairo’s Metro system is quite impressive. Built in the late 1980’s by the Egyptian-French company Entra Nevra Arabco, the system is clean, rapid, cheap and easy to use.
Once out of the noise that defines the midan, and on the right subway line, Jesse began detailing, for Clorice’s benefit, the history and state of affairs at the P.R.I.K.’s archaeological concession.
Exiting the Maadi subway station, into the crisp early evening air, they walked through a small open-air souk which also boasted many small trendy western style boutiques aimed at the primarily wealthy and expatriate residents in this exclusive neighbourhood.
The souk was humming. Women were hanging out clothes to dry on lines that criss-crossed the street. Gaggles of giggling children dressed in uniforms reminiscent of Victorian period British schoolchildren walked by on their way back from school. The trio passed men wrapped in white jellaba, fraternizing in the local coffee shops while drinking mint tea, karkade (the syrupy sweet ruby red hibiscus tisane), and brown bubbly soft drinks and smoking pungent smelling sheesha from elaborate glass and metal hookahs, side-stepped the odd dog, and watched the ground carefully to avoid a case of the embarrassing shoe bottom.
The sounds of markets in every city in the world are different. The random sights, sounds, smells, and feelings are the things that are so quickly forgotten by travelers, because their cameras capture only selected views, usually of themselves standing in front of some architectural edifice or work of art they want to prove they saw. As they passed through the market, the air choked with smoke from Cleopatra Milds and burning petrol, they bought many cases of various kinds of cans of food, tea, coffee, grains, beans, boxes of chocolate bars, cookies, Coptic rum, crates of dried fruit, and bottles and bottles of the ubiquitous Baraka brand water – that the merchants would deliver to the Institute within the hour.
Clorice stopped at one stall, bagged some strawberries, asked how much it cost, pulled out a rather tattered one pound note, and handed it to the pimply teenage clerk – who took her money, ripped the bag out of her hand, and started to laugh. When she tried to pull her money back he tore it into quarters and threw it on the ground and stepped on it. She kicked him as hard as she could on his shins and screamed at him in Arabic that his “…mother must have slept with a pig (an unholy animal) to have sired him.” She was impressed at how quickly her Arabic had come back! The living porcine miscarriage glowered at her, bared his yellow rotting teeth, and began yelling anti-western-female obscenities that were beyond Clorice’s Arabic linguistic prowess.
“Ignore that low class merchant as one of your class is expected to do, or else you bring yourself down to his level and he will show increasing disrespect towards other foreigners in the future” said a young boy around the age of ten who had witnessed the incident, in English with a heavy British accent.
Cheeky brat – even if he was right. Outraged, she stomped away, muttering to herself about the lost strawberries and money; only about fifty-five cents, but still, there’s a principal involved. Jesse and Archie, having watched the incident with amusement from across the street, teased Clorice that she still needed to find her Cairo feet!
[Continue reading: Chapter 3: I]