For the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, we had a week off of classes, which obviously translated into a week to do as much travelling as we could. My destinations of choice: Cairo, Egypt, and Jerusalem, Israel.
I went to Cairo by myself, but met up with my friend, Matt, a Georgetown student who is studying for the year. He spent a year in Yemen living with the rural bedouin tribes, so the big city life isn’t really his thing. Hence his suggstion that we travel south along the Nile Delta. He originally wanted to take a midnight train to Luxor (12 hours south of Cairo) but I was a little sketched out by the whole midnight train thing, so we decided to leave in the morning and go to Minya, a four hour train ride from Cairo.
The train was at 10, and we arrived to Ramsees Station at 9:55…after literally running through downtown. We asked three people in uniform if we buy our ticket in the station or on the train, and all three said on the train. So we rushed onto the train and miracuously found 2 seats next to each other. Since it was Eid, seats were hard to come by because a lot of people were travelling home to be with their parents. We settled in, but all of a sudden at the second stop, a woman came up to us and said we were sitting in her seats. We must have looked confused because she pulled out her tickets to show that she had seats 16 and 17, so we gathered our stuff and stood in the already crowded aisle. We soon found out that you could buy your tickets at the station to reserve a seat, but you can buy your tickets on the train for standing room. And the standing room tickets are more expensive!!
About an hour into the ride, a guy sitting next to me offered me his seat. I did the whole “three time refusal rule” (an understood cultural rule) but accepted on the fourth time. Ahhh, the occasional advantages of being a girl. I was sitting next to a woman named Warda and her three month old son Yousef. Across the aisle sat Warda’s brother and sister in law. When Yousef woke up about halfway into the train ride, he was the center of attention, and everybody wanted to hold him. Somehow our little row started playing “pass the baby” and literally every five minutes Yousef was in somebody else’s hands. It’s a miracle he didn’t end up back with the people in seat 16 and 17! Yousef spent a good amount of time on my lap, given that I was sitting right next to his mother, but in all the passing and shuffling, not one did Yousef cry! Impressive.
Literally the second Matt and I stepped off the train, we were the center of attention. Apparently Minya was not a tourist town, which might explain why there is only one hotel in the whole town. But it was actually really nice; we even had a view of the Nile from our balcony. We put our stuff down and decided to get lunch, but lunch turned into dinner as we spent 4 hours looking for Mataam Khalil that everybody raved about but nobody could give us exact directions. It wasn’t even that good.
Then Matt and I stumbled upon “hadiqa dowlia” which translates into “international garden.” The one string of blinking lights drew us in. It was on he outskirts of town, and we have no idea how it stays in business. The entrance fee was 1 Egyptian Pound (about $.15), and it was literaly dead. Nobody was there. The only way to describe it is like a scene out of a movie. It was a deserted amusement park, perfect for a scary movie. There was only one ride running- a carousel from the 1980s. Nobody was on it. It was possibly one of the most bizarre places I have ever been.
The next morning I woke up at 5:30 to the call to prayer. It was louder than usual, maybe because our hotel right next to the mosque. I heard cheering and yelling and honking in the streets, so I walked out to the balcony to see what was going on. Since it was the morning of Eid, the streets had been transformed into a mini mosque. The streets were blocked off and rugs were laid down, and people were lining up in the streets to pray. Such an intriguing sight.
Matt and I were leaving later that day, but we had some time to visit a graveyard about 20 km outside of the city. It was a Muslim graveyard that was ike nothing I had ever seen before! Every grave was a little room, a place for the coffin (covered in cement) and a room for the relatives who could sleep with their family members on occasions such as Eid. Each grave had a dome ceiling–typical in Islamic architecture. As we walked around the cemetary, two old bedouin women greeted us. They invited us into their father’s grave, and showed us where they were sleeping. They had travelled from a village a little further south to spend Eid with their father. They invited us to stay for tea, so we had to accept. There we sat, two Americans, a taxi driver, and two old bedouin women drinking tea in a graveyard. What a way to spend Eid!