Thursday, September 17, 2009

A taste of Egypt

Ramadan is coming to an end, and the Eid feasting holiday is about to begin. But to experience the end of Ramadan to its fullest, I've been a busy little bee over the past few days. From sunset falukas on the nile, to Khan el-Khalili at night, to Sufi dancing, it's been an amazingly hectic week, to be topped off by a delicious dinner tonight at the famous Abu Sid restaurant.

The Khan el Khalili (a bazaar in Cairo popular with tourists, where you can find almost any knick knack from Egypt you could possibly ever want) is an experience even when it's not Ramadan. Walking through the tight alleyways bursting over with shops and stands selling everything from necklaces, rings, wallets, food, juice, among others, you're constantly met with cries of "Please! let me show you my shop!" Should you choose to enter the shops, prepare yourself for bartering, and any attempts possible to sell their products. "You look like a Spice Girl! you are so beautiful, you must buy zis scarf!" For you my friend, i'll give you a special price. It's a high energy atmosphere at the best of times, but during Ramadan there's just that little bit of extra flavour added.

During the day in Ramadan, the Khan is pretty much limited to tourists and a spattering of locals. Come night time however, the place explodes into colour and life. Everywhere you look there are fanous lit (traditional laterns for Ramadan), glittering lights are strung everywhere, vendors walk around trying to sell anything imaginable. I found hours of entertainment with a spinning whirling top, that when turned on would flash colours, pull the bottom string and send it flying into the air. Needless to say, I was not the only one playing with this...i'll call it whirling helicopter thingie...and the open area in the front of the Khan was turned into a duck and dive zone, with all these "thingies" flying around. On more than one occassion my friends and I were forced to rush over to someone, humbly ask for our "thingie" back, and apologize profusely for having "beaned" them in the head. lol.

Moving further into the Khan, my friends and I took refuge in a small sheisha shop. As the shops began to close around 1 am, chairs materialised out of nowhere, and our small quaint "quiet" shop, turned into a human traffic jam corner with everybody scrambling to find a place to eat their Sa7our (final meal before the fast starts again, usually eaten around 3 am). Fol, Tameya, Beef, Kofta, Schawerma, smells wafted in from every direction, excitement levels rose, and more vendors appeared selling bits and bobs of anything you could hope to find at an amusement park. It was with a full belly, and satisfied smile that I walked out of the Khan. And it is an experience that I would recommend to anyone.

Two nights later, it was off to Sufi dancing. Held in the Beit al-Ghoreya near the entrance to the Khan el-Khalili twice weekly, it was an unforgettable experience. My friend Sunje and I braved the crowded streets, and began the hunt for the entrance into al-Ghoreya. We obviously looked slighlty discomboblulated, as within 10 minutes, an extremely kind older lady came over to us. I couldn't have asked for a better example of Egyptian hospitality. "Are you looking for the Sufi dancing?" Why yes, we are in fact! "You must ask! Come with me! I shall show you the way." Sunje and I were in for a treat. She was there with her sister, granddaughters, cousins, aunts, essentially the entire family. They had managed to reserve four rows right in front of the stage, you couldn't have asked for better seating. The fact that it is a free show requires that to actually get a seat, you should be at least 30 minutes early. Sunje and I in true Egyptian style, were there 10 minutes prior to showtime. Had we not run into this woman, we would have ended up sitting on the cold stone floor (course however, I don't think we would have been complaining once the show started).

Sufi Musicians in Traditional Garb

The architecture upon walking into the Beit al-Ghoreya is absolutely striking. Tall high vaulted ceilings are surrounded by stone walls and adornments that could have been plucked out of the Middle Ages. And this is just the breathtaking building. Once the show had started, Sunje and I were left speechless. The dancers enter the stage, playing solo's on the variety of instruments that they play. My favourite has always been the tambourine man, and this show did not disappoint. His fingers moved in a flurry of symbols, and his eyes captivated the audience, leaving you spellbound. Once the actual dancers entered the stage, I could not stop smiling. Not only were they all evidently having a blast, the Sufi dancer in the middle danced and whirled for no less than 20 minutes, spinning and flying around in a trace-like state of colours, drums and music. Should you ever be given the opportunity to see this show, don't miss it!

Whirling Darawish!

Lets hope dinner tonight proves to be as eventful and exciting, of course, with my group of friends this is essentially guaranteed! Good eating and good entertainment!

*Edit* Abu Sid is pretty good, the prices are a little high but the food is ok. Not the best Egyptian food, but the location and the ambiance is very enjoyable.

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