Football, aka American soccer, is the primary sport of interest in Cairo, and really most of the world beyond the United States. Yesterday the majority of our group, 23 students and Carlene, arrived at Cairo soccer stadium escorted by multiple security officers to watch Egypt play Angola.
We walked into the stadium, security forces lining the way on either side, hustled up a winding staircase and, behold–a brilliantly green field brightly lit brightly stretched before us.
If you’ve ever attended a sport event with me, you know I go for the conversation and atmosphere, not the plays. In this case, I got what I was looking for.
When we were warned we would draw attention at the game I expected mobs rushing toward us or boys whistling and staring. With our trusty van drivers (one of whom brought his adorable daughter) and security guards at our sides we got nothing more than friendly smiles, waves and curious glances as we took our seats.
Part-way through the game, adorned with large red-flags (James trumped us all and bought the humongous size), team hats (Rachel and Asha) and face-paint (John) the cameras started zoning in from all angles.
Most obvious, the stadium camera turned its large lens toward us soon after the game was underway. Abdu and our hotel staff were among those who enjoyed our faces on their TV screens.
A few minutes later my attention was drawn to a middle-aged man behind me. He had out his camera phone (yes, these are just as popular here as in the United States) and was video-taping my friends and I as we laughed our way through the game. I pointed the taping out to Rachel and Asha sitting next to me. They turned and looked to–though I’m pretty sure our looks were those of annoyance,, the man only smiled– unabashedly continuing his filming.
“Lematha?” (Why?) I asked pointing at him.
“Good luck,” he said.
His daughter sitting next to him smiled shyly before slipping between the seats and plopping down next to me.
One of the benefits of sitting on the end?
She told me her name was Abar and she was 8-years-old. She didn’t speak English so my limited Arabic and gestures defined our interaction. She shared salty seeds ( Like pumpkin, but I haven’t seen those here) with me (it’s impolite to refuse drinks and food) I showed her pictures I have of my brother Grayson and sister Cady and she operated my camera like a pro, zooming in and out to take pictures of the soccer players, my friends and I and her brother.
Her Dad, who spoke no more English than she did, intermittently whipped out his camera-phone in an apparent attempt to seal his “good-luck.”
I searched in my bag for some token to give her but didn’t have anything. I considered giving her U.S. coins but was afraid she or her family might take that the wrong way (any thoughts?) She didn’t want the gum I offered.
As the game came to a close (Did you even see any of the goals!?! My friends, considerably more into the game teased me) I gave Abar (pronounced Abiir) my notepad and asked her to write her name. Her dad took it and scrawled in perfect English Abar Emnad along with their phone number the words “Good Luck,” and E Youat–possibly a family name or his?
How do you know that? I asked surprised. He didn’t have the words to explain. A helpful guy a few seats a way chimed in to tell me he learned at school. After trying to have a conversation in English and Arabic with this second man–younger and dressed in a Western-style business suite, I discovered school was one the few English words he knew.
When we left the father handed me yet another slip of paper with his name and number. Was a middle-aged man lusting after me in front of his teenage son and daughter? I’d prefer to think he was just offering friendship in a overcrowded metropolis of 18 million plus. (No one worry, I’ll never call).
Back in our hotel room a few hours later, Asha and I fell asleep composing Arabic sentences out-loud in our beds. Next time insha‘allah (God willing –used by everyone in every context here) I’ll be able to ask a few more questions.
Vendors on either side come out to meet us as we walk down the narrow uneven sidewalks of the Souk (market). They solicit their goods, pleading with us to just enter their stores and take a look.
Their approaches vary drastically. Some spit out English words they must think we want to hear–”Hey spice girls,” “Awww….beautiful! Two-million camels for you.” Others are raunchier–”I like your body,” “I”m free tonight,” Others play on insecurities. “No hassle here.” Others smile and ask where we’re from–”American, English, French?”
Some give up easily. My favorite is when they smile and reply “afwan,” (you’re welcome) or “marhaba” (welcome) to my “la’a shukran” (no thank you). The bolder keep stride pleading with us to visit their shop, telling us they know what we want or yelling after us to smile because we’re in Egypt.
Our last night in Luxor I proposed that we eat at a restaurant, Amoun located a ways into the souk. Three other young women and I ventured off in search of authentic tasty Egyptian classics and vegetables my guidebook promised.
After dinner, at a different place–plans change quickly in Egypt–a shopping detour ensued. Rachel found a cute shop with hair barrettes and I set about replacing my beloved flip flops, which I’ve literally worn through the bottom in the last week.
Haggling done, new shoes in hand, a young girl rushes into the shop and yells something in Arabic. I think she’s upset because the police made the children stop playing kickball in the street, Asha suggests.
Rachel puts down the shirt she’s eyeing. Yella? (let’s go).
In the street it is instantly apparent something more than halting children’s games is underway.
Vendors, who moments earlier watched our every move, now hardly see us in their frantic hurry to dismantle their shops. A second man I haggled with for my shoes is moving scrambling toward us carrying the entire display of shoes which attracted me to his shop. He distracted takes the money I hand him as he rushes toward his shop.
“We have to clear the streets,” he answers my obvious question. A group of tourist police have clustered where the alleys intersect. They are yelling amongst each other and with vendors
We walk past, reluctantly staring backward and reaching for cameras.
Vendors pull down metal doors to hide their wares and brashly use poles to dismantle mannequins in sequined covered dresses. A couple vendors half- heartedly urge us to take a look but most hardly see us in their rush to close shop.
“Why are you closing your shops?” I ask a boy who is pulling a metal door over his entire shop. A nearby man interrupts and tells me because it’s 10:00 p.m.–the time when the markets close. We know this isn’t the case–many shops stay open most of the night. The rush and panic also tell another story.
“How often does this happen?” I continue. He tells me every me not often, “just once every two or three months.”
I took video I will upload when I have a capable internet connection and speed. In the meantime, anyone have any insights into this? There must be some kind of laws police intermittently enforce. The whole thing was bizarre. Since tourism comprises 85 percent of the economy in Luxor, at least according to my Rough Guide, it’s hard to believe the police would be too harsh on vendors earning a living. I’ll be interested to look into the laws and how these people get permits to sell.