I have developed a taste for Arab cuisine even though many South Africans find it particularly bland. When some of my fellow travellers discover the Suhoor of cheeses, hummus and foul laid out before them, they are visibly taken aback. Some even wonder if they will be able to continue fasting with such a diet. I don’t hold back and soon lick the plate clean.
After the buzz of the night, the streets are eerily quiet just before Fajr. It perhaps counts among the few rare moments of tranquility in crowded Cairo.
My walk to the masjid almost sees me walking over a homeless lady sleeping on the pavement. Fortunately, Cairo’s homeless do not complain of freezing without a roof. Regardless, poverty is still widespread and visible in Cairo.
At the Masjid for Fajr, I notice something unique in the large Quraan stands that are positioned in front of the Imaam. On it are giant open Musaahif from which I would assume, they read directly from during Taraweeh.
I truly fall in love with the city a few hours later after my early morning siesta. I embark on a mission to source out sim cards and 3G internet dongles for the group. The Egyptian people I meet and the Egypt I encounter kindles within me the desire to explore more. There are many visible signs of revolution, from grafitti on walls to the apparent trend for companies to use the revolution as a backdrop to promote their brands.
The people are enchanting and it is their willingness to assist, be cordial and not to shun you as an outsider, that for me differentiates them from some other nationalities that I have encountered within the region. Making things more interesting is the existence of strong tradition amidst signs of modernity. And there is a magnetism of history and elements of the archaic all across Cairo. Like the derelict railway in the centre of the part of the city where we are residing that looks well beyond its sell-by date but is still chugging along.
On the modern side, I call in at the local Vodafone shop as no other dealer is able to sell sim cards to foreigners easily-a sort of Egyptian Rica, I think. The store is state of the art. I am greeted by a smiling individual as I walk in who asks me briefly about the purpose of my visit. From there she types something into a computer that duly churns out a slip containing a customer number. A computer generated announcement every so often echoes out on the PA system calling out the number of the customer as indicated on the slip and advising them on which counter to go to. For me there is an additional surprise, as the announcement goes out in English as opposed to the Arabic I’ve heard so far. Noticing my origins, the receptionist keyed in a special request to the computer!
Signs of Ramadan in Egypt stare at us from all over. Ubiqitous in this special season are lanterns of different sizes, many of them upto 3m tall. This is symbolic of the light and blessings of Ramadan in Arabian folklore. Masaajid are also filled with various Sadaqah boxes labelled ‘Zakatul Maal,’ Zakaatul Fitr,’ Sadaqah al Yateem’ and so on. I also notice a queue developing at a local musalla, where families are assembling to collect some hot dish that is being doled out.
With the expiry of our booking at our temporary residence, we head off to Giza, where our intended lodging will be found. Our journey there immerses us deeper into the magic of Cairo. The Citadel, the mighty Nile, a skyline dotted by Masaajid, donkey carts, ancient ruins and entire families on motorcylces are just some of the scenes that greet us. With Iftaar approaching families gather outdoors and on the banks of the Nile to break their fasts.
Another pleasant scene that greets us is the Movenpick Resort of Giza where the organisers of the convoy have booked our accomodation for this leg of the journey. This is pure oppulence, set in the heart of a tourist mecca facing the majestic Giza pyramids and surrounded by museums and papyrus institutes. The resort is 35 years old and is not a hotel in a conventional sense. Rather clusters of houses are grouped together, separated by lush gardens and palm trees. In summer, the many fruit trees across the premises are in full bloom and the clients can enjoy of their fruits.
A great addition to the team tonight comes with the arrival of the Convoy leader Moulana Igsaan Hendriks. Its almost surreal seeing him in Cairo, knowing the medical complications his suffered from of late. He welcomes all convoy members who’ve preceded him warmly and is particularly proud of the younger members of the team. In his brief Nasiha tonight, he stresses on the importance of Adab, Akhlaaq and spirituality for the success of the convoy and advises all to be punctual in the performance of Tahajjud daily.
I try to locate the closest Masjid to the resort by seeking out the origin of the Azaan and trying to spy around for minarets. I do eventually find one, but not before walking down pitch black streets and coming face to face with packs of rather large dogs at each corner. Fortunately, they don’t see in me much of a meal.
The atmosphere at any Egyptian Taraweeh is priceless. Bustling traffic hustle by the Masjid before Salaah and taxis continue picking up and dropping off passengers whilst Salaah is on. Most Massajid are lit up with decorative lights and Salaah is amplified by the external Azaan speaker onto the streets. Whilst Masaajid are packed, many also choose to perform Salaah outside. Kind individuals take the responsibility of offering cool.water to Musallees between Rakaats.
After a long day under the humid Egyptian sky, I tuck in to bed, even the lure of a buffet at Suhoor apparently not tempting enough to get me up on time.