-I finally did it!!!
-Through a person-sized hole in my flywire all I can see are the lush gardens of the hotel next door, and beyond that, the SAHARA DESERT waits redly in the heat.
-Cairo looks like a post-apocalyptic kind of warzone – all the flats are pitted and crumbling. Car and bus drivers don’t brake but they do honk frequently to get people/trucks/donkeys out of the way. Add to this the fact that there are no footpaths, but people often take as much precedence as cars do, often running madly to get out of the way. There are thousands of gardens on every available space, with a wrinkled jellaba-clad man tending to them. Sometimes you see a cop handcuffed to a crook, and a woman clad from head to toe in black linen, complete with gloves. They look so mysterious here!
-Egyptian curators and guards at the museum don’t kneel to pray or splash water on themselves, but just back into a corner and sing quietly to themselves in Arabic.
Subject: Hawung from Casablanca
Date: Friday 24th September 1999
I finally found an Internet café in the tres aromatique city of Casa, a pretty one, overlooking the slums. Please excuse the typos – even the keyboards here are the wrong way around – Putain!! (bloody hell). The hustlers in Cairo are amazing – as soon as I hopped off the plane every Achmed in North Africa wanted to take me to the so-beautiful pyramids; even the immigration officials were in on the act! (sorry, everything here needs an exclamation mark).
I hopped on a local bus to the museum, whereupon everyone on board turned to stare. I hastily wrapped a scarf around my head and plonked my hand with the wedding ring on it onto the seat in front, and they turned away as one. The road rules are incredible, in that they are non-existent. The Cairo museum was completely awesome, and some parts of it were like the end of ‘Raiders’ where the Ark of the Covenant is chucked into a wooden box.
On the plane to Casa, I had the v good fortune of meeting a charming gay couple – Mohammed and Said (Sayyid), who took good care of me, and made sure I got to the hotel OK. We are going out on Saturday to sample the ‘fantastique Moroccan cuisine’ (insert camp voice here). Meeting them was indeed timely, as I had befriended a dodgy Saudi Arabian man in customs, who wanted to take me camel riding in Marrakech. He insisted upon giving me his address, which I disposed of thoughtfully!
My hostel is in the old medina in a little square, complete with cafes, post office and hammam (bath house), which I might try out tomorrow. Strolling through the medina you have hundreds of little adventures every day. As long as you know what you want it’s great fun, but if people see you browsing it can get quite harrowing. For example, yesterday I needed to find some loo paper, made the mistake of asking for directions and was followed around for a full 20 mins by a man wanting to sell me jellabas and the like. After I shook him off, I sat down for a breather near a fruit seller, who shuffled inside to get me a cushion. He cut open one of these weird, spiny fruit full of seeds and showed me how to eat it without dribbling it all down my front. So that was nice!
You’re probably all wondering about the Moroccan men, who are all so bothersome! On the whole the Moroccans are wonderful – most will say ‘bonjour’ or ‘ca-va’ as a matter of courtesy, and some will even stop me to ask where I’m from, or to say ‘welcome to Morocco’. As for the sleazier types, I am fast learning to shake them off – ‘non merci’ or ‘la shukran’ (Arabic) usually does the trick. Sometime I say I am late for an appointment, or am going to meet my husband, who is of course big, mean and runs a kickboxing academy. It’s funny – I have never looked less sexy in my life I’ll say – see photos for evidence but I’ve had more propositions and requests for coffee here in four days than in 24 years in Melbourne. C’est la vie!
I’ve also met heaps of people in the youth hostel – I spent an afternoon with a Dutch girl called Ellen. We wandered through the medina until nightfall, until little boys started to ping stones at us, something that would never happen during the day. I also went to the extraordinary Hassan II mosque with an Aussie and a Kiwi. Set right on the beach, it’s the third largest mosque in the world, and can fit more than 100,000 people (80,000 men and 20,000 women, naturally) inside. I freaked out an Australian couple today with the news that Jeff had been Jeffed! Keep those updates coming!
I must depart soon, as ‘Pretty fly for a white guy’ has just come on the radio and I’M ACTUALLY ENJOYING IT as it’s a relief from the endless ‘AiyayiayiAllahAyiaiaAllahAyiyiyiya’-style music on Arabic radio.
Wednesday 22nd September 1999
Just finished talking to you in Casablanca. How exotic that sounds. Good to hear about the water, but as soon as you need some purifying tablets, just let me know. Have just seen Stephanie on her cooking program, with a rather nice African shopping bag – woven in subtle stripes, with two leather handles. If you should see anything like it on your travels, remember your old Mum. X
As I said, Jeff Kennett has been Jeffed. At the moment he looks like forming a minority government with the help of independents (3). If not, it’s Bracks for Premier. Unbelievable but true, Jeff is so contrite he actually apologised to the electorate. We were feeling pretty shithouse after you left and Kate and I and your Ma walked in silence back to the car. Emma was stoney. Lovely to hear you enjoyed the Tutankarmon Museum what a place eh! Will write next week, don’t forget to tell us about your companions (gay or otherwise). Love, Dad.