I had an adventure yesterday.
While I was at the Maadi Women's Guild meeting, my old friend Pam and my new friend MJ invited me to come with them to a pottery and tapestry exhibition downtown that was being sponsored by the Canadian ambassador. The exhibition is being done "by the young artists of GARAGOS (Luxor)," according to the flier. Since Pam and MJ so kindly invited me, I had nothing else going on this afternoon, and Pam can tell you just how much I ooh and aah over the pottery around here, I decided to go. But I wasn't going to buy anything--just look and maybe see if Jeff wanted to go back with me if I saw anything I really liked.
Right after the meeting, we were off. First we took Pam's car, since she had driven it to the meeting. We parked it near the metro station, then walked over, bought tickets, and boarded the train. We stayed on through several stops, until we got to Mubarak station. That's where the real adventure began. We knew that the exhibition was being held at the Jesuit School at 151 Ramsis Street, and MJ had been told that it was near . . . some other street whose name I don't recall. So first we looked for signs pointing the way to that other street. We followed them in a nice winding pattern, up stairs, around corners, up more stairs, never quite getting to the exit of the underground metro station . . . and then I saw it: "Ramsis Street," right there on a sign on the wall. So then we started following those signs instead. Up some stairs, around some corners, up some more stairs . . . and then we started seeing exits, but no signs indicating if those were the Ramsis Street exits that we were, in fact, looking for. So we took one.
Up into the daylight at last! But where exactly were we? None of us knew. But wait! A map! So off we go to look at the map. While we were trying to get our bearings, a man in a uniform--it looked almost like a police uniform, but not quite; maybe it was a metro uniform--came up and offered to help. We tried telling him what we were looking for; we had been told to just ask for the Jesuit Center, and people would know. Nope. So then Pam pulled out the flyer, which has the same text printed in English, Arabic, and French. Voila! He read the Arabic and started telling us where to go. We didn't quite catch it all. MJ asked him to come with us to show us, and he agreed.
Following this man around downtown Cairo was an experience! He wandered out into huge, busy streets, put up his hand in the universal "stop" signal, and ignored the horns while he waited patiently for us to cross. We immediately crossed one busy street, then another. We walked a few more feet, then crossed another one . . . and another. We had come out of the metro station on the northwest side of a huge midan (traffic circle), and apparently we needed to be on the southeast side.
Once we were on the southeast side, he asked someone for directions. Apparently he didn't quite know exactly where we were going after all! After that, we turned north and we walked . . . and we walked some more . . . and a little bit more. And then he gestured at the high wall on our right as if to say "That's it! That's where you're going!" Eventually we came to a gate, where our guide said good-bye. We tried to give him some baksheesh (tip money) for his kindness in leading us, but he refused to accept anything at all, so we sent him off with cries of "Shokran'awi!" (thank you very much!) instead.
We showed our flier to the guard at the gate, and he gestured down a driveway and then said "shemel" (left). I could see two potential left turns easily, so I asked "Shemel henna walla henaak?" (left here or there?) His response: "A la tool, ba3deen shemel fi a3rebeyya" (straight, then left at the car). Easy enough. We walked down to the line of parked cars, turned left, and saw an open door with a "Garagos" sign. Perfect!
I was amazed when we walked in. There were tables set up around the walls, and more in the middle of the room. All of them were filled with pottery in blue and green. Almost all of them had either a fish or a chicken figure drawn on the pottery somewhere. There were bowls, casserole dishes, plates, vases, cups, tea pots, divided platters . . . you name it. There also were a few nativity sets (not blue or green, and no fish or chickens on those) and quite a few votive holders. Displayed on the walls above the tables were beautiful tapestries. All the prices were very reasonable. The tapestries were around LE150, the pottery ranged from LE7 to LE75. (I'm sure there were some that were more expensive than that, but the ones I looked at were in that range.)
So how did I do on my plan to look and not buy? Oh, I totally succeeded! I certainly did not buy a vase for LE75 and a plate for LE17. (And if you believe that, there's a bridge I'd like to sell you . . . but shhh! Don't tell my husband! He didn't even know I was going, much less that I might buy!)
I was not the only one to succumb. Pam bought a few small items, and MJ bought one large item and some smaller ones. She also bought a nice sturdy woven bag with handles to make it easier to carry than it was in the plastic bags they gave us. After a stop at the "W.C.," as they call "the facilities" here, we headed back home.
This time, we took a more direct route. Pam had noticed a pedestrian bridge over the busy Ramsis Street, just south of the Jesuit School. So we walked to it and used it to cross all the busy streets. In fact, we were able to stay on the bridge far enough that we came down some stairs and hit solid ground about ten feet from the metro entrance. We didn't cross a single street at street level! (Okay, maybe there was one small one, but if so, it wasn't worth remembering.) Much easier than our hike to the Jesuit School, although I'm still grateful for the guide; we'd've never found it on our own.
Then it was another saga in the metro station. We went down into the station and started following signs to the platform. Around a few corners, down some stairs, around another corner. Then the signs started getting more specific: we needed to follow the signs to Helwan. So then it was up some stairs, around a couple corners, up some more stairs, around a few corners, then maybe finally back down some stairs, around another corner, and finally! The platform! With a train pulling away. But no matter, the next train arrived mere moments later.
I felt like I was back on the DC metro at rush hour, pushing my way into the women's car, looking behind me to make sure Pam and MJ both made it on as well. Then we stood and held onto the poles. MJ eventually found a seat, which was good, since her bag was heavy. Pam and I were offered seats by kind Egyptian women--girls, really, they couldn't have been more than 17 years old--but we turned them down. Some of the women definitely seemed more tired than us; let them sit. The teenagers kept smiling at us. One asked us where we were getting off and made sure to tell us when we got near it. I had to teach Pam how to say "mafiish mesheckel" ("there're no problems," which is used to say "it's okay, it's all fine, no worries") because the girls were insisting that she should sit. I thought they were being sweet.
So we made it back to Maadi with a little extra walking but no problems. Pam came up to my apartment to hang out--she had to be at the dentist, near my place, within the hour, so there was no point in going across Maadi to her home. Instead, she laughed at me as I explained why the Christmas tree is only decorated on the top half, ran into the kitchen to rescue my bag'o'breakables from the curious kittens who had jumped up on the counter, came back to sit in the living room and then immediately hopped up to run back into the kitchen to rescue her purse from the curious kittens who again had jumped up on the counter, then chased Isis away from my root beer . . . eventually Pam distracted the kittens by dangling her keys from her purse strap. Then when she tried to leave, Isis wouldn't stop playing with her purse strap . . . then I accidentally stepped on Isis while walking Pam to the door . . . ah, life with kittens, it's a wonderful thing! The adventure never ends!