registered for the picnic from Alexandria to Cairo by coach
that took approximately 3 hours on that desert road my father used to take from
Cairo to Alexandria
and vice versa for our fabulous summer holidays at Alexandria: Stanley, San Stephano, Sidi Bishr,
Ramle el Beda etc. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed at the harbour white
marble buildings and floor.
everywhere with their guns standing guard!
accompanied by motorised police part of the way and that made me feel safer
because of that underlying fear since leaving Egypt and which was one of my
nightmares: Lost somewhere in Egypt unable to find my way home.
with our guide was a Copt who spoke French to perfection with that accent we
love. I learned more from him than during my whole life there! He told us about
the Pharaohs, how they had their Pyramids built and the huge stones that are
still there today and various anecdotes about daily life that made us laugh.
taken about four litres of water with us and we were offered a big bottle in the
coach. It was an old bus rattling along and at one moment we thought it would
break down in the middle of the desert and we would have to push!
told us: “Be careful it is cold on that coach and you need a good pullover.”
air-conditioning did not work!
it was about 32 degrees when we arrived at the Pyramids.
had we disembarked than a crowd of children, their clothes torn and sometimes
without shoes, nevertheless pretty, fell on us pushing their wares in our arms
trying to sell the fake amulets or scarabs.
Exasperated, I shouted: yalla emshi! And they looked at me. How did this
affrangeya speak Arabic?
the men renting camels and horses pulled us by the arm almost putting us by
force on their animals. Except for some, the majority did not want to take a
ride. I heard the man mumble: yen aal aboukom but pretended I did not
word about clothes: foreign women came in shorts (their bottom exposed) and
naked arms and shoulders. Imagine a woman on a Camel wearing her shorts and half
her breast showing. The local women wore a Muslim head cover and our tourists
compared to them seemed almost indecent especially as the Arab men thinking no
one understood made their comments as usual!
we went to the Sphinx.
vendors could not follow because we had tickets and the entrance was guarded by
shawish (policemen) who sheltered under a shamseya (a sunshade).
When we went out through another door, they were there waiting for us!
buildings of very poor quality now surround the Pyramids and Sphinx!
We got on
that coach and went on to a Pyramids Sofitel Hotel for our meal.
cool, clean and decorated with taste.
taste: I took a little of everything but mainly the divine tehina,
(sesame salad) which was prepared as it should be and not the watery stuff you
now get in oriental restaurants.
pieces (being diabetic) of bassboussa, konafa, a fabulous chocolate
cake and I picked up a gawafa (guava) that was not ripe, to keep and
show my children, but then could not resist eating it three days later when it
On our way
from that hotel we saw some horrendous houses. Rough blocks one on top of the
other, with just one window, no electricity and no sanitary equipment either.
There was a huge depot of dirt and other nameless detritus. Some of the blocks
were unfinished and the guide explained that when there was money they built a
new floor on top of the house without permission.
hardly believe my eyes. All along that desert route, the sand and wind had
accumulated papers and plastics.
reached Zamalek (where my primary school had been), a green suburb mainly
inhabited by the officials of foreign embassies and what the guide called rich
was there with a view on the two bridges and the dahabeya restaurants
moored along the banks. The latter had been refurbished with white stone and
plantations of rich bougainvillea.
several couples holding neither hands nor arms but fingers!
that public conduct is still based on restraint and no kissing in public!
the Cairo Museum
we parted with the group (much to the guide’s despair who probably thought he
would never see us again).
cross, I was nailed to the ground by all the cars rushing from everywhere.
shawish came up to me and asked: ‘Aiza te rouhi fén’ I answered
‘Abdel Khaleg Sarwat, (formerly Malika Farida.)
taa-li. He stopped the traffic and made us cross safely to the other side.
on till we came to Groppi that fabulous Swiss restaurant.
looks beautiful from outside and I recall the great cakes we ate there and it
was also the appointment point with my university friends to proceed to A.U.C.
traffic lights everywhere but no one respected them and I found myself falling
back into my bad habits and not even noticing that it was red. My husband, a
distinguished European, remained on the other side and I kept hailing him to
cross but he did not do so. Meanwhile two young women, veiled in pretty colours
were laughing at us and flirtatiously asked my blond, blue-eyed husband in
English “What’s your name?” I now understand what they mean when they say that
the veil protects women.
crossed Midan Talaat Harb and started along the former Soleiman Pacha. There
again I had to ask our way and the man said ‘ya salam enti tetkalemi arabi
elegant shoe shop followed the other. It was amazing!
everyone had a cell phone in the hand walking and talking! And the shops were
was beating crazily as we found Abdel Khaled Sarwat.
some street signs were in English but everything else was in Arabic.
cosmopolitan city that it used to be, Cairo had transformed
itself into a totally Arab city. The women both old and young wore the veil but
not the black melaya we knew except for one or two, nor the chador but
colourful mandils tuned to their modern dresses.
laughed and spoke with the young men freely.
hantour seemed to have been restricted to side streets.
pity! I had been hoping to go round the town on one of these carriages as in the
old days. The taxis were still black and white having gone through the wars as
they say: full of bumps and visible signs of all the crashes.
told us that insurances were not compulsory. There were two kinds of these; one
was for the car and if you wished you could also take one for physical damage to
people who crossed. If a person was overrun and that the driver did not have any
insurance, then maalesh…
by my dear friend Jacqueline Levy’s house, may she rest in peace, and I showed
my husband the balcony from which we yelled across the street to give our
time we reached my house, I was shaking and wondering what kind of catastrophe
I would find.
The Amièl buildings had withstood the ravage of time except that pollution had
darkened them. I left my husband on the opposite pavement and went and stood in
front of the gate. There was a Coca Cola fridge with refreshing drinks taking up
half the entrance.
As I stood
there I saw my life flit by, my mom and dad, my nonno, nonna, aunts and uncles
taking that lift to the fifth floor often and often!
cola man and another one were looking at me strangely. What had I to lose?
one of them “enta el bawab?” the ‘cacoula’ man pointed to the
other one wearing the turban.
I told him:
Ana kont sakna hena fi khamsin sana.
answered: khamess dor.
his chin in amazement and told me that now a dactor George was living in
our house and that we had probably known his, the bawab’s, predecessor.
I did not
ask to go up: too much of a heartbreak.
remembered there was a passage right after the house, le Passage Kodak that led
to the Synagogue in Adly Street. I had often been asked at the
end of Yom Kippur to go and listen to the shofar and come back
home and report that the fast was almost over so that the khadam could
proceed with the heating of food etc.
entrance to that passage had narrowed drastically and was cluttered with street
shops selling fruit, drinks or other things I did not dare look at for fear of
‘yaani, enti min?
Bet bossi keda lé?
a few steps and I saw it: our beautiful Synagogue.
Then I was
really moved and scared as well remembering what we had gone through in the
years after 1948 then 1956.
stood guard on both sides blocking the alley that led to the courtyard where my
parents are pictured after their wedding in 1935.
I had not
come all this way for nothing: at least soura, (a picture) to remember.
in front of the Synagogue (my dentist had told me it was forbidden to take
photographs) but nevertheless asked my husband to take pictures as discreetly as
possible imagining that the boliss would pounce on us at any moment.
die-hard! But nothing happened.
overran and I trembled at that building that had seen so happy events in our
being restored, for its hundredth anniversary (that I learned when I went home).
was still tremendous, my hair was wet, my feet about to fall off and the
But I went
on stubbornly. Having come all that way I could hardly stop now!
pleased to see that progress has pointed its nose and not forgotten
that used to cover Fouad 1st street had been
banned and replaced by a large avenue.
years back, I had almost been run over by two trams crossing each other because
I would not wait for the green light!
reaching my Hotel Extaday I saw the Gattegneo Boutique and took a picture for my
friend, her father-in-law had been the owner.
that we are no longer there but that our shops still are!
one corner was A l’Américaine and I imagine still serving their delightful
trois petits cochons.
I did not
see obese people as we see in Europe, the UK
or the US.
that in general Egyptians were more handsome and beautiful than in the rest of
the Arab world. The younger women had slim figures and their colourful veil did
not detract from their prettiness.
was prejudiced – I mean favourably!
side of the Hotel Extaday that now seems a kharaba compared to the years
we lived there, Tseppas the cake shop where I ate more sweets than I should,
(probably preparing the way to my diabetes).
right hand, the department store CHEMLA still stood there.
alley and a Cinema: The Cairo Palace where I used to go for the Matinée on
Saturday mornings. On Sundays it was the Metro with special features and
Had I had
more strength I could have gone still further to the left of Hotel Extaday and
visited Cicurel the most beautiful department store 50 years ago.
could not find any more strength in me and hailed a taxi
silly happened: I could not remember the word for Museum.
So I said:
ele fi Toutankhamoun?
He looked at me not understanding:
understood I told him I only had Euros he said talata. I gave him five
and said aachen weladak. A wide smile illuminated
into that taxi with my husband who kept saying ‘Mon Dieu’ at the way people
drove, sometimes only a centimetre from another car!
reached the Egyptian Museum
We had to
pass through security and screening to go into the courtyard to shelter from the
street vendors who once more made a desperate attempt to sell their wares!
was relieved to see us in one piece.
the noisy, dying coach to drive back hoping it would not break down in the
middle of nowhere.
on the Nile
at night were stupendous with the lights of the Dahabeya restaurants and all the
three hours later, it was about midnight, we reached our boat and I dragged
myself up the gangway.
meal was waiting for the tired travellers but I only had a salad and fruit.
I saw that my colour shampoo had dripped on my collar and dyed my white blouse!
words: I had
vowed never to return to Egypt but
someone told me “only ignorants say never” so not wanting to be an ignoramus, I
accepted to go back.
I do not
contrary it was a therapy.
having my nightmares from that day onwards.
of Egypt continue to be smiling and did
not show me any disrespect.
admit I was very worried lest someone pronounce one of their insults against us.
spoke Arabic, be it in the streets or the Papyrus shop, they were delighted to
hear me and welcomed me back. They were amazed at my name and immediately said
I had a
cartouche, a seal, made out in hieroglyphics to my name Sultana.
It will be
a reminder of that day: tiring but worthwhile!
I came out
of that trip restored as a human being.
I do not
think modern Egyptians know that 50 years ago we were part of their life!
Or do they
even know what an Egyptian Jew is?
will tell if I have made my own reconciliation, my personal peace with Egypt.