Saturday, we traveled to Rosetta (Rasheed) where the Rosetta stone was discovered. As a linguaphile, being there was pretty cool, even though very little of the visit actually had to do with the stone itself. We went with about 30 students from U. Austin and U. Michigan, all of whom participate in an intense Arabic language program that puts them at near-fluency within 3 years of intensive study. They spoke mostly in Arabic, which was overwhelming and intimidating for me, even though they were quite friendly. I know I’m here to work on my language skills, but this was the first time really going cold-turkey. I often felt like I was trying to stay afloat in a flash-flood of information, but at least there was a lot to see!
The Egyptian tourist police kept a convoy with us the entire time: a motley bunch of officers dressed in khakis and berets who followed us in a car and one man dressed in a dark suit and mirrored glasses who rode on the bus with us, talking solemnly on his cellphone almost the entire time. Getting off the bus, he readjusted his jacket, revealing the serious heat he was packing, too. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone conceal a gun that big so well. Apparently after the revolution the government is taking every precaution to ensure the tourism industry upon which so much of this country’s economy depends doesn’t suffer any further setbacks. If it takes a weapon the size of the average dolphin, by all means. (I kid, but I don’t see a lot of guns in my life, so seeing one worthy of the Terminator himself was thrilling!)
First, we went to a early 19th-century Ottoman house with intricate wood and brickwork, mostly in deep reds and browns. The geometry was fascinating, especially the architectural design. The entire second floor sloped downward to put the majority of its weight on the central stone staircase.
On the second floor there were also huge windows made of latticed deep brown wood, apparently for privacy.In what we came to learn was the women’s quarters, there were small latched doors on these windows, through which the women could lower baskets to fruit and vegetable sellers on the street.
Within the complex there was a mill, no longer in use (no cows=no grinding grain) but the remarkable architecture continued throughout, with soaring rafters painted red and the grand red and black and white stucco pattern featuring prominently.
Next we headed to the point. where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. Pretty cool. (see awkward photo of officers)
We waited for the Muslim members of our party to finish prayers near the harbor, where a contingent of local boys came to keep us company. The people were very forward and friendly and I tried as best I could to fish for new vocabulary. This is a skill I’ve been perfecting recently: I pretend to be very intrigued by the view and eavesdrop shamelessly by placing myself close to whatever the loudest conversation is in my immediate area. My efforts weren’t entirely successful this time, as a guy on one of the boats kept making gestures and smiling at me. An Egyptian host mom teased him off. Then she turned to me and, thinking I was part of the same program, asked me why my Arabic was no good. Oof! Thanks a lot, lady.
Next, we headed to some sort of fortress, where a guide presented a copy of the Rosetta stone and explained its history. I have studied it before and find its legacy fascinating, but this time I didn’t absorb much, as the entire thing was in Arabic. The fortress was interesting, though. There were high walls and absolutely no guard rails in sight, so I did my best to keep my fear of heights under control. It wasn’t so much stay-at-the-lowest-elevation-possible as pretend-I’m-still-on-the-ground-and-jump-over-the-10-foot-drop-like-it’s-a-puddle-and-not-a pit-since-there’s-no-other-way-round.
Dinner was whole fish, fool, salad, hummus and bread on the waterfront. Yummm!
We all piled into boats and took a cruise down the river. There were fish farms all over and brightly-colored boats. Somehow I ended up on the boat with the dancing driver, who, in his turban and galabia, danced for us. Then, the host-mom’s daughter got up and did a befuddling belly dance bit to everyone’s clapping and radio music (befuddling because it seemed both miserably out of place on a shaky, loud boat and completely in keeping with the novelty of the whole experience). People danced and climbed between boats when we pulled up alongside each other and the Tourist police guard frowned on the bow, cellphone to ear.
Finally, we climbed a mountain overlooking the valley. It was sand all the way up, making the climb somewhat strenuous, but the waning light made the scraggly city gleam and the river somehow a brighter blue. There were dry thistles and cacti at the top, along with men offering horse rides next to an old water tower. Further down we could see a local soccer club running a group of 7 or 8-year olds up and down a field.
We made our way back down, poured the sand out of our shoes, and climbed into the bus to Alexandria…