Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pillowcase Emergency

"Neek!*" I swore quietly. "Why is the pillowcase bazaar in an Arabic country closed on Sunday?"

Here is was Saturday night, with me in need of some pillowcases, and the damn souk didn't even have the courtesy of keeping opening hours on my last day in the country.

Or at least the few travel sites that mentioned the souk claimed it's closed on Sunday. Maybe it isn't. But why risk it when desperately in need of pillowcases?

I know, I know. I've had two months to buy pillowcases. But the truth is, I forgot these special pillowcases existed, even though my mother has two from my 1999 touring visit to Egypt. Then, over our good-bye dinner, Craig reminded me of them when I said I was unwisely considering lugging home inlaid backgammon sets to give as gifts.

"Get applique pillowcases instead. They're in the tentmaker's bazaar. There's not a lot of tent business these days, so they make embroided textiles that take up no space in your luggage."

Good idea. I'd go Saturday. It was in old Cairo, next to the historic city gates called Bab Zuweila, below Khan El Khalili bazaar. It would take a fair amount of patience and effort. Getting there would be annoying enough, as the tentmakers had rudely encamped clear across downtown, nowhere near Zamalek, and not too close to a metro station. But I'd also have to wade through the melee of the ancient teensy alleys, no doubt packed with merchants and shoppers, and probably busloads of tourists as well.

Then Saturday came. I lazily idled away the afternoon over coffee with Dana, my photographer friend. Then, just when I had to go to see a man about a tent and Dana had to go to a shoot, the wind kicked up something fierce.


Well, that was the end of that. Dana still had to go work, but I wasn't going to go shopping in dirt.

I chafed as I sat in my apartment, waiting for the wind to slow. It didn't until after dinner, and then I thought it was too late. Who knew what time the tent/pillowcase guys shut their shops? I'd go in the morning.

But then I googled it. "Hours: Mon-Sat 10-10." Could that be right? No! I want my pillowcases! I raced out of the house and into a taxi. The driver was a smooth operator, immediately announced an outrageous price, then had to stop and ask another taxi driver for directions. I argued a while with his price, then acquiesced in defeat. He drove me deep into old Cairo, to the part of town where donkeys, horses, scooters, taxis, carts, pedestrians, and private cars all vie for the same twenty square feet of paved road.

I turned the wrong way immediately, and ended up walking down a street that sold clothes, pots, pans, household goods, and had no tourists at all. No one looked at me funny, but I felt out of place on a Saturday night in the local section of old Cairo. I squeezed through the cars and carts along with everyone else. A cart tire scraped my leg, leaving a tread mark on my nice jeans. But I'd spilled schwarma juice on it earlier anyway. I'd just have to take it to the laundromat with my sheets in the morning. My apartment had a washer but no dryer and there would be no time for air-drying.

"Afowan," I asked a shopkeeper. "Khayamiyya?" Actually, the "kh" is a sounds us Americans can't even make, like in the name "Khaled." I tried to gurgle it out from deep in my throat. I probably sounded like an idiot, but the shopkeeper knew what I was talking about and pointed me back in the direction I'd come from.

I returned and walked through Bab Zweila, and there on the other side... alley of the pillowcases!

I went to the first shop where the shopkeepers didn't try to lure me in, and picked out four nice pillowcases at twenty-five pounds each. Then, back into the madness of the packed streets. A donkey walked by, cutting off my escape route.

"Which way... Ataba metro?" I turned back and asked the shopkeeper.

"TAXI," he yelled. A taxi stopped in front of the shop and he opened the door. "Pay him two pounds," he said, then instructed the driver to take me to the metro.

The driver got caught in the whirlpool of people, cars, donkeys, and carts. He inched forward slowly. I felt guilty about giving him two pounds after 10 minutes of trying to get me out of the bowels of the souk. So instead, I gave him 15 pounds to drive me and my new pillowcases all the way home.

*Translated to Arabic to preserve the PG-rating of this blog.

1 comment:

Matt Hollingsworth said...

Travel safe. I hope all goes smoothly and with no troubles.