January 5, 2008 9:37am

We’re convened at the Cairo Airport, on our way to Luxor and the Temple at Karnak.  The price of airport “food”(Fanta and chocolate) is just as outrageous as in any other airport.  Good to know some things don’t change.  So much has happened that I’ve not manged to record that I begin to worry that they are lost forever.  I’ll try during this two hour wait to fill in the blanks.

I began earlier to speak of Habbak, and managed half of her resume (well, half of what I know anyway).  The other half includes her current project with Karen to create international activist projects – specifically feminist – in which women from various cultures will identify their most pressing issues, and Karen and Habbak’s group will hook them up with trained researchers to put together potential steps or solutions (basically stuff that can be done at the community or individual level).  Cool beyond belief.

Admittedly, I didn’t know any of this going into the party – all I knew was that we were dressing up to meet an important friend (of what variety unstated) of Karen’s, who had a Nile-front apartment.  But walking in was rather dream-like.  It was dark outside, so the city lights reflected off the river and cast spangled patterns on anything shiny enough to reflect them – leaves, cars, glasses and windows.  We hauled up in a tiny lift (2-3 people, max) to the 8th floor and were greated by a series of beautifully dressed women, all of whom seemed equally likely to be our host.  The Habbak walked – or wafted – in, in her floaty red gown and rich curls and giant smile.  She eclipsed the whole room, easily and graciously, and then with kisses and words of greeting she made us each come to life, a gentle Gepetto or puppetmaster.   There was no wine, but somehow the fresh juices seemed heady in her presence, and it was obvious that this was a natural, uncalculated effect.  She walked over to each of us in turn and grabbed our hands and demanded to hear about our work (what could be more enthralling to a group of sallow academics?).

She sent us to the buffet, where uniformed caterers offered us Egyptian and Somalian delicacies (her chosen home and her birthland).   We got permission to take photos of the view, and as barges glided past we went into a bit of a frenzy with different groupings – exchanging compliments and handing around cameras in an attempt to figure out settings.

Between the day’s sightseeing and jetlag, we were all exhausted, but as a testament to both the quality of the party and Habbak’s personality, we left wishing we could stay longer.  My conversation with Nancy later clarified what precisely was so compelling, and we identified purpose.  Habbak has charm, yes – but she is purposeful, intentional, determined.  She is passionate.

This same quality, though younger, was apparent in Deena yesterday.  she knew what she was doing and saying, and why.  Young and quite lovely – small and sturdy with buttery skin and bold bone structure, exuberant brown-black curly hair and dramatically gesturing hands.  She took us through two mosques – rather to the distress of Youss ef, who objected to both her Coptic-inclusive statements and to following yet another expert rather than delivering the potted, pro-Islam lectures he would ordinarily be asked to give.  I do think this group has been careful not to be anti-“Islamic”, in part because we’ve studied enough to be beyond the most blatant knee-jerk prejudice.  And certainly when we got to the Alabaster mosque he got in as many inflammatory remarks as he could, now that Deena had departed for the day.   Just past the four wives discussion, which quickly devolved into a discussion of “Big Love”, I made myself rather unpopular with my anti-marriage declaration.  It was bound to happen sometime, really.

The citadel itself was like a sort of fantastic, Hollywood idea of a crusader’s fortress.  Built on the high place, naturally, and packed with mosques and palaces – now museums.  Outside, we waited for them to reopen at the high point – magnificent and disquieting because it was just past noon, and the city of a thousand minarets seemed to rise up to meet us during prayer.

Later, at the Bazaar (Kahn el Kahlili) Nancy and I initially try to strike out on our own, but both the restaurant and the ATM defeat us, so we hurry back to join Dr. Gabra.  Best of all possible decisions.  He ushers us directly to the restaurant – happily, because I’m apparently famished.  At ninety L.E., it is easily the most expensive meal I’ve eaten, but totally worth it.

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~ by heycarahe on February 1, 2008.

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