Friday, 01 July 2016 21:32

Iftar time at Al-Hussein Square - with photo gallery

Muslims gettign ready to break their fast at Al-Hussein Square Muslims gettign ready to break their fast at Al-Hussein Square

On my second day in Cairo I went out on an evening tour with Abir, a professional tourist guide of 20 years, to experience the city center during and before Iftar - the evening meal during Ramadan.

I actually ended up being a ‘bad tourist’ and was photographing away while she explained buildings, areas, their history...  listening only ‘with one ear’ but would have never found all the places she showed me on my own. Pictures in the gallery below are in the order of our tour and have captions.

Abir had met me at my friend’s house and we went to town by taxi - a 15 minute ride that cost us the equivalent of € 2,50.

A most polite disagreement

Once we got into the taxi, Abir and the driver were discussing something - in pleasant voices, Abir smiling a lot. Imagine my surprise when she told me after about 300 meters we were getting out as they were unable to agree on a price - he did not have his meter on and wanted € 4. All this was discussed in a most pleasant manner!

Heading for the crowds

The pre-sunset city center felt hot and crowded and noisy after the quiet daytime when many people stay at home/only work half days during Ramadan.

We walked past Al-Hussein square which was filled with tables, set up for the meal, and around the mosque where people were sitting on mats on the floor waiting for alms.  Al-Hussein Mosque, originally built in 1154,  is located in the middle of Islamic Cairo, near the Khan El-Khalili bazaar. It is considered to be one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt and houses some items considered sacred by Muslims, such as the oldest complete manuscript of the Quran.

Our plan was to return to the square for the breaking of the fast - the ‘Iftar meal’ at 6.45. We walked through Khan el-Khalili bazzar and I was saddened by how void of tourists it was. It is mainly occupied by Egyptian rather than foreign merchants and shop holders, and even though geared mostly towards tourists has many tasteful crafts shops. Many traditional workshops operate in the surrounding area and I loved our stroll.

Iftar preparations - some peaceful, some hectic

People in the small streets seemed relaxed, patiently awaiting the evening prayer hence the time to eat and drink. Many had set up carts to sell drinks such as hibiscus juice. The bigger streets were smoke-filled with meat being grilled on the sidewalks. The atmosphere there was busy, but not festive. Several people were rushing on bicycle and on foot, carrying wooden crates of flatbreads on their heads.

When we returned to the square it was packed. My guide Abir went off to find a place to eat - she did not want to eat in a street side restaurant - while I tried to find a place to sit in one of the square’s restaurants. However, they did not seem happy to see me, understandably, probably because they knew I had not been fasting. They only served whole set meals of chicken, bread and salad which I was not keen on so I did not insist and kept on walking.

The feeling of thousands quenching their thirst

As the time for the call for the evening prayer approached, the place became more and more packed and hectic and people started pushing. I decided to take refuge back inside the market right next to it - things there were much quieter.

I managed to find a little place that still let me have a glimpse onto the busy square. I seemed to serve only water, soda and shishas and was still empty - they very happy for me to sit there and drink a water.

As I heard the muezzin’s call I was able to watch people drink their first sip of water after about 16 hours - you could almost feel how their thirst was being quenched.

At the table next to me a group of women in black Burkhas had settled down with their young daughters. They seemed to move so gently and slowly as they opened their drink bottles and packets of food in silence. One of them turned around and insisted with a sweet smile that I break off a piece of her candy bar.

When Abir came to find me (I had a local sim card and had texted her), the cafe owner asked her why she was ‘taking me’, they wanted me to stay.

Ending on a quieter note - by the Nile

I was glad to leave the hectic square on such a sweet note and we went to finish our tour with a drink by the Nile. Abir told me her story and the struggle of a woman in Egypt getting a divorce, but this deserves a separate blog entry.

I was grateful to have met her and to have been able to at least contribute a tiny bit to her now obviously meagre income. She thanked me for giving her the opportunity to work as a guide again as she loves and missed her job. I took her contacts and will be more than happy to send people her way to allow her to do more of what she does extremely well and conscientiously and with a wonderful smile.

I loved the small streets of the area but am still not sure how I felt about being on the square. Now I can’t wait to go back when it’s not Ramadan to be able to experience it once more and reflect back.  

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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