Travel Diaries: El Fishawy Cafe, Khan El-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt

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September 3, 2014

Today, I made a new friend. It might not seem that big of a deal to most people, but here’s a little backstory: I grew up in the Middle East—Doha, State of Qatar, to be specific—but not once in my six years of residence in that region did I make an Arabian friend, probably because I was enrolled in a Philippine school and I only ever needed to mingle with people of the same nationality as mine. Despite having been exposed to the Arabic and Muslim culture for majority of my life, I had been left in the dark with regards to how Arabians truly are outside of how I perceive them. Now that I look back on it, I realize that I never even made the slightest effort to learn their language, and that makes me really disappointed in my younger self since I am so much more engrossed in foreign culture at this age.

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So… you guessed it. The new friend I made happens to be a lovely Egyptian lady named Ola, and I am more than ecstatic to finally have someone of expertise to converse with about a culture I should have immersed myself in ages ago (fine, Egyptian Arabic is quite different from the Arabic used in most of the Middle East and they have a different culture, but it’s pretty close okay). 😆

She took me to El Fishawy Cafe, an antique Egyptian coffee shop that has been in Cairo for more than two centuries now. Not only has its ownership been passed on to generations of the same family, it’s also been in the same venue ever since and they’ve preserved it to stay the way it has since it was first built, henna tattoo artists and shisha and all.

It’s located in the heart of the Khan El-Khalili marketplace, a huge souq (open-air bazaar) in the district of Cairo flocked daily by tourists and Egyptians. The bazaar itself is a very interesting place—it has everything from brass, porcelain, clay, papyruses, jewelry, authentic Egyptian cotton, Arabian attire, and pretty much all sorts of souvenirs you can think of, to traditional Egyptian/Arabian food shops and mosques. I’ve been to so many tourist attractions in Egypt, but I can still confidently say that a trip to the country won’t be complete without dropping by Khan El-Khalili.

Piece of advice: It’s best you go there with someone who knows how to speak Arabic fluently, especially if you plan on buying merchandise. I first went to Khan El-Khalili in January 2011, but since none of my family members know how to converse properly in Arabic, the experience wasn’t as pleasant as this one. Really, if there’s one thing in Egypt that I hate the most, it’s the huge language barrier! It’s like everyone expects you to know how to speak Arabic… ma batkalemsh Arabi (I don’t speak Arabic). :(

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After talking over Arabian tea infused with a mint leaf and shisha at El Fishawy, Ola toured me around the bazaar and helped me buy a few souvenirs. She even bought me lovely belly dancing accessories (pictured on the first photo of this post—thanks, Ola)! I hope I can put them to good use someday. You know, even at least as a Halloween costume… 😆

Come night time, we grabbed dinner from one of the many food establishments at the souq. Apparently, she was initially hesitant to feed me Arabian food because she thought I might not like it. She was glad that she couldn’t be more wrong, though, because I have always loved Arabian food (I forgot to take photos of our dinner though, oops)! We also both agreed that eating at international food chains while abroad is a total waste of money and calories—traveling is best when enjoyed with the country’s traditional cuisine!

After dinner, we talked some more and I found out that Ola and I had so many similarities—just to mention a few, we both have (sometimes overly) protective and loving mothers; we both dearly love our brothers; we’re both bookworms and old souls with a penchant for antique places and things… heck, we were also both okay sitting in comfortable silence during the ride home. I had never felt that way with a new friend before (honestly, there are people who I have been friends with for a longer time yet I’m still not comfortable sitting in silence with them), and it was a pleasant breath of fresh air, feeling *that* at ease with someone I had known for just days.

How fascinating it is to meet someone largely different from you, only to find after a few hours that you have so much in common! In the long run, the differences in religion, culture, and personal outlooks in life aren’t that big of a deal as long as we don’t use it to evaluate the entirety of an individual… all it takes is opening our minds to the possibility that there is a piece of ourselves that we like in the people we encounter. After all, the insufficiency of one lifetime to accommodate all that is left to be learned and experienced in this world is already more than enough a struggle—why let your misconstrued superficial first impressions of people unlike you add up to that?

I hope you enjoyed reading and viewing the photos! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a message below. :)

P.S. I can’t wait to write about the rest of my time in Egypt!

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