South of Cairo: Memphis, the City of the Dead, Dahshur
The Arab Republic of Egypt
December 23, 2011
Dear Family and Friends,
For the final day trip of our visit to Egypt, my friend Ralph Velasco and I considered three possible destinations: the Suez Canal, the Camel Market or the agricultural area south of Cairo. We decided to head south, out of Cairo, to explore the area and see the sights.*
Bizarre! The City of the Dead or Cairo Necropolis is in southeastern Cairo. It is a 4 miles (6.4 km) long dense grid of tomb and mausoleum structures, where some people live and work amongst the dead. Some are paid to care for the tombs. Some reside here to be near ancestors, of recent to ancient lineage. Some live here after being forced from central Cairo due to urban renewal demolitions and urbanization pressures. They all live in a cemetery.
At the City of the Dead, we stopped at the massive Tomb of Mohammad Ali. The sarcophagus of Ali and dozens of Ali’s family members are on display in the dark and solemn chambers.
At these stops, as well as the other important sites near Cairo, I feel that I have travelled to the Republic of Egypt. But at today’s destinations - the countryside, the agricultural towns and the street markets – I have a different feeling. I feel that I am truly in Egypt.As I wander through the dusty streets of Dahshur, the small town in the faint shadow of the Saqqara pyramids, the men driving their horse carts and donkey carts display a stern inscrutable look. But when I smile and wave, they return a smile and wave.
The women in the town are shy at first and cover their faces when I show them my camera. But I smile and smile again and somehow coax them to pose for a shot.
The merchants are proud of their shops: the butchers, the greengrocers, the bakers, and the falafel man. They are happy to show off their goods and offer us samples of their fresh products. They refuse to accept any payment.
The kids swarm around as if I am a “rock star” and insist that I take a picture of them. Then, the inevitable giggles and hoots from everyone when they see their image on the display screen.
There are no tourists here. And in their rush to go from Saqqara to Giza, I would guess that very few foreigners take the trouble to visit this town. So the townsmen are apprehensive, curious and surprised at first. But then, they are proud and cheerful and most of all, welcoming.
I have traveled to other predominantly Muslim countries: Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Jordan. This is my third trip to Egypt. Everywhere without exception, my most powerful memory is one of “welcome.”
Go down to Egypt. It’s safe. “See the Pyramids.” And seek out the welcoming people. Seek out the markets and the local population wherever you go. The somber distinguished men, the shy, colorful women and the energetic clinging children will provide your most pleasant, most rewarding, most lasting memories.