Allyson Goldhagen is a dear friend to whom I refer as Goldilocks. People have stopped cars to talk to her, filmed her eating, invited her to weddings, proposed marriage etc. Usually as soon as they meet her.
Allyson is a magical wonder of intelligence and idealism, and a heavy dose of both at that. Her fair hair and skin and blue eyes get her attention in the Arab world, and she never ceases to have amazing stories of local interaction. Every day in Egypt, every few hours it seemed, she was having the sort of experiences that people write travel memoirs and blog posts about. Not me! I was getting lost in cabs by myself and accidentally witnessing indecent exposure. Needless to say, Alyson’s perspective is very different from mine, since she has some sort of magic travel dust in her flaxen hair.
One day, eager to explore and nearing the end of our time in Cairo, Sarah, Khalid, Katie myself and a few others set out to see the Museum of Modern Art. Or was it the Modern Art Museum? I’m not sure, but I know we all fought about the name!
Well our Arabic wasn’t pitch perfect, or maybe our source was off, but we got out of the cab and wandered around some impressive gates to see that we misunderstood. Rather than open until one, it was open after one. At about eleven am and not wanting to admit to defeat, we had little choice but to kill time.
We explored the museum’s compound for a bit, generally meandering toward Tahrir square. Quickly becoming thirsty in the Cairo sun, we looked for those famed juice bars. Before we could find one, we caught the eye of a cute young couple. By young, I mean 18 or so. They had been lounging in Tahrir, as roundabouts are one of the few green spaces in Cairo. More importantly, out in public is their only option for handholding and coy smiles.
They didn’t speak any English, but Sarah and Khalid had enough Arabic to let them know we were thirsty and wanted a drink. We were sent on our way with directions and smiles, but soon realized we were misunderstood: we stood in front of a vending machine. Not quite the cultural experience we were looking for.
Disheartened, we decided to wander rather aimlessly around the swuare until we found one. Never ones to let hospitaly waver, the young Egyptians noticed and made it their personal mission to make our day. As we walked toward a juice bar, our hunger and ignorance of koshery came out, and that was that. Koshery is this amazing dish of noodles, lentils, and fried onion , sprinkled with lemon juice and some sort of red sauce. It costs about a dollar, and regular Egyptians eat it by the big metal bowlful. At one point, I sat next to the sweet girl who was our guide, and she started fishing through her bag while we talked about music and politics and our home towns. She produced a silver ring, and thrust it toward me. I had a feeling I understood the word she said to me, but I wanted to double check as I was so taken aback.
It is a gift. Take it, it is for you my friend.”
Such a simple gesture, but all so unheard of amongst strangers in America. She then produced several other trinkets for the rest of the girls at the table. We were dumbfounded, and cobbled together lip gloss and such to repay the favor.
The next hour or so was filled with friendly chatter, delicious koshery, and eventually, yes, our juice bar.
As we strode towards the museum, our bellies full and eyes smiling, Khalid interrupted our thoughts
“Hey guys! We just had an Allyson Experience!” and out came that sincere laugh that filled the humid air.
An Allyson experience is the ultimate in traveler fun: something fun, happy and adorable that occurs on your way to doing…well, something else entirely.