Barefoot in the Park

24 May

If you recall, around the time we took our Nile Cruise we had come to the realization (as everyone living here eventually does) that if you lower your expectations, you’ll have a much better experience. We had heard about Al-Azhar Park and intended to check it out eventually. But come on, when a guidebook starts its al-Azhar paragraph with the words “Built on a former garbage dump…”

Still, al-Azhar is well-known as the only green space in the city and we decided that we didn’t want Finn to go into shock when he gets to the states in two weeks and sees grass for the first time. So we packed up the boy and all his paraphernalia and headed out for an afternoon in the park. Needless to say, we weren’t expecting much.

But, wow were we pleasantly surprised, and not just because of the sign in front of the park that listed things that were prohibited. Among things like drugs and firearms, the sign explicitly asked visitors not to bring in “alcoholics.” That’s going on my Lost in Translation list. Al-Azhar is a total gem in the middle of this huge, dirty city. Built on several rolling hills, it’s a nice sized expanse of soft green grass, lush hibiscus bushes and huge palm trees. The paths are paved, lined with benches and have waterfall steps leading to a man-lake with the Citadel and Islamic Cairo visible in the distance.
Al-Azhar Park

The park was full of young, courting couples. Courting seems like the most appropriate word. They were all in their late teens, early twenties, tastefully dressed, talking softly and shyly glancing at each other as they sat next to one another on a park bench or in a patch of shade. Some were holding hands, the only place in Cairo besides the bridge over the Nile where I’ve seen couples hold hands.

We found our own patch and hung out for a while, letting Finn roll around (he’s recently learned how to roll) on a blanket while couples passed by and stared at our white legs. The park felt like a different world…until you walked to the edge of the hill and looked down. Surrounding it is the City of the Dead, a massive cemetery that over 1 million Cairenes have moved into due to lack of space in the city. Here’s a few pictures that we took.

I don’t often long to drive in Cairo, but if we had a car, I’d definitely take Finn to the park more often. Sigh. That must be what its like to live in a real city with parks nearby. Poor, deprived child.

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3 Responses to “Barefoot in the Park”

  1. janae Baumeister May 24, 2008 at 6:52 pm #

    PLEASE tell me it’s Texas that you are coming to in 2 weeks!

  2. Melissa DM May 24, 2008 at 9:22 pm #

    It is indeed. We’ll be in Texas starting June 5, then South Bend for a week at the end of June, Utah for July, and back to Texas in August.

    Will you be in town? We want to see you guys!

  3. janae Baumeister May 25, 2008 at 8:16 pm #

    YAY!! Ok how long will you be in Texas, most of June? I have to be at girls camp and that is the 2nd week of June. The first week of June I’m still in school (the last day in the 4th)
    How exciting! We’ll definately be seeing you and we’ll work our schedules out as best as we can to do that. Let me know

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