“Today is Shaman Neshim,” Hadeel, my local guide in Cairo, explained why there were so many people on the street after we walked out of the Filfila (chilly) restaurant.
“What’s that?” I asked, zigging left and pirouetting right before gracefully swan-diving over a crowd.
“It’s the national holiday of the beginning of spring,” she explained.
The holiday is celebrated nationwide. It’s basically one big street party spread over many streets. And in a city like Cairo, there are plenty to choose from.
The meaning of Shaman Neshim is ‘harvest season’, known as Shemu, meaning, ‘A day of creation’. The Ancient Egyptians used to offer salted fish (fesih), lettuce, and onions to their deities on this day.
To start our evening escapades, we hit the revolution-made-famous Tahrir (Liberation) Square, where back in 2011 protestors demanded (and got) the ousting of then president, Husseni Mubarak who had ruled the country (which has been under military rule since Gamal Nasser’s revolution in 1952) for almost 30 years.
“The downtown area of Cairo is considered bohemian, where activists, artists and intellectuals would meet at coffee shops like Denda Sou Cafia,” Hadeel guided us through the busy streets. “And it’s walking distance to the Al Hussein mosque.”
The mosque, built in 1154, is considered one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt as it holds the oldest complete manuscript of the Quran. Today’s structure stands on a 19th century reconstruction with some Gothic implements.
Pushing our way through the throng of people, vendors and stall holders, each trying to entice us with invitations of, “Come into my shop,”or the ever popular, “Looking is free.”
Although the noise was at level, ‘This is a bit much’, I was glad to have come out on one of the busiest nights of the year (when there isn’t a revolution happening) and felt how every movement flooded my paining body, walking at a turtle’s pace.
The world blurred around me. Kids stopping me for photos, motorbikes and cars beeping and horning people out of the way, whistles being blown from the very strong police presence.
“Bit noisy,” I managed to yell to Hadeel above the throng. She grinned and nodded.
We came upon the crowded Sharm Weiss square before we found a table in the famous El Fishaway restaurant, a hub-bub of the who’s who of Egypt’s literary giants, poets, musicians and actors.
Well, until the government came and jailed the lot of them.
We had lemon-mint juice which came with our sugar and some mint tea while being constantly approached by hawkers selling packets of tissue, henna art done on your hand engulfed in the shisha (waterpipe) smoke while traditional musicians looked for opportune guests to play for.
As I watched the loudness of the crowdness, I couldn’t help but grin. Not sure why. Probably the delusionary affects of running a fever. Finishing our drinks I was then shipped home via taxi to sweat out whatever was in me.
I was hoping to catch the pyramids the next day and I needed to be mentally prepared as my research had brought up a lot of ‘Beware!’ stories regarding scams targeted at foreigners.