The Pyramids, and Sufi dancing
Nov 20, 2005
The museum was my first stop as a tourist, but there were a few more things that I had to see.
One evening 11 people from our hostel decide to go out and see the touristy, free, Sufi dancing which happens twice a week in Cairo across from the market. All of us are somewhat rugged independent travelers, and so we're all a bit amused to be traveling as a tour group for once.
We arrive and find seats in the courtyard where the performance is being put on. It feels a bit wrong to me. Sufi is a traditional form of Islam, and the singing and dance is a religious ceremony. This performance, with a 150 tourists sitting and watching, seems sacrilegious as a cheap tourist show.
I can't help but to compare and contrast it to other more authentic traditional ceremonies I'd seen. I watched Sufi dancing in Sudan in a dusty graveyard. In Bali, I stumbled into a traditional dance ceremony put on by the local kids; the parents were a bit bored as they'd all seen this same show every year, so they pushed me up to the front row. Those were fantastic experiences.
But overall, this touristy Sufi show was entertaining. The music was good. And the dancers spun in fantastical colorful costumes.
When someone started playing a flute, I could for a while close my eyes and imagine being in an amazing scene with just me and the dancers in the middle of the desert. But then the tourists started clapping, and the spell was broken.
As performances go, it was good. As authentic cultural experiences or religious experiences go, it wasn't even close.
At least it was free.
As I leave, I'm left wondering what would inspire these people to put on this free show. Later I learned that the dancers are professionals paid by the government. Sufi is a religious movement, but in this show only one of the dancers was actually a Sufi.
The next stop was the pyramids.
When you're living in San Francisco, you give almost no thought to all of the tourist attractions around town. Living in Cairo, it was the same for me. I almost forgot that the Pyramids were there.
But really, even I cannot stay in Cairo and not eventually go and see the pyramids.
One morning, I took a taxi out there. I paid for a ticket at the gate. I ignored the vendors, and walked around in the sand for a bit. Photos can lie through the use of angles or lenses to distort or hide things. The pyramids are just very big lumps of rock, and they are actually right in the middle of the big and ugly Giza neighborhood of Cairo. The Sphinx looks down on the traffic.
If there is any tourist site anywhere in the world that is totally over-hyped, it's probably the pyramids. It's hard to live up to expectations that huge. And I was left simply unimpressed.
Now that I've seen the pyramids, I can feel free to officially move on.
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
I love your site but I wonder at times are you a bit of a travel snob? "One evening 11 people from our hostel decide to go out and see the touristy, free, Sufi dancing which happens twice a week in Cairo across from the market. All of us are somewhat rugged independent travelers, and so we're all a bit amused to be traveling as a tour group for once."
Do you consider yourself a tourist. Whats the difference in being an independent traveller and a tourist?
I was making a differentiation between an "independent traveler" and a "tour group", not a "tourist".
But you're right. I am a bit, admittedly, of a travel snob who tends to look down on those who take tours. It's just a different choice though. And the two times that I've take tours, I've had a great time.
As for what I am, it's a tough question. I've chosen the label "vagabond" these days. When do you stop being a tourist and start living some place: after 1 month? 3 months? 6 months? a year?
I passed all of those times in Egypt. But when it comes down to it, I actually live on the road now. Which makes me something different than just a tourist.
Cheers, and thanks for the comment.