My husband left Egypt for Kenya a few days ago. The day that he left, we went to Khan El Khallili together for several hours.
According to my tourist book on Cairo,
“Khan el-Khalili is a major souk in the Islamic district of Cairo. The bazaar district is one of Cairo’s main attractions for tourists and Egyptians alike.”
Well, when my husband and I went, it was fun and romantic. We started our day by getting dropped off at the gate by a taxi. We then sat down at the nearest cafe. I had my favorite drink, lemon with ice. I also had a tasty chicken shawarma. My husband had roasted lamb chops. They were small, so looked like lamb lollipops. Then we shared a delicious small salad, or what we call kachumbari in Kenya. Tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cilantro. There was also some nice tahini in the middle of the plate to dunk the pita bread in.
The waiters were amused by my valiant attempts to speak Arabic, and they laughed and smiled, and for the most part, we understood each other. Then my husband and I wandered into the true Khan El Khalili. You walk into the narrowest of alleys. Above you are the balconies of building built right next to each other, right out of a book by Naguib Mahfouz. On either side is shop after tiny shop, with clothes and wares hanging out of the windows. Every possible good – shirts, embroidery, boxes of mother of pearl, silver earrings, spices – can be found in Khan El Khalili. It is a veritable cornucopia of the best Egypt and the Middle East have to offer, all to be had at the best price you can negotiate.
The tragic part is that the drop in tourism caused by the Revolution means fewer customers. Each vendor was more anxious than the next. Each one was desperate to convince you to sample his or her wares. There were very few customers that day, perhaps a few dozen. I was dizzied and thrilled by the selection. I bought a gorgeous embroidered blue shirt, some stunning silver braid earrings, several spices, and many beautiful boxes. But I became exhausted by the persistence of the vendors. I was relieved I was with my husband. Remember that in a normal year 11 million tourists come through Egypt, and the great majority of them pass through Khan El Khalili. The vendors must really be suffering right now.
According to Frederick Kunkle writing on April 19 in the Washington Post, the drop in tourism after the Revolution has hurt Egypt’s economy.
“In February, tourism was off 80 percent compared with last year, and it was down 60 percent in March. That is a crippling blow for a sector that accounts for one of every seven Egyptian jobs and makes up about 11 percent of the nation’s economy.”
Egypt is perfectly safe now. There are so many opportunities for people to shop, and to view this land of amazing contrasts. Come see the New Egypt. Save Khan El Khalili.