8th May 2012
07.05.2012 - 08.05.2012 36 °C
It was visa day. We had one thing on our minds and that was Libya. We set off early and reached the embassy just after nine. We asked for Mustafa at the entrance and the Scouse accent was somehow interpreted as ‘Mr Mohammed.’ Fortunately, Mr Mohammed existed. And moreover, he was far enough up the Libyan bureaucratic ladder as to garner respect from the guardians at the gate but not so far up as to ignore the minions trying to gain entrance to his country. Mr Mohammed, or Mohammed as his mum calls him, was a nice guy. First we were taken to his office were we stated our case. Immediately realising that this was a decision to be taken by those above him he took us next door and up a rung on that perilous ladder. But even at that height, the air wasn’t heady enough to allow such decisions. We’d have to enter the inner sanctum. We needed to go higher and so Mohammed escorted us back down stairs and around the back of the first building to a far grander building. We climbed the marble stairs onto the veranda and entered through towering double doors. Ahead lay a double staircase that peeled off to its left and right, adorned with a carpet that had seen better days and whose brass rails were no longer intact. At the top of the stairs the oxygen was thin. We were high enough for authority to be given, we were high enough to be suffering from vertigo. There is a quality that comes with places of power that leaves the visitor somehow feeling worried and guilty, the same feeling as when a police officer walks towards you, or being stood outside the head-masters office or waiting for exam results. We’d spent two days trying to get in and fifteen minutes after walking through the doors we were breathing the refined air of the empowered heights; before us lay five huge double doors. ‘Pick a door and choose your fate. Destiny is waiting and what will you be going home with tonight?’ It was a weird ‘Blind Date’. But thankfully we didn’t have to choose. Mohammed did; and he chose door number four. A knock and no answer, there was no one in; our hearts sank a little and the guilt lifted, oh well not to worry, can we go home now. Mohammed’s second choice was door number five; a knock, a wait, no answer. He looked nervously to door number three, the door in the centre of the five. It somehow appeared taller and grander than all of the others, as if in their sat a deity or perhaps even the colonel, with a bandage around his head. We were mere mortals and no one wanted to knock on door number three.
But then door number five creaked open and from behind an Arabic chap appeared a small lady in high heels. Those heels gave her height and the sharp suit and exacting make up all stood to empower a woman in what, in reality, was a man’s world. Her name was Hannah, her English was impeccable and she invited us through door number four and into her office. We discussed our plight and re-iterated that we needed no more than seven days to traverse her home land and that we’d be very grateful if she could allow us that. Our papers, including passports and our ‘letter from the embassy’ were handed over and she excused herself. She had to speak to God in room number three.
A short while passed as Mr Mohammed explained the process and Madam Hannah returned. She explained that in principal there would be no problems in granting us a seven day transit visa, but, we would have to return on Sunday as, Inshallah (God Willing,) they had some border troubles to sort out before we’d be safe to pass through. This seemed positive to us. What great news, she hadn’t said no, which would have been very easy, and she’d invited us back to see her. Even better they’d have gotten rid of the bad guys by the time we arrived. Rose tints in place we bade her and Mohammed farewell, wondering what the ‘border issues’ might be.
The list of things to do in Cairo, involved a trip to the Opera House. The Main Hall in fact, but there was a dress code. Given the fact that most of our clothes were variations on the theme ‘homeless person’ and that a smart jacket and tie hadn’t been high on my list for ‘overlanding couture’ we went second hand shopping in the street market. Laura had devised her outfit, and she owned all the items already, she was grand. Based on what we’d seen available I was aiming for American Ivy Leaguer come corner shop purveyor and therefore needed chinos, a jacket and a tie. Within an hour we’d found all three and all three had cost us a total of seven English pounds and fifty pence. I had bought a stripy tie for fifty pee, I’d had a choice of blue and yellow stripes or sky blue, I went for the school boy look. We found a pair of Tommy Hilfiger chinos that had cost three quid, (designer kecks in Cairo! We just had to work out how to get the biro stains off,) and the piece de resistance and the single best item of clothing that I will probably ever own, a velvet (mock I presume) jacket, two sizes too small, with sleeves that end above the wrists and lapels whose points reach almost to the shoulders, the garment’s ‘Made In...’ label informed that it had arrived in Egypt straight from the cat walks of nineteen seventies West Germany. There would be more than one diva at the Cairo Opera House.
That was the following evening sorted, but we had other ideas for the afternoon ahead and on our way we were befriended by a chap who first took us to find good, and cheap, falafels and then took us to his friend’s perfume store where we took peppermint tea whilst he tried to sell us some fragrances. First he smeared yes, smeared Laura’s arm in Lotus Blossom, a pleasant scent but one that disappeared after ten seconds. I received something that smelt like Brut for Men only after a heavy day in the city and which our man insisted would ‘make me like a horse’ as he coarsely bolted his clenched fist and fore arm upright. I refrained from telling him that at least I now smelt like one. We skirted the issue of fragrances as our arms were smeared some more with Cleopatra’s Derriere and Rameses’ Tootsies and we deftly avoided telling the chap that they all smelt like a tarts handbag. Eventually we managed to leave.
Our afternoon had been designed for something a little more modern in our pursuit of culture. We watched an American film about superheroes, shown in 3D at the local cinema whilst eating McDonalds apple pies and drinking strawberry milkshakes.