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VIEWPOINT: Remembering good friends, good times in Egypt

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VIEWPOINT: Remembering good friends, good times in Egypt
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Seeing the demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square has reminded me of what the city was like when we lived there in the late '80s.

There were signs of obvious poverty but there was also the unbounded hospitality of the Egyptian people.

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We made lifelong friends. We were always welcomed with cups of hot mint tea in the shops and food, music, good stories and sometimes dancing in people's homes.

Our friend Haji Amer introduced us to camel riding, the desert, the pyramids and life in the village. On one camel trip, we rode for seven hours to visit two groups of pyramids and could barely walk for the next 48 hours. We took shorter trips after that.

On a farm in Alexandria, we walked through the amazing scent of an orange orchard in blossom and ate multi-layered crepes about 18 inches wide while siting on a bench made of hard compacted manure and covered with rugs in the farmyard. In Cairo every morning we saw cabbages twice the size of soccer balls and other fresh vegetables transported to market on donkey carts, their drivers asleep on top - the donkeys knew where to go.

I remember trying to give directions to a cab driver in very basic Arabic; he didn't laugh and did take me to the correct address. I always had a problem with hairdressers, trying to explain that I didn't want my salt-and-pepper colored hair dyed black, that my husband wouldn't divorce me even if my hair turned white.

We ate at Falfela's, a favorite student restaurant, where the food was good and cheap, the company loud and the cats were allowed to walk across the roof beams over the tables and around our legs.

I spent hours in the big Khan el Khalili market, talking to artisans and shopkeepers. One very old man had sat sewing decorative pillows for so long, his legs were frozen in his cross-legged position. I still have the pillows he made for me.

We often visited the camel market with Haji Amer and heard the stories of herdsmen driving camels from southern Sudan to Cairo.

In the city, we watched parking attendants pick up a car and slide it into a tight spot.

Walking to work early every morning, I passed shopkeepers tearing down their window displays, dusting everything and washing the dust out to the sidewalk.

Sitting on the balcony at our apartment one night, we watched a herdsman chasing a wild camel through the streets of Cairo on a 90cc Moped.

And, when I had an opportunity to spend a week camping in the Sinai desert, I was amazed at the beauty, quiet and cleanliness of it.

When my husband's job in Cairo was completed after three years, I could hardly bear to leave; everyone was crying and hugging at the airport. Even after 24 years, I remember our good friends and hope they're staying out of harm's way.

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Toni Lambert
(651) 459-3435
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