Where everybody knows your name

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt

It may seem incongruent to have a bar song come to mind while walking through the medieval mosques and alleys of Islamic Cairo. But so it goes.

The bar song I’m thinking of is the theme to the old television show “Cheers.” Here are the lyrics (and the one-minute youtube video, in case you’d like to sing along):

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

In my last post I wrote about the difficulty often involved in beginning a long journey. One technique for alleviating some of this extreme “aloneness” is to simply make yourself known. In the spirit of Cheers, there is a wonderful den of a bar called the Cafeteria Stella in Cairo, and I visited here several nights over two weeks to write in my journal. With its capacity of no more than 60 people and a clientele of local and expat regulars, you meet people. After a couple visits I came here not only for a place to write and for the cheap beer and chick peas (no peanuts here); I came also because people knew my name.

But better than the bar for name-knowing, and better still for its vast cultural and historical wealth, is the area of Cairo immediately to the north of the Khan al-Khalili bazaar, the heart of Islamic Cairo. It took 12 days for me to visit the pyramids on the city’s edge; during this same period, however, I made no less than seven visits to the dirt alleys of Islamic Cairo.

I went not only because of its history but also — and I did this intentionally — to be known and to know. I met shopkeepers and residents and wrote their names in my notebook. They invited me for tea and for meals. We ate together, they taught me new words in Arabic, I watched them laugh and encourage me. With time people became comfortable with my camera, even helping me cajole hesitant subjects to have their picture taken. The relationships we formed will be brief, but they will also have been real.

When you walk down the street and people say hello to you by name, a place feels different, and so you feel different. Which may explain why, even as the muezzin at a 12th-century mosque commences his call to prayer, you might find yourself humming the theme to an old TV show. This part of Cairo, after all, isn’t only the heart of medieval Islam; it’s also, more recently, where people know your name.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | April 1, 2010
Category: Africa, General, Hospitality, Images from the road, Solo Travel

3 Responses to “Where everybody knows your name”

  1. Cathy S Says:

    Rolf, We enjoyed hearing you speak at KU Tuesday night. You might get a kick out of our take on the evening, which we posted recently on our blog. Thanks for being our mid-week inspiration!

  2. Nicolaï Says:

    This post made me smile. That sense of belonging is a special feeling.

    Joel, how long do you plan on being in Cairo? Just going on feeling, or are you there for a specified duration?

  3. Joel Carillet Says:

    Hi Nicolaï,

    I left Cairo a couple days ago but will be back through for a few days in mid-April (I’m in Aswan now), then to Jordan in early May. I have a basic itinerary sketched for the next several months in the Middle East, but I do stay longer — or shorter — in a specific place depending on how things are going. In Cairo, for example, I intended to stay less than week but stayed 13 days. My rough sketch has already had to be amended!