Journal: Saturday 4 January 2003
Some weeks ago Sam and I wrote from England to the SCA to ask for permission to visit certain sites we wanted to see in Fayoum and Middle Egypt and this morning we had an appointment at the SCA offices in Abbassiya. This district is on the outskirts of Cairo and I had made a disastrous attempt to get there a couple of years ago on my own but was unable to find the building. But Sam has been several times before and knew exactly how to get there. So today it was meant to be easy. We arrived at the office block in Abbassiya and went up the two flights of stone stairs where we met our contact, a lovely lady who could not have been more helpful. She sorted out our paperwork, read the letters from our college and duly made out our antiquities permission card with our photos attached that would give us free entrance to most of the sites in Egypt. While we were there chatting to her a well-known Egyptologist and excavator came into the office to see her – but she politely asked him to wait until we were finished. There was a slight problem in that she was not authorised to give us permission to visit the sites that were not officially open. For that we had to go across the river to Zamalek to Dr Hawass’s office in the main SCA building. This was right across town and involved another long taxi ride through the busy daytime traffic. We found the office eventually after the taxi driver drove round and round asking people where the SCA office was. I would have thought at least the locals would know how to find the main offices of the Antiquities Service, but then why should they?
This time we went up several flights of stairs, we were passed from room to room and had a long wait before finally being ushered into yet another office where we were interviewed by one of the SCA officials. I had imagined that this main SCA building would be quite grand but it was just an ordinary rather small and shabby Egyptian office, though it looked quite newly built. It was all quite gruelling and we still didn’t know if we would be given the permissions we wanted, but after another long wait we were given the letter we needed signed and stamped by Dr Hawass’s office. All of this had taken up most of the day – but it was well worth the perseverance.
Relieved to have this important mission behind us, Sam and I stopped off in Tahrir Square to go to the American University bookshop. I hadn’t been there before and it was like walking into paradise. The bookshop consists of a large room on the university campus and it’s crammed with every Egyptology book I ever wanted as well as maps and guidebooks, Egyptian novels (in English) and lots more. Many English and American Egyptology books are re-published by the AUC Press at a fraction of the price we would pay at home and I have to confess that Sam and I bought quite a lot of books between us, refusing to think about how we would be able to carry them home on the plane. I also bought a really excellent map of Egypt published by Rough Guide, that would be useful on our travels. It was all too hard to resist and I spent far too much money.
We ate in the hotel this evening for convenience because Sam was taking a taxi to the airport to meet Jane, the third member of our little party, who arrived from London at 10.30pm. Tomorrow our adventures will begin. I’ve come to like Cairo much better in the last three days, it certainly makes a difference seeing the city with Sam who knows her way around and makes it much more enjoyable. I think I’ll be a little sorry to leave Cairo, but we will be back in a couple of weeks.