We arrived in Port Said in the late afternoon and were able to get off the boat and wander around. Since we were short on time, we really had to prioritize and obviously food was at the very top of that list. Someone had heard that there was a market going on, so we headed in that direction. To think of it now, I have no idea where this rumor came from since none of us had really talked to any of the locals, having only gotten off the ship. Needless to say, we were unable to find said mystical market, no matter how many times we risked our lives j-walking across one of their impossibly long boulevards.
Instead, we found this mosque. It was beautiful. It was beautiful and I didn’t have my camera with me, so I did the only logical thing- pulled out my travel journal and started sketching. No matter how fast you sketch, it’s still no where near the speed of snapping a photo. Some of the group decided to continue on, while some hung around, watching me frantically draw. I’m so used to the convenience that I’m usually afforded of being able to snap a quick photograph to remember the moment, but I’m glad that I took the time to sketch a bit because trying to draw something really makes you look at it. All the curves, the lines, the patterns.
After I was satisfied with my doodle, drawing just enough to remember it, not so much that we were there until dusk, we ventured in. I haven’t been in many mosques that I just happen upon. Most of the ones that I have entered, I have gone to that location to see that specific mosque. I’m also embarrassingly unaware of the etiquette of entering mosques. Japanese temples and shrines, Western religious buildings, I think I have down alright, but mosques are still new territory for me. We decided to go see if we would be able to wander inside and I’m glad we did. The high ceilings, the arches everywhere, the huge chandeliers that were grand with an old-mansion-covered-in-cobwebs feel (without the cobwebs), I could have stayed there solely studying the patterns all day. It was lit by natural light as the sun was beginning to set, giving it a magical yet haunting feel. There were ports where we would get off, and it almost wouldn’t feel like we were in a different country, but for this port, in this mosque, I had definitely been transported to a different world.
On the way out the gate, a woman donning a niqab was walking toward us and paused as we drew near.
“Did you like our mosque?” she quietly asked
“Yes, it is beautiful,” checking that my earnestness showed through.
Her eyes sparkled. “I’m glad,” her crows feet and sight of the top of her checks indicated a smile.
During that short exchange, that woman taught me two things: eyes are expressive if only you look, and the graceful pride that she had in her place of worship. Current media portrayal of religions often give them a bad reputation so it was really special to know that at least for this woman, her religion and thus place of worship was something that she was proud of, and wanted other people to enjoy it as well.
We kept wandering around, unable to find this market that by this point, we were convinced that we would not be able to find. With restaurants surrounding the port being mainly Western, we decided to go with what we did best- supermarket scavenging. We walked down a dusty road, darkened by the tall buildings on either side. Right when we were going to turn around, one of my companions found a sign for a supermarket and we rushed in… to find mostly import food items.
So much for having Egyptian food for dinner.
Meanwhile, the row of stores back near the port had become alive and we sat on a plastic table and chairs eating what would be best described as a shawarma with ranch and ketchup while watching a convoy drop off passengers from another cruise line. It was tourist land, to be sure, but we could not want for people watching.
A huge thank you to Keiko Uehara, who kindly gave me permission to use her photos as I only have a rough sketch and memories at this location. Thanks, Keiko <3!!