Back when I was in Cairo a few months ago, I had taken a taxi into the Old City to catch a free performance of the Whirling Dervishes (in Turkey, which has higher-profile dervishes, they charge admission). As soon as I got out of the cab near the market, a loquacious peddler named Ahmed approached me and asked me if I needed some help finding something. I told him I was looking for the Dervishes and he said he’d show me where they perform. We walked into the market, down a bustling and colorful alley, to a cathedral-like structure where the show would start in another hour. He invited me to see his papyrus shop to kill time, promising that I had no obligation to buy. What the hell? (By the way, papyrus is the ancient precursor to paper, a writing surface made from the dried reeds of the papyrus plant that grows along the Nile).
After climbing up fluorescent-lit concrete stairwell, with nary an inclination as to any malice on Ahmed’s part (either I’m especially sensitive to the underlying goodness of people or I’m a damn gullible fool), I entered the secluded, second-floor gallery. There stood Mohamed, Ahmed’s Nigerian business partner, who spoke to me about the Egyptian art of papyrus painting. Despite the quesionable location of the shop, Mohamed came off as an expert in his vocation, Ahmed shining equally as a consummate salesman (“Your mother is best mother in the world after my mother, she deserve something from the gallery”). I bought a beautiful $25 papyrus scroll for my mom, but I also got some interesting footage of Mohamed describing the art and craft of papyrus painting.
When you’re in Cairo, make sure you say “hi” to Ahmed and Mohamed (and buy something, too):
Alghouri Papyrus Art Centre
28 Ahmam El Mosbagha St. (beside Wokela Sultan)
Alghouri, Al Azhar, Cairo, Egypt
Tel. 2512-5859, Cell 0106695899