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Alexandria's Slice-of-Egyptian-Life Market Scene

Alexandria, Egypt
Contains mature topics

In Alexandria's ramshackle market district, with its thriving and exotic streets, you can feel a strong sense of community — and buy almost anything.

Complete Video Script

For me, no visit to Alexandria is complete without venturing into its ramshackle market district. While you can buy just about anything in these thriving and exotic streets, there's also a strong sense of community that naturally comes with such population density.

And, to better enjoy this convivial scene, I'm joined by my Egyptian friend Tarek in a classic shisha joint. As I've done in Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East, I occasionally enjoy this traditional and very social form of smoking.

Tarek: Nice, huh?
Rick: This is a beautiful scene. It's easy to relax here.
Tarek: So relaxing, comfortable. Peace.
Rick: A lot of people in the United States, they'd say this would be a "hookah" or a "hubbly-bubbly." What is this in Egypt?
Tarek: Shisha. It's called shisha.
Rick: Shisha. Yep.
Tarek: Yeah, and a few people now call it hookah, hubbly-bubbly, nargile.
Rick: Is it some tobacco, or what are we smoking?
Tarek: It's a tobacco flavored with different tastes. Could be apple, strawberry, mint…too many.
Rick: If I smoke and smoke and smoke, will I get dizzy?
Tarek: If you spend like two or three hours you will get dizzy. Finishing one of those is like finishing two packets of cigarettes.
Rick: [surprised cough]
Tarek: Sorry! But the people aren't doing it all the time — we do it casually, lets us vent out, be casual, socializing, you know, talking with friends, we do it with close friends, we vent out and talk…
Rick: Yeah.
Tarek: …and have fun!

While clearly Tarek could spend the rest of the evening right here, we've got some exploring to do. A short walk is filled with cultural serendipity.

And we'll start with dessert. It's hard to walk by this place without enjoying at least a taste.

Tarek: …and delicious!
Rick: That looks great. What are these?
Tarek: This is sawabe' Zainab — "Zainab's fingers."
Rick: Zainab's fingers? Hmmm. Shukran.
Tarek: Thank you! Shukran!

The key to this kind of sightseeing? Have a curious spirit, have fun, and explore. These guys are way too fast for me.

The entire neighborhood is an endlessly fascinating market — and it's open late. There's fresh bread, very fresh poultry, Olives straight from the desert, and something I noticed everywhere: friendly and inviting people. I know about six words of Arabic — but it didn't stop the smiles.

You can get whatever you need around here — including a quick trim before dinner.