We made our way down a dark, dusty street as 2am neared. The car was left in a lot near Al Hussein, but we headed the opposite direction, away from the famous mosque and the landmark souq surrounding it. After a few minutes a lit courtyard opened before us, with tables and couches scattered about. Dishes of food, plumes of shisha smoke, and men and women filled the area.
We settled at our table, quite a mixed group: four young Egyptian men, an Egyptian girl home from studying music in Paris, myself, and an American girl in Egypt to spend a semester at AUC. Drinks arrived quickly - lemon and mango juices and tea. The tea was unlike what I've had in Cairo before. Along with small individual pots of tea, a large cup of fresh mint, and dish of sugar, cups of cardamom, dried sage, and cloves were delivered.
I must admit I'm not really a fan of cardamom, and the cloves didn't really seem to add much (perhaps had they been ground?), but I love sage in my tea. I first tried the concoction while in Sinai along the Red Sea, and since then a bag of sage has nearly always been found in my tea drawer.
Shortly after, the ever-present shisha arrived. Watermelon and grape tonight for my friends. Talk and shisha smoke mingled in the still, warm air. Cups of tea were drunk. Eventually menus were delivered and food ordered: fool, ta'amea, tahina, salad, and baskets of fresh baladi bread found their way to the table. Talk lulled as food was quickly inhaled, leaving plates empty, bread crumbs scattered, and bellies full.
After glances at watches, water and yogurt were ordered. As the young men greedily puffed away at last-minute cigarettes, the kitchen closed. Tables were cleared. Final gulps of water were swallowed as the call to prayer rang out. Slowly another call joined, and another, until the familiar echo came from every direction, swelling and then slowly fading again.
Good-byes were said, cars were filled, and a near-empty highway driven. Home, at last.