That was the strangest possible introduction to an already peculiar city. But I've had other, less bizarre adventures and misadventures in Cairo, so I thought I'd explain a little more about the parts of the city that I have seen.
Zamalek - This is where the AUC dorms are, along with 30 or 40 embassies from all over the world and many of the affluent residents and expats of Cairo. Its an island in the middle of the Nile(which is actually a sort of disappointing river. It may be a cradle of human civilization, but it looks sort of like a dirtier version of the Charles River). Zamalek is like Greenwich Village by way of London and the Left Bank, set in the middle of a frantic 3rd-world metropolis like Sao Paulo or Mexico city. A lot of people claim that living in Zamalek isn't the "real" Cairo - and I think they're right. I don't care, though - an oasis of green, calm, and relatively fresh air is nothing to sneer at.
Wast al-Madina/Downtown: The AUC campus is around here, as well as the Mogamma - the heart of Egpytian government. Midan Tahrir is the main plaza, bordered by the Mogamma, the Nile Hilton Hotel and the Egyptian Museum. This place is a solid competitor for the worst traffic in the world. When its gridlocked, its just obnoxious. When traffic is moving fast, it is terrifying beyond belief. Most of my day is in around this area and Zamalek.
Old Cairo/Coptic Cairo: Only been to this part once. Pictures available here. Definitely a tourist trap, but also a thriving local community. Watching the Copts and I guess Orthodox Christians crowd around the icons and relics of the saints and make wishes upon them was an interesting experience. For me, though, the defining moment of Old Cairo was the kids playing football in the courtyard of a circa-500ad church while their parents went inside. Everywhere in the world...I thought about joining them. I wish I had.
Islamic Cairo: I had only a brief intro to this place, wandering through the Khan al-Khalili, the medieval bazaar. For me, there were two highlights: first, the bazaar itself. It was Friday, and thus a day of rest, prayer - and shopping. There were no tourists in the bazaar and it was packed to the walls with Egyptians shopping, selling, buying, haggling, and generally just going about their lives. Moving through the stalls of gold, silver, cloth, toys, shishas, clothing and pretty much every other imaginable thing was quite an experience of sensory overload.
The other awesome thing was Fishawly's. Imagine Starbuck's, only 250 or 300 years old. So, not like Starbuck's at all! Thank god. It was pretty sweet, if overpriced - the place has definitely been turned into a tourist trap. But locals go there too, and the atmosphere is just to cool to pass up. I'll have to return to Islamic Cairo to see the Citadel, the huge al-Azhar mosque, and the other various sights...
Mohandiseen: This is an affluent district on the other side of the river, away from the main campus. I've only been there once or twice, most memorably to get a full barbershop shave. Straight razor, brushed cream, hot and cold towels, the whole nine yards. All for 6 or 7 dollars. I emerged feeling a new man.
Ok, that's enough for now.