Middle East | Egypt | Cairo – New to the city
Its been almost a month since I arrived into the Cairo International airport, my first memories of the place was the smell of cigarettes and feeling sticky from the humid air, quite a change from the english climate of rain, wind and cold which I had just left hours before. So, at the end of May I started the beginning of my year long stay in this intense country.
The first few days I spent orienting myself in the vast city of Cairo, wandering the wide avenues of downtown and losing myself in the medieval labyrinthine alleys of Fatimid Cairo. I situated myself in a simple hotel on an island called Zamalek, formally the stomping grounds of the royalty, now the home to embassies and quite a few foreigners, a calm place to begin my stay, and in a picture perfect location surrounded on all sides by the slowly moving Nile. Everyday I cross the Nile quite a few times, my first impression of this legendary, almost mythical river, was one of disappointment, especially in regards to the size because I remember having heard stories that the Nile is one mile in width during the flood season. Things have changed since those days, with the addition of Nasser lake and a massive dam, farmers can farm all year round without depending on the flood, the only downside is that the silt deposited yearly is not being produced any more as well as the problem that like most developing countries, egypt uses dangerous chemical pesticides like DDT and others, and it seems as if the egyptian agriculture shall be having massive problems in the near future. SO the Nile around Cairo is quite narrow, perhaps the size of the Seine in PAris, or any normal cities river, as there are huge islands along most of the Cairo side nile.
Anyway, after a few days I started my arabic studies in a neighboring suburb. Today was the last day of my month long classes, and I must say that it was quite useful and the egyptian arabic class helped me leaRN THE grammar in order to speak on the streets, although my modern standard arabic class could have been better. After being here one month, I can get my basic needs across, order a meal, take a taxi, etc…I cannot wait until I expand my vocabulary and grammar skills so I can have proper conversations and really dive into Egyptian culture.
This city is quite chaotic, each time you cross the street here, you risk your life in a big way as traffic rules do not really exist and traffic lights are obeyed rarely. There are people everywhere, one cannot even imagine, more than 20 million people are packed into the greater area of this city. Its strange to get used to at first, how when one walks down the street you are never alone, even in the quiet neighborhoods, men sit on their plastic chairs all day long doing a good job of sitting. Kids play in every corner as well as sell their goods from kleenex or beans along everywhere street and alley. The value of life, human or animal is different, I shall not say worse of better, because I try not to be western-centric, but it saddens me to see how they treat poor children, who start working at very young ages to contribute towards their families meager income, I shall not even approach the treatment of animals which almost is always abusive, at least in my eyes. If one takes a walk in any normal working class neighborhood, one will see lots of men working in their shops, along with their helper boy, or perhaps in the corner somewhere a child, covered from head to foot with grime will be working in the workshop. People here do not see a problem with a child working if it helps his family, although I am sure they had rather him playing in the streets if they could afford it. Poverty is extreme here in this cosmopolitan town, and the black and white juxtaposition between poverty and wealth is more than anywhere i have traveled. At the fancy hotels in the center of town, they are protected on all sides by guards and security and luxurious facades, while outside, half a block away, one will find dilapadated buildings where families live ten to a room with their animals wondering where their next meal will come from. There is not huge physical separation of the rich and poor as in North america, in one street there may be a few wealthy family in their luxury apartment, while the doorman and his family lives in a tiny room in the entrance that they consider to be an improvement from their previous arrangements. But in any neighborhood, rich and poor live and work together, and much more harmoniously, it seems than in other countries.
In regards to the political situation, there have not been any protests nor other problems of that sort, although it seems that from what I hear from quite a few egyptians, they have very strong opinions about ISrael and Palestine and I usually try to avoid this sort of discussion as they are very strong minded here and the government has been expertly manipulating the people to inflame their hearts and minds. (Now I am sorry here if I sound biased or anything of the support, in regards to ISrael and Palestine I am somewhat neutral as I don’t condone violence and killing as the appropriate means to any end, either by Israelis or Palestinians, I have been merely observing the skill of the progandists here in Egypt including paintings throughout the city of Sharon portrayed as the devil (including a huge one and other signs of protest across from the most well known synagogue), basically the propaganda is a step up in drama and sentiments from the North american media.
My plans as of now are to venture into Syria starting sunday for an undisclosed amount of time, probably for 2-4 weeks. I shall be travelling with a friend I met last year in iran and our goal is to meet and stay with the beduins and learn more about their culture and traditions. Of course, we shall also be visiting Aleppo and Damascus and I cannot say where else as plans change daily. Recently I have visited the SInia, climbing the legendary Mt. Sinai and visiting the 4th cent. Greek orthodox monastery of St. Catherines, a truly unique and sacred place amid such a desolate and beautiful landscape….I also luxuriated on the beach at the red sea.
This city is not easy to live in, but part of the fun is the challenge of everyday living and spontaneuous adventures or cirumstances. I must say that I love it here and feel comfortable and am looking forward to living here for many more months.
This was just some (I am sorry if I got carried away and wrote too much) of my reflections on Cairo and my experience of living here. Of course I have countless thoughts and ideas and descriptions of many experiences I have had and people I have met, but at least in the first email I have stuck to the basics…