Cairo hasn’t exactly been stable recently, and any time Egypt makes the headlines on BBC, it’s rarely a good thing. While this may be true, there’s a lot to love about this mercurial place, and as many reasons why I’ll miss it when I go.
I haven’t gotten much sleep lately, partly because my new flat has me practically sleeping in the road. As soon as my head hits the pillow, an APB goes out to all of the loudest trucks, cabs, and men in Egypt to parade around my midan until well after 2AM. The other night, I found a YouTube link for 10 hours of rain and thunder sounds, and I blasted it until I fell asleep at 2:30. Still not very effective. A friend tried to soundproof my windows with plastic sheets, but that didn’t work either, though it kept out the dust and the cold – and potential cat burglars – until it fell down less than 12 hours after it was sealed up.
So I spent last night at a friend’s and awoke this morning to the sound of birds chirping at the window, not the rush of an overloaded truck quaking by in the midan. It was glorious. I went back to sleep and woke again at 11:30. Jamie was off to a football tournament, so I spent the morning perusing travel journals over a California omelet and a cappuccino. At 12:30, I decided to wander back to my flat. I knew prayers had probably let out and the streets might be crowded, and while I briefly entertained the idea of hailing a cab, the sky was so cloudless and blue that I opted to walk.
It’s only March, and Cairo is already heating up. A warm wind blew lazily through the sand-covered ferns as I headed home. The first seven minutes of my walk were personless and peaceful – that is, until I hit the top of my street and found myself approaching throngs of slow-moving men coming toward me from the mosque at the end of the road. At first, I felt wary – large groups of men don’t equal safety in my mind – but then something wonderful happened: nothing. As I navigated the crowd, I realized that no one was interested in a western girl sipping her cappuccino and finding her way home. I don’t mean to sound self-important, but I’ve largely given up walking in Cairo because the harassment has gotten so bad and so frequent. To have a serene stroll home was something I missed.
When I reached my midan, it was crowded: men in galabayas purchased bananas from the street vendor, boabs sat on overturned crates sipping tea and coffee from small glasses, two men greeted each other beside the wooden cart heaving with gooseberries. I loved how alive and amiable everyone was. A street sweeper leaning against a dusty SUV said hello as I walked past.
This is the Egypt you don’t see on the news, and it’s a shame, because it’s the part of the country I love and one of the reasons I’ve stayed for so long.
The other reason is the people.
Once home, I set up my laptop in the living room and Laura and I passed time looking up our friendship compatibility on an astrology website while Ryan, her boyfriend/our new flatmate, made pancakes from scratch in the kitchen. The smell of melted butter and sugar wafted through the flat.
There’s been news of the water getting shut off for 12 hours beginning tonight. I asked them what they’d heard. Ryan’s response:
“We’ll just fill up the bathtub now and we can take turns. We’ll draw straws to see who goes first.”
It’s funny, because I’ve missed living in a place where you can drink the tap water, but there’s something I know I’ll miss about a place where tap water gets turned off occasionally and you’re left to bathe with stores of bottled water.