Trip Start Oct 30, 2007
107Trip End Ongoing
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In a way, my impression of the Egyptian Museum summarizes my impression of Cairo. This humongous city is chock-full with treasures buried under thick layer of pollution, dust, and dissatisfaction of its inhabitants. Despite that (and the fact that I no longer consider myself a “city person”) I am finding myself falling in love with this fascinating city. Here are a few notes I wrote about it:
Many of the people here act aggressively (compared to what I’m used to). Earlier I heard very loud screaming from the street. So loud that I rushed to the window to see what was going on, imagining a serious street quarrel. It wasn’t. From my third floor porch I saw a man 200 meters from my building yelling on his cellphone as he was walking by. Surreal.
I came to Cairo with my friend Ahmad, a recovering Heroine-addict who is now an hotel manager in Sinai. Through him I got a glimpse into Cairo’s drug scene. Hashish usage here is as common as alcohol in the USA. Almost everyone I met here admitted to be smoking it (or more accurately “drinking it”, as in Arabic one “drinks drugs”.) Apparently, the hashish quality in Cairo these days is especially poor. Ahmad calls it ‘plastic hashish’ (which he pronounces “Blastic Hashish”) and claims it is not actually hashish but rather a chemical concoction resembling the drug without the desired impact. A visit to a mutual friend’s house, a brilliant English speaking upper-middle class Egyptian man, revealed that he, too, uses Heroine. Witnessing Ahmad’s difficult recovery process I could not avoid feeling deep sadness to discover that my other friend is currently using this drug.
Traffic in this mega city is hectic and seemingly chaotic. Every two-lane road inevitably features three lines of cars zigzagging briskly in a bumper to bumper traffic. Horn use is certainly not as traumatizing (to me) as in Delhi (or Agra or Jaipur India) but it’s common enough to be a defining feature of the city. Taxis are very cheap but drivers often smoke in their very dirty cabs, some of which would not pass any safety test in the USA (no seat-belts or window handles, broken seats and thick exhaust fumes. Crossing the road here, especially in the busy evening hours, is a strangely exhilarating experience. You basically have to force cars to stop as drivers will not slow down for you. It’s kind of an “I dare you to run me over” kind of game. May sound scary, but it’s more fun than scary.
Finding vegetarian food in Cairo is as challenging as finding a donkey in Manhattan (actually, I think they have one in Central Park, so it’s much more challenging than that.) Finding good vegetarian food, so far, has proven to be simply impossible. A few times already I paid for meals I simply could not eat, like the mezze in the Lebanese restaurant (“Baalbeck”) that were spoiled from sitting in the fridge way too long. They do have a dish called “kushari”, which is basically pasta with a few lentils and chickpeas in a tomato sauce and fried onion. Sadly, it sounds tastier than it is. But than again, they do have those carts selling coal roasted yams (at one Egyptian pound- about $0.20) that are fantastic.
When I walk the street many young adults smile at me and greet me with “Welcome to Cairo” and “Welcome Home” (which reminds me of Burning Man). The people I meet here, under the thin aggressive shield they are wearing, are lovely and hospitable (similar to the Moroccans). My hosts, Ahmad’s parents, present the beautiful side of Islam I love so much; impeccable hospitality, inspiring humility and heartfelt generosity.
A few days ago a soccer (“football” in here) match between Egypt and Algeria got the entire city (and probably the country) extremely excited. Flags and cheerful horn beeps everywhere as well as many faces painted in red white and blue brought a festive atmosphere to the city. When the Egyptian team scored a goal a gigantic roar was heard throughout the neighborhood. Awesome!
There is an immense amount of joy that follows giving a beggar (I dislike this word. I wish there was a more respectful way to describe these lovely beings) a 20 Egyptian Pounds knowing s/he mostly gets about half a pound. Since 20 pounds is only $4 I can easily afford it so it’s a pretty cheap way to get instant joy. I think giving charity is one of the things I like best in traveling in poor countries. I can practice generosity here frequently. I’m reading now a book (“Into the wild”) about this American kid who gave all his money to charity (24k) and went on a journey that led to his early death. While I have no intention on following his lead, I can imagine how joyful he must have felt doing it.
Tomorrow I leave back to Sinai. I got a 6 months extension on my visa here in Cairo, did some shopping, taught (and practiced) some Yoga, and most importantly, fell in love. I doubt I’ll do it any time soon, but living in Cairo seems like a fabulous viable option to me now. At the same time, living in Sinai feels like a better fit for now so I’m quite happy to return to the best show on earth, where every moment is spectacular and where my heart is learning to surrender to love. It’s lovely to be joyful again.