Egypt’s capital is in my thoughts this week because of everything that’s going on there.
I was in Cairo for nearly a week in July last year, training independent Egyptian news organisation Al-Masry Al-Youm in social media and digital engagement/community management. It was a great few days with a lovely group of people.
Because I was there for work, with a very packed schedule of all-day workshops and presentations, there was no time for sightseeing (and it was far too hot anyway), so instead my main impressions of Cairo are whatever I could see and hear from the back of a taxi, zooming from one place to another – airport to hotel, hotel to office, office to restaurant, restaurant to hotel.
The other day, searching my computer for Cairo photos, I came across a text file I’d made containing notes from my visit there – impressions on arriving, things seen and heard and scribbled down on my iphone in the back of a taxi, trying to make sense of the city.
Unedited, and without further context, here they are.
Glint of the Nile as we entered Egyptian airspace.
Off the plane, the fug of the city, hot and thick like a badly-ventilated bathroom after a shower, dusty and heavy like the side of a road in summer.
People everywhere. No signs in the airport. No indication where to go, what to do.
The taxi, haring through the night streets.
Families picknicking on patches of ground at the side of the road, nestled into the shade of a tree despite being past one in the morning.
From the freeway, a glimpse down a dun-coloured dusty alley: children in bright shorts, illuminated by streetlights, playing scratch football.
No rules on the road, yet traffic like rush hour. Where are they all going?
80 miles an hour, weaving between ancient taxis held together with string. And that’s generous to string. Taxis straddling lanes. Actually, there are no lanes. There’s a wide road, and it’s every man for himself. Cars missing each other by millimeters. Horns parped to say excuse me, thank you, hello, I’m a car…
Men squatting beside the motorway to fix their motorbikes, and not for the first time from the looks of it. A tiny honda with 8 people inside, plus boxes.
A Datsun 401 which has replaced its signal lights with disco lights that flash orange, red, yellow, purple, green, white. Signifying nothing, except the ability to do so.
Fleeting snatches of views along streets perpendicular to the road reveal people sitting outside cafes, walking, chatting, playing.
Going over the bridge at 2am.
Families taking in the view – kids with balloons shaped like bulbous hearts.
A man selling tea
It’s like Waterloo Bridge at rush hour, yet it’s past two in the morning.
“Very very nice, very very nice.”
150ft from the hotel, a barrier. Guards. A dog. Searching the car. We’re carrying nothing but a tired traveller.
To get into the hotel, we pass through an X-Ray machine.
“The sound and light show”. They could have been talking about Cairo, not just the Pyramids.
Swimming under African stars in a warm breeze off the Nile while the city throbs to the sound of traffic, music, vuvuzelas. A little after midnight, the party begins in earnest.