Magu Bee at World's End

A travel blog of one crazy Magu Bee traveling the globe.

Cairo was the second leg of my Autumn in Indonesia journey - I arrived here after a couple of days spent in Paris with my friend Salah. 

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It was my first time in Egypt and had the touristy image of the place, was not sure what to expect from the Egyptian reality. Landed on a big, clean and not at all crowded airport, which was a surprise. Little did I know that Egyptians had to pay to enter the airport, unless they were flying somewhere themselves. 
I've had some crazy ideas in my life and at the start of the one of going to Egypt was one of those. Maybe one day I'll come clean with the details but for now let's just say that it might not have been totally honest when it comes to customs.. In the end I wasn't doing anything wrong in any sense but still was curious to see what coulda woulda, so was approaching the customs with a slight stomachache. However, once they saw my smile and long blonde hair, they didn't even want to see my passport, which I was holding ready in my hands, let alone the things I was carrying on my back.
I was welcomed by Ehab, CS Cairo ambassador, who turned out to be one of the most generous people I've had the pleasure of meeting in my life. We jumped into his car and drove to his friend's, A's, who was to host me for 3 days in his cool flat, filled with books and art.

The very first thing I saw when we got out in A's neighbourhood was a Porsche. The neighbourhood is not far away from the city center, but nothing fancy, at least not by "our" standards. One of my favourite games during the short stay in Cairo was learning Arab numbers and letters. I actually got most of them right by the end of the 1st day!

Driving in Cairo, how nostalgic! There's a reason they say "drive like Egyptian". It means no rules, all honks and pray for the best. I loved it! It is very loud and jammed, granted, but a lot of fun. Well, for 3 days it was, can't imagine having to go through it every day (and I did, for 3 months in Mumbai, although it still was different kind of traffic). At first I couldn't understand how no one even cares about the lanes or traffic lights (Egyptians don't even seem to ackowledge the existance of such), then why everybody's honking all the time (apparently they have different honks to convey different things, such as 'thanks', 'whacchya doing moroan' or 'funk you!') and finally how people cross highways without any lights or traffic signs. The first time I saw a man running on a high way in the opposite direction than all the cars, I stopped trying to understand anything and just enjoyed the ride.
I guess with the above in mind, it's no wonder cars in Cairo are in a very poor state in general, many of them bumped in various places, without some elements we'd considered needed in our cars, and way too many. The pollution, as might be expected, is unbearable. And as most of the cars are quite old and without aircon, you end up breathing in a lot of it while cruising the roads (being stuck in traffic jam, that is).

Some stills of the city itself:

I remeber hearing something about the owners not putting windows in, as they'd have to pay a tax from a finished building. The other thing I heard was that people started building a lot and simply didn't have cash to finish things off. Either way, the above is a quite common sight.

I wouldn't call Cairo a pretty city, by no means. But it does have its charm and some great spots (such as beautiful parks, mosques etc.). Not surprisingly, it has a totally different feel than European cities, it was also the first of such highly populated places I've been to - the Egyptian capital district is home to almost half of Poland's population.

We have spent one evening walking through the various markets and stalls, you can buy literally anything and everything here.

Do you remember how surprised I was people would be walking on the roads, between the cars and in the opposite direction at that?
I stopped being surprised and started doing the same thing once I wanted to walk one of the main streets in Cairo by night. The amount of people on the pavement and constant bumping into a fellow pedestrian quite quickly converted me into a huge fan of the roads. And just like that, bumping into people stopped. True enough that if I bumped into a car instead, it might have been the last bump I'd ever have with anything in my life. However, as the road was jammed, I wasn't much afraid of getting run over. The cars would have to be able to speed more than 5 mph for that.

One of the things I wanted to do is go to the cinema. Not because I missed my Cinema City or something, but because I wanted to see how people act at the movies. Might seem strange, but having heard so much about the movie viewing culture in India and how crazy and loud people go at the cinema, I was eager to see how things went down in Egypt. Thus, we choose a rather small local cinema and went to see a movie Ehab wanted to watch.
The first thing I loved was buying the ticket - the cinema employee at the counter had a drawn map of seats (the kind we have on the screen when we want to choose our seats back home) and was crossing out those already taken. So cute!

As you can see, I did kinda stand out, so for a moment there people were more excited about my being there than I was about the whole experience. It was rather quiet during the screening, the only difference with the Europeans being the fact that they took calls. The movie must have been about 2 hours long and I had 3 or 4 neighbours talk to their friends/families on the phone. Nobody made any remarks, nobody seemed angry that they were disturbing them watching a movie. We went to see a comedy with one of the biggest belly dance starts in it. There was quite a lot of singing and dancing, and it was all very slapstick-comedy-like, which allowed me to pretty much follow everything without knowing one word of Arabic. I did understand one though, 'telephone'.

Two things that caught my attention: a lot of sexual jokes and sexuality in general, while none of that is to be had in real life. From what I've been told, people don't date, let alone show any kind of affection to each other in front of others (one of the reasons foreign girls are in such a big demand.. and seeing how many of us work hard for the 'easy' reputation we have there, not that much of a surprise to see how men look at us). Second of all, the actors looked real. What I mean is, they were fat, short and not necessarily the prettiest of 'em all - your typical Joe or Kate. I guess there was some glamour and there definitely was a lot of plastic, but very different to what we see in American movies. On the other hand, there are different aesthetics and beauty canons in Africa, Egypt being not that much of an exception, and having a bit more than skin and bones is not considered a crime.

Loved how out of place that looked there.

Whenever people ask me if a place is dirty or poor, it takes me a while to answer. Actually, I usually immediately answer 'no' and then when I think of it, I have to rephrase my answer. Same thing here. When I see those picture now, I think how poor it looks. However, when in the context of Cairo's reality that I had a chance to have a glimpse at, it didn't seem so much so.

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