I’m always searching for new ways to describe Cairo to family and friends who have never been here.
Before I left, I had a fun night out with two of my closest friends Sarah Gordon and Chrissy Speich. Walking down the streets of Boston they were singing Taylor Swift songs.
I was out of the loop and didn’t know the words, so before I left, I downloaded a couple.
“The Way I Loved You,” goes like this:
“He is sensible and so incredible and all my single friends are jealous
He says everything I need to hear and it’s like I couldn’t ask for anything better
He opens up my door and I get into his car and he says you look beautiful tonight
And I feel perfectly fine
I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain
And it’s 2 am and I’m cursing your name.
So in love that you act insane
And that’s the way I loved you
Breaking down and coming undone
It’s a roller coaster counter-rush
Never knew I could feel so much
And that’s the way I loved you.
OK. Thanks for reading through that. You either secretly (or openly) love it or you’re really wondering where I’m going….
Cairo is infuriating, crowded, hot and filthy.
Males constantly harass me in the streets and sometimes I get sick from the food.
People try to overcharge me because I’m female and foreign.
Sometimes I end up in the wrong place because I can’t communicate with cab drivers, read building names, or maps in Arabic.
Sometimes I really want delicious grilled chicken with onions and peppers and the cook, smiling, gives me fried chicken fingers and fries. “American, yes?”
Other than the teas, things aren’t sugar-coated here. Bathrooms usually don’t have toilet paper and the tastiest restaurants might be in the dingiest allies.
The perfect flat might be in a dilapidated building with an elevator which only goes up, not down.
Going to the beautiful cave church requires a trip through a village of horrid smelling garbage.
Taylor sings on about respecting space and talking politely but concludes–
“And my hearts not breaking because I’m not feeling anything at all.”
The range of emotions and types of experiences in Cairo is boundless. Feeling nothing at all, being bored, is virtually impossible.
People who barely knew me have welcomed me into their lives and homes.
I’ve met so many eager to talk and share ideas. They want to talk about politics,
religion, culture, gender and freedom. They read the news and feel invested in unfolding events.
I’ve found a library downtown with free internet and seen new parts of the city searching for flats.
Exploring the last few days I’ll be in an upper-class area with trees and guards and turn the bend to behold crowded streets decked with juice stands, koshari, and all sorts of people interacting.
I’ve met Americans, French, Palestinians and Britons who navigate life here as comfortably as Egyptians.
I have relied on myself and put more trust in others–sometimes strangers–than I thought I was capable of granting.
I have been scared, alone and overwhelmed. I’ve been ecstatic when I’ve gotten things right.
Loving and appreciating Cairo–just living here is not always easy. Every-day-things–making a copy of my resume, finding a new street– can feel like an epic odyssey.
Yet at the end of the day, if I’m dirty from walking outside, physically and mentally exhausted; if I’ve learned a new word or made a new friend–it’s a day well spent.
To finish on a note—
“….You were wild and crazy, intoxicating
And that’s the way I loved you…..”
Football, aka American soccer, is the primary sport of interest in Cairo, and really most of the world beyond the United States. Yesterday the majority of our group, 23 students and Carlene, arrived at Cairo soccer stadium escorted by multiple security officers to watch Egypt play Angola.
We walked into the stadium, security forces lining the way on either side, hustled up a winding staircase and, behold–a brilliantly green field brightly lit brightly stretched before us.
If you’ve ever attended a sport event with me, you know I go for the conversation and atmosphere, not the plays. In this case, I got what I was looking for.
When we were warned we would draw attention at the game I expected mobs rushing toward us or boys whistling and staring. With our trusty van drivers (one of whom brought his adorable daughter) and security guards at our sides we got nothing more than friendly smiles, waves and curious glances as we took our seats.
Part-way through the game, adorned with large red-flags (James trumped us all and bought the humongous size), team hats (Rachel and Asha) and face-paint (John) the cameras started zoning in from all angles.
Most obvious, the stadium camera turned its large lens toward us soon after the game was underway. Abdu and our hotel staff were among those who enjoyed our faces on their TV screens.
A few minutes later my attention was drawn to a middle-aged man behind me. He had out his camera phone (yes, these are just as popular here as in the United States) and was video-taping my friends and I as we laughed our way through the game. I pointed the taping out to Rachel and Asha sitting next to me. They turned and looked to–though I’m pretty sure our looks were those of annoyance,, the man only smiled– unabashedly continuing his filming.
“Lematha?” (Why?) I asked pointing at him.
“Good luck,” he said.
His daughter sitting next to him smiled shyly before slipping between the seats and plopping down next to me.
One of the benefits of sitting on the end?
She told me her name was Abar and she was 8-years-old. She didn’t speak English so my limited Arabic and gestures defined our interaction. She shared salty seeds ( Like pumpkin, but I haven’t seen those here) with me (it’s impolite to refuse drinks and food) I showed her pictures I have of my brother Grayson and sister Cady and she operated my camera like a pro, zooming in and out to take pictures of the soccer players, my friends and I and her brother.
Her Dad, who spoke no more English than she did, intermittently whipped out his camera-phone in an apparent attempt to seal his “good-luck.”
I searched in my bag for some token to give her but didn’t have anything. I considered giving her U.S. coins but was afraid she or her family might take that the wrong way (any thoughts?) She didn’t want the gum I offered.
As the game came to a close (Did you even see any of the goals!?! My friends, considerably more into the game teased me) I gave Abar (pronounced Abiir) my notepad and asked her to write her name. Her dad took it and scrawled in perfect English Abar Emnad along with their phone number the words “Good Luck,” and E Youat–possibly a family name or his?
How do you know that? I asked surprised. He didn’t have the words to explain. A helpful guy a few seats a way chimed in to tell me he learned at school. After trying to have a conversation in English and Arabic with this second man–younger and dressed in a Western-style business suite, I discovered school was one the few English words he knew.
When we left the father handed me yet another slip of paper with his name and number. Was a middle-aged man lusting after me in front of his teenage son and daughter? I’d prefer to think he was just offering friendship in a overcrowded metropolis of 18 million plus. (No one worry, I’ll never call).
Back in our hotel room a few hours later, Asha and I fell asleep composing Arabic sentences out-loud in our beds. Next time insha‘allah (God willing –used by everyone in every context here) I’ll be able to ask a few more questions.