Zamalek No More

Walking out my door there are people everywhere. They’re buying shoes, eating kosheri and rice pudding with coconut. They’re buying handful sized portions of nuts for a pound and talking loudly in Arabic.

The street is filled with cars all beeping as they fight to get past and avoid hitting the plethora of bodies moving every which way.

My new roommate, AJ, is taking me for an introductory walk around neighborhood, Mounira. It’s a short walk from Tahrir Square–the center from downtown and on the border of one of Cairo’s poorest quarters.

There’s a market across the street. Food and home-stuff seems to be the loose theme of the place.

We make our way through stand after stand of fruits and vegetables, kitchen supplies, stands of flip flops and unidentifiable parts of bloody cows.

The prices are ridiculously low–4 guineas for a kilo of grapes or bananas, 1 or 2 for that much cucumbers.

AJ points out a stand only selling clothespin–probably a lucrative business since no one in Cairo seems to bother with dryers.

AJ knows boys in the streets, cafe owners and a guy who happens to drive by.

I stand out around here, he answers my question. You’ll know them soon too.

He has a “nut man” we visit and I buy the same seed the girl gave me at the soccer game weeks ago. I learn they’re called lips.

The juice man isn’t in. Next time.

I meet the Bowab-the guy who sits downstairs monitoring the building. AJ says he’s usually hard on new people the first couple weeks but he chills out, especially if you slip him 5 pounds ($1).

When I go out later alone he jabbers away in a lot of Arabic, of which I only get the gist.

I venture out to buy sheets for my bed and some fruit for the morning.

No one speaks English around here so I have fun trying to be understood.

If find some sheets in the market which are slightly less obnoxious than the rest. I decide to buy some fruit first.

When I come back the store with the ones I like is closed so I settle for some next store.

I’m not really sure what I’m buying but the man tells me there are two sheets, pillow cases and it’s big. It costs less than $6 American.

He asks me if I’m Italian and I tell him I’m American.

How many Americans do you know, I ask? He tells me 5,000. I’m not sure if he doesn’t understand, he’s joking or just trying to convey a lot, which I find hard to believe.

I walk home past the Sayeeda Zeinab Mosque where lights are flashing and many are loitering.

10:30 pm on my street

10:30 pm on my street

Earlier AJ pointed out our 12th floor window.

You moved in at a difficult time.

See those red blankets? That’s the beginning.

Over the next couple weeks supposedly up to 1 million people will converge in our cozy neighborhood for a Moulid of Sayeeda Zeinab, Prophet Muhamed’s granddaughter. Moulid means birthday and apparently Sayeeda’s is quite a popular one.

Where will they all stay? I asked.

The street alleys, etc AJ said.

Sufi dancing, great food and markets and tourists, who for once are Egyptians from other regions, not me?

I just went to take a picture of the sight from the living room window.

Another surprise greeted me.


First I noticed a bright one straight in front. I stuck my head out and looked up.

By standards elsewhere, they might not impress, but here is not those places.

I haven’t seen stars since Syria.

View from our living room

View from our living room