Sunday, April 02, 2006

Big Egypt, Little Trouble

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo is a huge city full of noise, dirt, and pollution, but I like it. It feels safe and friendly. Violent theft is apparently unheard of in Egypt (outside of the odd terrorist machine-gunning of a bus full of tourists). This was a very welcome change after Brazil and South Africa. It felt good to walk around with my passport and a camera without a second thought. The worst thing that might befall a tourist is to be overcharged in a market or taxi or be suckered into buying overpriced papyrus art. Getting knifed for your wallet just isn't in the cards.

Feeling safe makes it a lot easier to bear the enthusiastic friendliness of the people. Everyone that can speak a little bit of English wants to know where you are from. It is not uncommon for people on the street to say "Welcome To Egypt!" as you walk by. It can get a bit tiresome, but I definitely prefer constantly returning greetings to constantly looking over my shoulder.

The newer part of town is full of Western style buildings and modern shops that stay open late into the evening. The streets do not seem to really come alive until after dark when shoppers clogged the sidewalks and stores and all the sidewalk cafes are full of tea-drinking, sheesha-smoking men. The region around the Nile is flanked by high-rise hotels and garish floating clubs. The river itself is plied by neon-decorated boat taxis that provide a pleasant (if incongruous) distraction for the eye.

We visited the older part of the city only during the day. The market area was a narrow warren of pedestrian-only streets dedicated to intense commerce. The buildings are low-rise, stone, and showing their age. From a high vantage, we could really appreciate the density of people and buildings. Workshops and stores take up every available space that is not occupied by one of the hundreds of ornate mosques. Cairo has even more minarets than Charleston has steeples.

I have only two complaints about Cairo. First, the air is terrible. Old cars and smoke-belching buses clog the roads at all hours. Second, there is no where to escape the smog. Parks and green space are in very short supply. It is difficult sometimes to find a tree at all. These drawbacks are not so severe as to seriously hamper my opinion of what proved to be a favorably memorable introduction to the Arab world.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody steals in Egypt because you get your hands cut off if you get caught.

4/12/2006 5:21 PM gmt

Blogger jason said...

Yes, yes. They also eat chilled monkey brains and baby snakes. Sick bastards.

4/15/2006 10:58 AM gmt


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