Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mysteries of Cairo

Ok, there are probably many more pressing mysteries of the ages to be solved in Egypt, but these three stick out notably.

1. Why do residents of my apartment complex refuse to shut the front door? Not gonna do it. Nope. Won't take the extra 5 seconds to close a perfectly good glass door.

The problem with the 24X7 open door policy is twofold:

First, it gives the army of neighborhood stray cats easy access to the plastic bags of garbage that residents put out each night. I wouldn't mind the unsealed plastic and paper bags if we could just keep the cats from tearing them apart. And the resulting garbage strewn about also encourages the ants and other bugs to join in the fun.

actual unretouched photo
Second, it lets the cold air into the building...and craftsmanship here being what it is, it's not exactly built to air-tight tolerances. In fact, I can feel the cold air coming in through my flat's own front door on the 2nd floor.

I even made up a nice, polite sign in Arabic--hand lettered by an Egyptian colleague--asking people to close the door.

It was torn down. Twice.

I simply cannot think of a good reason not to shut the door. The push bar makes it easy for both adults and children to open from outside and it is just as easy to close.

Someone even installed a hook and latch system to keep the door from closing inadvertently. I can report that the hook and latch system -- both of them in fact -- are now missing.

2. I've mentioned this before but it bears further investigation: What's with all the drivers driving around with headlights off at night? I've heard several theories, each one more half-baked than the last, which brings the recipe down to about 1/16th-baked I guess.

If anyone has a credible explanation, I'm ready to listen.

3. And what's up with the mania for tile floors in grocery stores and all-wheels-turning-at-once carts? It's like shopping on roller skates. Half the time you're simply pushing the cart sideways since there's no way to push it straight on.

Cultural note: Egyptian shoppers manage their shopping carts in the hypermarkets like Spinneys and Carrefour pretty much like they manage their cars. You might say the markets recapitulate the streets. That is, carts are directed seemingly willy nilly...and feel free to just stop in the middle of the aisle with your cart at whatever haphazard angle it happens be at, then have a chat or absorb yourself in poking around the shelves or arranging your items.

I'm surprised the markets haven't equipped the carts with horns.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Faces of Tahrir

Cairo, Tahrir Square
November 23, 2011

 Faces, hands, exhortations, sounds, medical



All photos copyright 2011 James Veihdeffer

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Candids from Cairo

female college student playing tennis

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride into downtown Cairo

Local amateur artist, in the El Rehab souk -- drawing from memory
Alley artisan - Khan el Khalili

Khan el Khalili cats

Ma'adi (a district in Cairo) mosque
October 6 exuberance-Tahrir

 Expat exuberance

Pyramids faintly in the distance, from Ma'adi rooftop

Cairo at night from felluca on the Nile 

Setting sun lights a streetlamp

all photos copyright 2011 James Veihdeffer

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Emblematic Egypt

Veeds of Arabia is now in Cairo (and we promise that's the last time he'll refer to himself in the 3rd person).

My Riyadh followers may remember that I started posting as soon as I hit the ground in order to capture first impressions before things started becoming ordinary and expected.

In Cairo I decided to sit on it for a few weeks first to discern what I'm calling the emblematic elements that give the city its particular character. I'm zipping right past the pyramid schemes, camel jockeys and other tourist attractions because, well, because I haven't seen any of them yet. I've actually been holed up in New Cairo across from a very pleasant souk and a couple small malls.

And here's what I've seen that seems to be emblematically Egyptian:

1. Shisha (sometimes spelled sheesha) -- Sure, they have shisha in Jeddah and Beirut and everywhere else in the Middle East, but nowhere have I seen men and women of all ages so pre-occupied with it. Egyptians seems to be as obsessed with flavored smoke as Saudis are with covering up their womenfolk.

2. Delivery motorcycles -- It seems everything in Cairo is deliverable, from McDonalds hamburgers to Obelisk wine. And it tends to get delivered by a massive corps of men zooming around on motorbikes.

Or...getting ready to zoom around on a motorbike
3. Backgammon -- You can pretty much count on seeing a backgammon game at any given street corner cafe. I was lost one day in the Shobra area and immediately started looking for the old gents playing backgammon. Sure enough they helped me find an Internet cafe, but not before inviting me to sit and drink some tea with them.

4. Bumpy streets -- It's almost as though they've gone out of their way to add bumps, ditches and speed bumps to every roadway. And it's not like Cairo is built on a mountainside a fault line or has Pennsylvania Turnpike cracks and potholes.

5. Cars without headlights at night -- I've heard various explanations ranging from "saving battery life" to "headlights disconnected"; either way, this no-headlights stuff is scarier than the vehicles weaving around in traffic. At least you have a sporting chance with a vehicle you can see.

Note: all photos on this page are copyright James Veihdeffer 2011