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