Stories from Afar & Up Close

Bas kidda*

Oh, Cairo.

People warned me about you. They said you are crazy - dirty, noisy, and overwhelming. That you are dangerous and crowded. That I wouldn’t be able to walk for 5 minutes without being verbally harassed and touched and bothered. That your polluted air makes it impossible to breathe.

Balcony in an alley in Downtown Cairo.

Maybe they are right, Cairo. After all, I’ve only been here for two weeks and a bit, so I don’t know you that well yet. And yes, you are loud and busy and dusty, so dusty I want to take a huge bucket and hose down the tree in front of the house (and while I’m at it, hose down the balcony as well. And the rest of the house.) Your air is brown, at times, and your drivers do like honking. And yes, sometimes I want to slap the next guy in the face before he even attempts to talk to me, because I don’t want to wonder if what he is going to say is yet another nasty proposal.

But you know what?

I like you. I really, really like you.

I like your wide avenues that create space in and between the neighborhoods. Your have trees everywhere, and parks, and boats that go up and down your river. Your people accuse each other of being liars, but I keep meeting people who are friendly and helpful and who follow up on their word. And they are quick to laugh and almost always return my smile. You have the easiest metro-system in the world, and it is so fast and reliable and cheap I still have trouble believing it. And you’re big, Cairo, so incredibly large – it makes you just the right mix of life and anonymity, with the people in my street knowing exactly what I’m up to but no one outside of that caring one single bit, all 18 million of them living their own life in their own way. And you function – your telephone system functions, your internet, your water supply, your electricity… maybe it offends you, umm el-dunya,** that I doubted any of that, but remember that I've come from Beirut, the shiniest city in the Middle East, where none of that works.

I also like your style. You pull off a combination of old-time European architecture with bustling alleys in a way that very few can. No one is tearing down your beautiful old buildings and replacing them with expensive luxury crap. Your stray cats want attention more than they want food, and your people give it to them. And your language, Cairo, your language… it is so soft and round and – dare I say it? – cute, I could listen the kida kida kida’s and ah’s that almost sound like oh the whole day.

So yes, Cairo, I like you a lot. Thank you for taking me in and making me feel right at home.

Sunset at Qasr el Nil - bridge.

* Kida can mean many things, but in this sentence it means 'just (like) this'.

**Cairo’s nickname, meaning Mother of the World.