Cairo, Egypt. Blog Three.

We set off to explore another part of Cairo. This is always fun, except for crossing the roads, which I was never comfortable with. Basically, central Cairo has many four-lane roads, with a variety of cars and bikes and lorries constantly filling. Everyone honks almost continually (one driver told us that brakes in Cairo are optional, but a horn is essential!) It is the music of Cairo. Traffic ignores lights (unless there is either a camera or a policeman) and switches lanes, and sometimes direction, at random. Crossing the road is an artform, like a dance, and the man who shouted to us that we should shut our eyes and just wander across was not far wrong. You have to wander out, into a space, and allow the traffic to flow around you. I spent hours on our balcony watching the busy junction below, where traffic whizzed and stray dogs and elderly ladies and striding men, all wandered across the road. No one ever seemed to be hit, no one seemed to be angry, it was expected that the traffic would never stop but nor would it hit you. As I said, I never grew comfortable with this, but we did get better at it.

View from our room.

We walked up river (which is South) to University Bridge. The bridge was covered in sand (we later learnt that sand from the desert blows in, but also any road repairs sometimes leave sand, so I don’t know which had caused it). Men were setting up plastic chairs, ready for an evening of sipping tea from the stalls and watching the sunset over the river.

We walked to Al Mahial Palace (Prince Mohammad Ali Palace). We paid £5 entrance, even though it was closing in half an hour and lots of it had shut for weddings (they did tell us this, but did not lower the price). There was a mosque, and the Imran showed me round. I left my shoes with Husband, and went into a large public space, with beautiful tiles on the walls, and an indent to show which direction is Mecca. There were rugs on the floor (though not in the corner where the women pray. Women are definitely lower status here – more on that in a later blog).

We wandered round the gardens. There were several wedding parties having photographs taken. All the women were very covered, no hair showing (except for the brides, in their flouncy silver-white dresses). The Islamic style of covering heads seemed threatening until I got used to it. But when I smiled at people, they smiled back, and the young bridesmaids were posing and giggling just like they would in England. I felt an unspoken bond with the women here, as if they know that the male-dominance thing is there, but they have great unity as women. Even a woman wearing full-burkha can smile with her eyes, and I found them friendly and welcoming. If you come, I recommend wearing a scarf rather than a hat – you will be less obvious, it feels polite, and it’s nice to protect your hair from the sun and pollution. It’s too windy for a hat anyway.

Bridesmaids from one of the bridal parties.

We went back to the hotel, crossing the bridge and walking along the Nile (not that we could see it as there are lots of clubs along the water’s edge). After thousands of years, the River Nile remains the focus here. A satellite map shows the life that clings to the water’s edge, and when we went further from the centre of Cairo, we were never far from the river. Anything a distance from the Nile is just desert, and it’s hard to live in a desert.

I like Cairo. I like the friendly people, the way everyone smiles at strangers. The tipping and the roads are hard to learn, but everything else I like. It feels very safe here, which is unusual for a culture that is so very different to England. I’ll tell you more in my next post – we went to see the pyramids up close. Wow!

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a safe day.
Love, Anne x

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