This is Cairo

February, 2018

We sat around the ornate marble dinner table, the two candelabras shoved to one side, unlit. The chandelier sparkled while, incongruously, across the room purple sheets draped the Bedouin style sitting area. We were enjoying pesto and pasta and laughing when I abruptly realized that not one person in the room was from the same country. I am from the United States. Jessica is Australian. Sandro is Italian. Yu is from China. And Jordi is Canadian.


It is odd, sometimes, to feel so at home in a place that is so unlike home. I feel eerily comfortable in spite of the fact that Cairo is most definitely not a comfortable place to live.


The constant honking is my least favorite part of Cairo. I truly am bothered by taxi drivers honking at me to let me know they are there. I can see them. And I’m walking because I want to. In Cairo, no one really walks except foreigners and street people. So the taxi drivers are SURE that I’m interested in a ride. I can feel myself caving to this societal pressure. Yesterday I went to my usual yoga studio and for the first time, I took a cab. Typically I walk the 20 minutes because it is a good warm-up, it’s not that far, and walking is something I enjoy.


The last time I walked to this studio a man coming toward me placed a flower in my hand. An unexpected gift that stopped me in my tracks. We have so many warnings about being careful about Egyptian men that I forgot that they are just people. I am not a young woman and he did not stop to hustle me. He just gave me a flower. I have not forgotten this.


But I still choose to take a cab. When I get out, and head to the large pink door that is the entrance to the villa that houses the yoga center, a man opens the door for me. That is his job. To stand at the entrance and open the pink door that separates the street from the oasis within.


At dinner, I met Yu for the first time. She is Chinese but speaks fluent Arabic, English, and of course Mandarin. She went to university in Holland. Smart and funny, I liked her immediately. I want to stay in touch. But my expat world means that this is unlikely without effort. People move on and you lose touch.


This is Cairo. A city of 20 million. Dusty and loud, with all kinds of people. I don’t recall any more what I used to think about Egypt before I knew anything about it.