I just finished drinking my fifth cup of fresh made mango juice here in Cairo, Egypt 🇪🇬. Ever since the founders of Helm introduced me to the first cup, I cannot stop drinking it. The shawarma here is crispy and delicious 😋 as well.
I have loved getting to know Cairo, but it sure takes a lot of energy to live in this city. The streets are chaotic with every man fending for themselves. People are risking their lives every second gaging the distance of a car and how long it takes to dash out to the other side. Traffic lights 🚦 and pedestrian 🚶♀️ crosswalks are either nonexistent or might as well be nonexistent. Cairo seems to thrive on close-calls and honking. There won’t be a minute that goes by without you hearing somebody honking. When I was in a cab 🚕 a few days ago, there was non-stop honking for about three minutes. It was surreal. Traffic moves at a snails 🐌 pace during rush hour, but everybody still honks like there’s no tomorrow. If there’s no cars honking, then Cairo wouldn’t be Cairo.
I rode on the metro line here on the first day I arrived into the city. I rode from Sadat metro to El Maadi metro 🚇 station. It was a very inaccessible and very interesting ride. I don’t know if all the metro stations are that way, but there were no elevators, no ramps, no turnstiles wide enough that would fit a wheelchair, and there was a big step going into the train. It was interesting because I did not see a single foreigner in the train and I felt like I went back in time to the 1950s. Everyone was gawking at me and one person even asked to take a picture with me. The train was old and the people were dressed in tattered clothing. Some people were holding the tiny flip phones that I hadn’t seen since the early 2000s. It was an eye-opening experience, but one too exhausting to repeat.
The public buses are not any better. The bus driver almost didn’t let me inside the bus 🚌, but I read his refusal on his face and insisted. In addition to this hurdle, there are several steps going into the bus and then, once you are inside, your wheelchair does not fit in the aisles. There are definitely no space designated to wheelchair users or people who are blind. Although, I have seen a couple of blind locals meandering around. I don’t know how they navigate around in this loud and fast paced city. It is an admirable endeavor for sure.
I’ve mostly commuted around in this city by cabs. The Egyptian pound is very weak compared to the dollar so I haven’t minded being ripped off here, but with that said, I have been ripped off big time by local standards. I did not realize this until yesterday when a nice local informed me of it, but there is a meter inside every cab that you can request to be turned on once they start driving. Once they do that, the fare is really cheap, too cheap for my liking. There is a lot of poverty here. There is a desperateness to these people that just makes my heart ache. Nobody should have to endure this kind of poverty. Allow me to go on a tangent and share a vivid example from a couple of days ago. I bought three little shawarma the other day because I wanted to try one of each type. I was eating one of them right outside Felfela, the restaurant where I bought them, and people watching when I saw a woman with two seven or eight years old boys. There was some dirt on the women’s niqab that made me think she was a beggar. When the boys ran off, I offered the woman one of my shawarma. She took it with a smile. When the boys came back, they saw the woman’s shawarma. Perhaps the woman pointed towards my direction, but suddenly one of the boys ran towards me and I gave him the other shawarma. When I turned around to look again, they had all disappeared from my sight.
You see these scenes all the time. Sometimes they are even more intense. I’ve had little boys run 🏃🏿 after me and that scares me. The locals usually intervene in that case and I am spared from a mob of little boys looking desperately at me, like I was their only thread to life itself. Anyways, this is all to say, if it doesn’t hurt you to pay a little more, then pay a little more. Life is not easy here. Everyone is scraping by just to fill their stomachs. But if you find that they are ripping you off too much, have them turn on their meter and perhaps provide them tip if you find the total to be too low for their efforts, because it most likely will be too low for tourists. Or you can always take Uber. My taxi fair yesterday was a little over 60 Egyptian pound but I gave him 100 Egyptian pound because 1) the guy agreed to turn on his meter when others refused, and 2) his clothes was so tattered and his car so smashed up, it was as if he just left a car crash site. His front window had so many cracks on it and the left side of his car looked like somebody rammed into him. Why I got into that car to begin with is beyond me. The guy even stopped to restart his car at one point. 😬 We were in the middle of a road, and I was thinking, oh no 🤦🏻♀️. What am I going to do inside a dead car? Luckily it started and I got out safely. When I gave the guy my 100 Egyptian pound, he had the silliest grin on his face. His sheepish smile made it all worth it. I hope his life was not as hard as his clothes and car showed.
Today is my last day in this city so I will write more later. There is so much I can say about this dusty, loud, busy, and resilient city, but let me be in it for a few more hours before I get on my flight. Salam Alaikum (peace be with you in Arabic). 🙏🏻