Can you believe it, I’m in Cairo, a city like no other, or at least like no other city I’ve ever seen. It’s big, densely packed, polluted, bussling, crazy. This is a place of many contrasts, ugliness & beauty, sacred and profane, nature and pollution, noise and stillness.
In a period of 3 months I have met some of the most sincere people I have known, some of the funiest people, some of the loudest people. It’s difficult to give a summary of this place. One of the most outstanding features is the driving. This I was told by many people before my arrival and I read many posts online warning potential visitors to take care of the traffic.
Cairenes have a, how shall I put it, organic manner of driving. The traffic is similar to a stampede in places. At first I could not make any sense of why they drive the way they do, stopping whenever and wherever they like, hooting(honking) every few seconds, making all kinds of “illegal” (if there is such a thing in Cairo) turns and movements, driving the wrong way up a one way street. I have been in taxi who would drive the wrong way up a busy main street facing oncoming traffic just take take a quick shortcut.
A few days ago I had my first experience with somewhat of a traffic accident when a small bus swiped the front of the cab I was driving in. It all seemed quite natural to the driver of both bus and taxi who just made sure the damage was not too bad then continued on their way.
I have come to realize, were Cairenes to follow strict traffic rules it might result in continuous traffic jams. It’s like ants in a huge colony all scurrying in “similar” directions, weaving through the many streams. If you can’t play dodge while driving then Cairo might not be a place you decide to drive.
Next comes the buildings. Cairo is very densely packed a healthy, and sometimes not so healthy mixture of ancient and newly built structures all occupying the same streets. It is not uncommon to see newly built blocks standing next to almost ancient looking muddy structures. From the street level the visitor is hidden from this intricate network of structures by when venturing to some of the lookout points one gets a good idea of just how densely packed this place is. Here’s a view of Cairo from the Muhammad Ali Citadel.
One of the scary things about the some of the apartment blocks I’ve seen is that people just take the liberty of extending their top floors upwards. It’s a kind of cut and paste method, add a floor or two with my own materials, remove this wall, create a window on that side. I’ve seen some of the shells of newly developing buildings with concrete being set using stacks of planks to set the floors and i must say it doesn’t look very safe at all, but then again what do i know about building. The city is growing rapidly and also extending outward into the desert with new satelite cities being estalished just outside of the main city.
I was amazed when I first started exploring the area around my first apartment at how much greenery there is here. I had this idea in my head that everything would be sand-coloured like some other middle-eastern cities I have visited but I was very pleasantly surprised to find many parks and gardens some very beautifully maintained. Some places in Heliopolis where I stay are so much greener than some of the suburbs I am used to back home in Cape Town, South Africa.
Last weekend my family and I visited Azhar Park with some friends we’ve made. I was amazed to find a place like this in Cairo, so beautifully designed and well kept and it was only 5LE(egyptian pounds) per adult. From the hill in the centre of the park you have a 360 view of the whole city with only the citadel towering about you from one direction.