The Real World: Cairo

Cairo is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. There are just a few facts of life here that are very different from what I am used to.

1. Real time is not Cairo time. When someone says, “Let’s meet at 10am,” he really means “Let’s meet at 11 or later.” In Cairo, time is more subjective than it is in the US. When you ask for the time, you are more likely to receive different answers from different people.

2. Ishaal. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it goes a little something like: “When your stomach starts a rollin’ and you’re cleaning out your colon…” So far, I’ve been the lucky person in our group who has not yet had the problem. There’s no telling what will be the source of the problem either. It could be the food you bought on the street, or the food you ate at a nice restaurant, or even the food that you washed and cleaned yourself! Most of the people I’ve seen who get this little problem are only incapacitated for a few hours. However, one of our group members was incapacitated for a day, and another had it so badly that she had to go to the hospital. At this point, I don’t know if Cipro is even that wonderful. Only the two people have taken it. The rest have simply used Immodium.

3. Drivers are insane. If you’ve ever seen Nascar, you have a point of reference as to how fast some of these people drive. People speed and wind through the crowded streets with no regard for other cars and pedestrians. Crossing the road as a pedestrian is like playing frogger …except you don’t get 3 lives. Also, the street signs, traffic signals, traffic lanes, etc. are irrelevant. Cars only stop when an armed policeman blows his whistle and walks in the middle of the street.

4. There are a lot of people and few meaningful jobs. I am not saying that people are worthless, but instead that there are so many people who need jobs and so few jobs that need people. Thus, jobs are created to give people something to do. One clear example is the police force. There are policemen on nearly every street corner. Some of this high police presence may be linked to the fact that Egypt is not a democracy as we in the US know democracy. But most of it is simply a way for the government to give people jobs. The government waters down what is required of each person in his post, and so workers end up sitting and standing around. Also, this has led to an enormous government bureaucracy. If you’ve seen the movie Irhab Wal Kabab (Terrorism and Kabobs), you’ll know what I mean. (I HIGHLY recommend watching the movie if you haven’t already. It’s a hilarious comedy/satire of the Egyptian government. It even has English subtitles!)

5. Cairo is most beautiful at night. During the day, it is easy to point out Cairo’s shortcomings. But at night, you can’t see the dirt, it’s not too hot, and all of the lights are lit up. The best view of the city is, by far, from a felucca boat on the Nile. For just a few pounds, you can have someone take you and your friends drifting (or sailing, depending on the winds) around the Nile. From this vantage point at dusk, you can see the tall buildings, and you are removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can simply relax and see why so many people flock to Cairo and why so many people stay.