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Thursday, October 20, 2011

cairo day 1. 16/10.


Am in Egypt for 6 weeks. Courtesy of AIESEC I found an internship in Cairo an opportunity I had to take.

The first thing I notice about Cairo is how huge it is. Am picked up at the airport at 3 am and driven to my accommodation site, there's no traffic at all considering the time and I get to see Cairo as it was meant to be seen{I’m assuming noone wants streets to be driven in while people are angry at the traffic.} There are flyovers everywhere, endless ways to get to your destination it's like seeing a potential future of Nairobi which is really gratifying in addition this is Egypt so for every glimpse into modernity and what humans do now there’s a window into the rich cultural and historical enigma that it is. “there to your left is the citadel. We're passing some of the oldest mosques in Africa right now.” The whole time am being blown away by the sheer beauty of the architecture.  I have a friend who put it like this once, men love curves, anything with curves, the curvier the woman, the curvier the car, the curvier the ball the more the men who want to get their hands on it. But back home all the buildings are angular and straight. They are angry, they want to take over the space that the air now occupies, towards this end they thrust into it. They plunge themselves like a knife into the warm folds of the air, renting it and tearing it, giving two options you or us. Here the architecture is curved, it accommodates the air, it tells it we can live together here, find a way around my curves because there is and I’ll find a way to let you pass. We'll have balconies on every one of us, inviting you in, friends right?

After the longest car ride I have ever been in that passes through only urbania I get to the place I’ll be living. The guy who picked me up tells me the apartment is on the fifth floor. I look at my suitcase which while it was safely below the forty kg limit is still a problem to lug around, especially all that way, then he says a sentence that should be used more often in Kenya,”don't worry we have elevators.” and do they. Elevators like I have never seen before. Of course Otis made these elevators too however the elevators have a door. Not the sliding metal curtains that am used to but an actual door, you pull on it and it opens up for you, step into the elevator and press the button for the fifth. Then you are in the belly of the beast. In Kenya elevators are usually clinical and pristine, it makes you forget that you are actually inside a building, there's no promise that you'll leave but all you see is metal and so its OK Here there are doors on very floor, meaning between the floors the elevators open up into the wall. You can reach out with your hands and touch the wall but you wouldn't want to, its rugged and rough, hewn out of the building or so it seems. We stop on the fifth and push the door, otherwise you're going to sit there like a dunce.

My apartment is open and am introduced to one of my house mates, here's one of the best things about an aiesec internship you get a window into so many cultures at once. My two house-mates are Italian, one leaves in 2 days the other in 2 weeks at which point I’ll either have the house to myself or get gifted a few more cultural insights. It's a huge apartment by my standards. There's a kitchen to the left with a gas cooker, this is one of those places where the gas is delivered in pipes. I enter the sitting room area and its nearly 6 metres long and 2.5 wide. There are only two rooms{there should really be a way to convey sarcasm in text.} am going to be sleeping in the sitting room, the border of my room is marked by this couch a seven seater contraption that's that's actually two couches set up perpendicular to each other but with the aversion that they have to angles here there's a curvy cushion thing where they meet which makes it into one. Its stacked with all manner of cushions all purple and white.

Behind this couch there's a mattress on the floor and a window that takes up almost the whole wall. The sun lives in Egypt It wakes up happy to go to work and by the time it has to leave it has become red~eyed, a single globe that has cried itself out till that colour has infected the clouds around it. And you can tell it has worked its ass off. By sunset you can look right at sun and not get hurt. It has lost all its energy by now, there's no light hurting you but there's a beautiful sendoff. It is going  gentle into that dark night.  but there are no clouds around it, at least on my first day. Its not as hot as Nairobi was 2 weeks ago, its autumn now and am glad for that fact. But there are no clouds, the sun doesn't want to share Egypt with anyone else. However the sky isn't the blue I have come to expect from a cloudless sky, instead it has a hint of smoke is what it looks like to me. The further away from the sun you get the whiter it becomes. Mistical? Maybe. By the horizon the buildings are obscured completely by white air. Since my room is near a window every time I open my eyes at night I see a different looking sky. The moon is yellow for a while, then its white, but since there are no clouds I can see it all the time. I was told by someone that this is actually really cloudy by Egyptian standards it just doesn't seem that way to someone used to billowing feathers. Me being on the fifth floor I can see the sun chasing away the shadow that has been cast over the surrounding buildings by ours. An actual sphere of influence as the shadow moves farther and farther away forever concentric like everything else here.  The curtain of dark is drawn to reveal a city where everyone owns a satellite dish. One here, one there one everywhere. All the roofs are flat, and I quickly notice that they all look unfinished, well maybe not unfinished, but many of them have stones on them and rubble. There's iron sheets lying discarded on some of them as if they are there to pick up water, there's scaffolding for an extension that was started and then quit, a skeletal structure for the next floor that when no muscle was built over it quickly decayed and turned into the coral version of buildings.

The next day I wake up and foist myself on on of my flatmates, they both had things to do and were getting ready to leave when I gently hinted that I had nothing better to do with my time. She' has to go to the immigration office to take care of some visa issues. Now, I don't consider myself particularly ignorant, I have laboured under the assumption that I am culturally open, I know there are Muslim countries and that in those places Sunday is not customarily a holiday. Its something I know but I have never considered or paid particular attention to. Sunday has been a holiday all my life and as time goes on it becomes divorced from Christian traditions and seems to be worldwide phenomenon. The movies we  watch, the books we read, Sunday is always taken off. It got to a point I had forgotten Sunday is only a holiday because am from a Christian country. Here on Sunday the immigration office is open full swing. Inside it there's a guy who shines shoes and there's food being cooked and sold right there. There is semblance of order to the lines, but its evolutionarily so distant from actual order that it only conceptually makes sense.. its OK to smoke in here, in these crowded quarters where there are nearly forty counters with people cramped into line like lengths before each of them. A guy finishes his cigarette and puts it out right on the floor. He does that thing where you just throw it lit onto the floor and follow it simultaneously with a foot.

I like my guide she's funny though she doesn't talk to me in the metro[a subway system] it's an Arab country after all. She talks about how sure she is that the people around there think she's a prostitute, she's always with a different man, getting dropped off and picked up. These men are all her friends but she's caught some looks and what's written there can be read. She shows me the sheesha bar which she has never visited, its patrons give the worst of the looks. We meet one of her male friends, an Egyptian  who spent some time in the states. He has a love for African culture and custom when he talks about Kenya  he asks “is that the one with menenga ngai” I have never heard that phrase but it sounds so much like what Mt. Kenya should be called that I understand what he's talking about. He tells us about this day he had to satisfy three Englishwomen at the same time, [I don't mean by cooking for them]. Here is a man who knows his limitations but isn't afraid to stretch them out and asks if he can go to the pharmacy and get some condoms feeling hallelujah when they don't have any. He rushes in and asks the pharmacy attendant for some Viagra. The attendant nearly pisses himself laughing at this weak specimen of an eighteen year old man who needs dynamite to blast out tunnels that should still be brand new. Our hero buys a red bull and swallows the whole pill, nobody told him that a quarter was all that was necessary. Viagra works by dilating the veins to allow blood flow easier and by the end of the session the veins on his neck are tunnels of haemoglobin popping on his He introduces us to another one of his friends, who at some point talks about Mexican food, he went into a restaurant and was asked whether he wanted the sissy boy chilli or the real man chilli. Regrettably he asked for the real man chilli, “if I put a matchstick near that food it would have exploded, when I was done with it I felt like a nuclear meltdown was happening in my mouth,”

these are my guides for the first full day  have in Cairo I put kilometres under my feet as we walk around. At some point we go to a café in down town Cairo and order some sheesha. It's so strong. In no time at all my head is rushing everywhere. At this café, which is actually built like a roadside bazaar, there's people everywhere seating cross-legged smoking and reading, smoking and talking, smoking and thinking. “noone will disturb you here you can just come smoke and go into your own utopia.”

afterwards we walk around Cairo There are sculptures everywhere. Buildings with gargoyles drawn into them, statues of famous Egyptians, former presidential palaces strewn all over the place. Museums as soon as you turn around and huge monuments on your path. The most beautiful architecture  ever seen looms in my path. In down town Cairo there are places in the street where the sun doesn't reach. Most buildings are so tall that there is a constant shadow thrown across the street, then you come out of the shadow and before you lies the most beautiful building you have ever seen. I can't remember all their names or in fact any since my Arabic is horrible. But at the end of the day we go to Mokota, you get here by leaving the city centre and going up some hills. The road looks carved into the hills snaking this way and that. Am told that the hills are actually the quarries that are used to provide raw material for the roads and you can see where it has been cut into like a plasticine hill. Losing some of itself but getting back in a different form. At the top of the hill there's a spot where you can see some of Cairo, not all of it since the city is huge but it's still an unbelievable sight. There are lights everywhere as far as you can see. The main highways are clear to see since those are the places where the beacon of lights is in a straight line. There's a Nile breeze blowing in here and it smells amazing, there's just the four of us standing there looking over Cairo, breathing in its god~kissed air and taking in it's history made monuments. This place is where silence comes to die, not that its loud here its just so quiet that you have to believe this isn't normal. The wind and distance have carried away all the sound of the bustling city below us leaving us with a vacuum, a bubble of nothing but what we can see and what we can hear. I tell myself this is my home for 6 weeks.