Have you ever wondered how it feels to be constantly hungry? How it feels to be constantly wanting food and never getting enough? Am not talking about starving, am talking about getting basic nutritional requirements but in such small quantities that its never enough? If you have wondered go on an unpaid intern-ship to another country.
Egypt is a land of contradictions. A consumerist society with a KFC, Mcdonalds, GAD, Adidas and Nike stores, Vero Morda and Gucci everywhere while still maintaining the kind of spiritualism that means when the prayer bell rings everyone in their car switches off the music, possessed of vast subways system and a road network complete with a ring road which is the 120 km plus highway but still owning maddening traffic and matatus, a tourist haven with foreigners on every street that still speaks in a language inaccessible to all but the most determined, a middle eastern country found in Africa, a stable nation pock~marked with revolutions and wars." A state led by a secretive military council brought to power by a revolution based on demands for democracy, rule of law and an end to corruption." *
So my intern-ship had to be filled with contradictions. Once in a while I’ll go out to the Armada or another nice place and spend like there's no tomorrow and then tomorrow comes and I realise am not being paid, I have to eat, which means am not going to be eating much for that day or for the ones that follow. I wake up and boil a glass of water, a glass because my new flat has no cups, I pour the water into the glass add nescafe and add sugar. Not too much sugar, this isn't because of any health reasons, its partly since if all this sugar finishes I won't be buying any more but the real reason I add such a measly amount of the white powder is I want my coffee bitter. No I don't like my coffee bitter I don't even like coffee. But I know caffeine provides a kick in the morning plus drinking something means I have an excuse to sit and read for a bit before I leave. The reason I want my coffee bitter is because this taste gives it meaning. It adds substance, Am not drinking a glass of water any more, now am taking nutrients, something that can fill my stomach, life is a placebo effect.
I finish my coffee and feel hungry, very hungry but the budget for the week is almost gone. I put this out of my mind and walk to the metro station. I get in and stand patiently. Get off at the station near tahrir square and start the long trek to work. Cairo is a supremely confusing city, its huge, it has to be to swallow up twenty million people, it has to have twisting intricate streets, it has to be so confusing that the cab drivers routinely ask for directions. To combat this I have mapped out a way to work. Landmarks to follow until the next landmark and I walk this route feeling hungry. Thinking about how hungry I am when I smell something off to the left.
That's shisha. Am off shisha for a while but the smell is tempting. Here shisha is cheaper than food, I could have two smokes before I afford a proper meal but something tells me that using money on drugs while my stomach rumbles is a sign of the end of days also am on my way to work. Walking along I see a beggar on the street and in front of the she has some fries, healthy looking fries, beautiful, golden yellow potatoes dipped in oil and I salivate, things are bad
I sit in front of the computer and feel hungry. I try to work. I really do. Am meant to be reading up on the Sinai region of Egypt. A place with a Bedouin culture that doesn’t buy into the pharoanic heritage that is the glue of unity in the country, a region near Gaza whose security is dependent on the state of Palestine which is always volatile. This kind of thing is always interesting but my stomach rumbles and I can't really concentrate on Palestine’s troubles. Its 11 in the morning. I could leave now for lunch, no supervision now, but if I leave a t 11 I’ll be hungry by 1105. No I will save the 5 minutes of satisfaction for 1 pm.
The same thoughts repeat themselves except 11 becomes 12.
it's lunchtime, I walk down the street to a GAD, my stomach has that tightness of being well toned, this is usually one of my favourite things about being hungry, my stomach becomes rock hard and I feel good to feel fit, but now it's a constant a Viagra like side effect.
I have foul a sandwich made of mashed beans wrapped in bread, it tastes interesting, not good but interesting and its cheap. It fills me up and before I leave the restaurant I’m hungry again.
I sit in the office and fight my way to go time and get ready to leave. Am on the streets. You don't want to be hungry on the streets of Cairo, there is food everywhere, people roasting meat and chicken, spaghetti, foul, falafel and everyone is eating except me.
I have a theory about how to tell if a city will accept you. Drink its water. The water of a city goes everywhere, there’s nothing more intricate and far reaching than the drainage system. It enters the houses of the high and powerless, it gets into offices and hotels buildings, its below your feet and in the walls around your ears. It rushes along without a stop for lights or traffic or even because the president is passing by. (In Egypt we say military commander, because well read the news.) It is the city's life blood in a very literal sense. Life rushes before its triple molecule, life is brought along with its dust and impurities, in its bacteria and viruses. If you can drink the water of a city you are in. also it saves a lot of money. I can dink Cairo's water, being Kenyan not a lot of different kinds of water can make me sick
Dinner is a chicken burger(sharwerma) which is actually almost as cheap as the foul. Just like the foul it leaves me hungering for more. I reach for a glass of water and swallow some in the hopes that I won't be hungry any more but then that wouldn't be me in Egypt would it?
* not my phrase but found in the article its linked to just seemed to match the general tone too much.