Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Safe Arrival

Getting off the plane in Cairo airport was like being swept up with relief and a brown carpet. It was 1.30am and the thick heat takes you by surprise. I think, having been here nearly 24 hours now, you realise that you only know heat like it if you’re in it.

Our driver was confident that my suitcase (black, non-descript - useful at luggage reclaim) would be quite safe sitting unstrapped to the car’s roof rack.

A foreigner to this cosmopolitan city would be forgiven, I think, for being alarmed at the constant HONK blurting from cars and vans without prejudice or any apparent recipient. I can only presume that the Egyptian drivers follow a similar transport code to the Indians. There’s no right of way, no lanes and certainly the HONK is, in fact, an information system: ‘I am behind/in front/next to you.’

The smells as we tore around corners and across the intricate roadways of Cairo burned my nose; I smelt something like home-cooked pizza and then hot candle wax.

(Despite my loose allocation of the scents, I endeavour not to find the Western Equivalent of everything I encounter. This would, I feel, render me detracting so much from this adventure.)

Arriving in the flat at 3am, I take a moment to sit alone on the balcony. There’s a hue sitting over the brightly-coloured city, littered with lights and cars that stream the streets steadily but haphazardly. This roadway paradox, I have found, exists at all times of the day.

The heat has left me with little appetite for anything but cold water and freedom to walk the streets in a vest top and shorts. However, both are in short supply, so you enjoy moments walking the sheltered alleys of Khan El Khahili - the main tourist market. The air is thick with sheesha from the cafes that call out for your custom.

I have resolved to learn some basic Arabic. Things like, ‘no I don’t want it,’ and ‘no thank you’ are used with more frequency than ‘how much?’ and ‘thank you!’ ‘Left, right and straight ahead,’ are also highly useful with your taxi drivers - if you know where you’re going.

So you can imagine my gratitude when Kim took charge of directing our cab to the Ministry of Interior in Tahir (to extend our visas before Ramadan begins on Wednesday and the Administration grinds to a halt for a month) from our flat on the 16th floor in Zumalek.

The zone is, I am told, quite posh since it’s teeming with ex-pats. The flat looks directly onto the Nile from the bedrooms and the living/dining room, and I think it’ll take some time before I stop enjoying looking out onto its murky waters.

The mornings are hot and humid, as you would expect, and that hue from the night is still there, like someone’s come along and blurred out the distant edges of your viewpoint with vaseline.

I need to go. I’m tired and we’re travelling to the Fayoum tomorrow - though I think we’re all grateful that our minibus won’t pick us up until 3pm local time…!!

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