I walked the near-empty streets of Cairo on an overcast Friday afternoon and was floored by vertigo. The wind was blowing dust and trash around, transforming the street into a khaki colored dystopia. Plastic bags and sand flew across each deserted street I meandered through. The distant sounds of Friday prayer came at different angles from various mosques, reminding me where the people were. Stray dogs had their hold over the street. The Potato chip bags, cigarette butts and plastic bags that lined the street were interrupted by the occasional, used hypodermic needle. I started to feel queasy. I had never felt this way before in Cairo, but that’s because I had never walked its streets before. Tourism once accounted for 75% of Egypt’s economy, but its I wonder who would want to come here on vacation now.
I had to unlearn Egypt. It’s been a satellite in my life, orbiting and shaping me, but something I’d hardly come in contact with. My parents immigrated to the States from Egypt, and I’ve been visiting every year since I’ve been born. My visits usually only consisted of car trips but to and from family homes. I’d eat the food, and talk the politics but I was always experiencing the country from an insulated distance. I’ve recently been discovering my full-time home of New York City through aimless walking, and thought I’d do the same with Cairo.
I’d never dialogued with the living, breathing Cairo until this visit when I started walking. The first thing I’m struck by is the texture of the air. The post-revolution malaise of a disappointed optimism adds a palpable texture to it, and you can see it in tangible ways. There’s an unbelievable amount of unfinished construction. Bricks, sand, and mortar often appear in mounds near construction sites with no workers. It’s unclear if these projects are paused, or never to be completed.