Back for the first time in 8 years to this crazy, quixotic, frenetic, noisy, rambling metropolis where Africa meets Arabia. Soaking it all in, delighted by every twist and turn, remembering and celebrating this place that, for two years, was virtually my second home. Dappled light, ramshackle tenements, the placid Nile, scraped and bumped cars, busted sidelights and broken down kerbstones. People: everywhere people, lazing, laughing, running, scowling. Rubbish on the streets, sprawling cables above and concrete cancer eating the facades of slab-sided blocks of flats and the filigreed art nouveau buildings that butt up against them in a dizzying upwards accretion of ages. Everything seems smashed and cobbled together. Here are life’s extremes, rich and poor; sick and hearty, young and old, caught up in the uncaring torrent of traffic and the relentless, pounding tide of humanity washing up against the roads crammed with cars jostling insanely in the orange glow of the dying sun.
My last memory of Cairo all those years ago was crossing the river in a black and white cab, watching a man with his legs severed above the knees beg at the traffic lights, propelling himself on a rickety cart, pushing against the faded tarmac with a stone in his hand. Reaching the other side of the river only to catch a moment of timeless humanity: a good-looking young policeman chatting up a pretty girl, his grin cheeky and hers, cast over the shoulder and flirty, a moment, caught in the sun, of youth and pleasure. That’s Cairo.
Everyone’s on the make, over-eager to grin like a Nile crocodile at the Inglez and take his money. They’re welcome to what little I have, even the blowsy, raven-haired receptionist, caked in make-up and stuffed, like an afterthought, into a uniform bursting at the seams with her bountiful yet grudging charms.
Everywhere you go, you’re ‘Seer’: “Is this your first time in Cairo Seer?”
The Egypt Air Restaurant in the airport hasn’t changed since the 1980s: nothing seems to have moved, not even the display of slightly desiccated yucca plants, their withered leaves more like papyrus than living organism. Perhaps the ceiling tiles are dirtier than they were, perhaps not. As I have so many times before, I sit here and drink a cold beer before leaving.
This time I’m lost in space, looking out of the dirty window and wondering what it is about Cairo, this raddled old whore of a city that I love so much and yet had forgotten that I loved.