London is a big city, New York is a big city, Cairo is a really big city.
None of the ideas that I had of Cairo prepared me for the scale of the city. Driving in from the airport last night via freeways and highways was akin at times to images of a dystopian future imagined by a sci-fi film director. Crumbling apartment block, ten, twelve stories high, each one home to thousands of people, crammed right up against the highway; meanwhile, below, you catch glimpses of cars and traffic passing at the lower level; and above the night sky is illuminated by neon adverstising boards promoting everything from Cadburys chocolate to mobile phones. Finally, above that is the moon, hanging in the sky like the horns of a cow. Welcome to Egypt.
Then downtown. The constant soundtrack of car horns. Constant. In 24 hours I have yet to hear the muezzin, but cars, cars, cars, I have heard. A quarter of Egypt’s 90million citizens live in Cairo and it seems like everyone has a car. At rush hour today the roads are packed with cars, but they are not stationary, rather they seem to flow, like ants packed into a tight coarse. When the paths cross, somehow the ants find their way to the other side. Nowhere is this more true than in Tahrir Square where the traffic swirls around and around before being spat out, somehow, in the correct place.
And then there is the Nile! It too seems like a slow moving creature, but rather than asserting its place in the city, it seems strangely cut off. The road, which runs parallel to, the river, butts right up against it with a high wall preventing passerby’s from watching the rivers flow. Those passerbys though are passengers in cars for so far I have yet to see any evidence of a promenade along the riverside. Similarly, the many bridges are bereft of pedestrians. That is not to say that people do not walk, rather though they compete with cars for space in the roads. Indeed, they are more or less the only things that can stop the flow of the traffic. In order to do that though seems to require a leap of faith, stepping off of the pavement and directly into the moving traffic.
This is a crazy city.