Cairo has no sidewalks. No useful, obstacle-free sidewalks. Some have short palm trees with sharp leaves that you must dodge. Some have cracks and craters with no safety cones or warnings. Most lead to nowhere and require you to perform an entire Step Aerobics routine. Nowadays, post-revolution, sidewalks on the bridges are packed with plastic lawn chairs, the sign of illegal makeshift cafes. Sidewalks are also full of people. People strolling arm-in-arm incredibly slow, an entire family zooming dangerously close on a 1979 motorcycle, people out to harass or mug foreigners, gorgeous young couples in the most beautiful gowns and suits celebrating engagements, and women who can carry enormous bags and baskets on their heads.
It is a rare time when one can walk peacefully on a sidewalk for a long stretch of time in one direction. I got this gift yesterday afternoon.
I walked the 20 minutes to Metro Market to get groceries. The sun was setting over the Nile. My thoughts were heavy. Weighed down by events on the Gaza/Israeli border. Weighed down by the horrors in nearby Syria. By the overwhelming poverty in Egypt. By the man on the bridge fishing in the Nile just for a chance to feed his family. By the horrid conditions of some state-run institutions here… schools, hospitals,… Weighed down by the decisions I have to make. Weighed down by the realization that I do not have enough money to make my dreams come true… in particular, the dreams of visiting Kenya, Uganda, Palestine, UAE, Bosnia, and my mother all in 2013. Weighed down by the cancers in and around us all.
But then the sun was setting over the Nile.
Something about the sun and the Nile made me stop.
Beautiful. Gamila. Falling in love with this city, faults and all.
Cairo is a place that sometimes makes you feel swallowed. It’s a spiral of activism and passivity, activism and passivity. A cycle of humor, hope, outrage and exasperation. The pollution is heavy. So is the smoking. Those 1970s motorcycles blow their exhaust right in your face. There is no place to sit at the crowded cafe. The buildings are leaning in. And the people put their hands on your back to shove you into the Metro train, right into a pile of sweaty men. These sweaty men are reaching for the handles above, so you get to enjoy your ride in the comfort of their armpits.
But back to the sunset and the Nile.
Horizon. Horizon. A bigger picture. I cannot put this into words. Sorry. It was simply perspective.
I stood there thinking of those who have lost their eyesight. Young men blinded during the revolution. Those who can no longer see the place they fought for. And those living with bullet wounds here in Egypt. Like my friend next to me, holding my hand perfectly as we walk on the nonexistent sidewalks. I thought of the folks who fought and won a revolution and are now watching disarray with heavy hearts. Like the heaviness I had. It is contagious and cyclical.
Thinking of those people here in Cairo who just shake their heads when they hear that thousands of their countrymen were bussed-in to Tahrir Square to demand that the new constitution be based on Sharia Law, like Saudi Arabia. The drafting of a new constitution is an understandably divisive issue.
In the face of all this, I am inspired by those who lost their eyes to Mubarak’s bullets and yet maintain their vision and the skip in their step. Yeah, I’m thinking of them.
Keep walking, my friends. That’s the only way to see the horizon.
***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.
Clearly, you made a wise decision to come to Cairo. The heavy, tragic beauty is inspiring something lyrical in you. I am glad to have found your blog and find myself reassured by the thought of you making your way through the dusty streets. I will keep waking. You keep posting.