Sleeping like an Egyptian
Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
115Trip End Mar 21, 2008
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It all creates a situation where your body doesn't know when it should be sleeping or for how long or how far behind on sleep it is. You just tend to sleep whenever you can rather than for the traditional eight-hour time blocks. Accordingly, when you do get the chance for a proper night's rest, the old brain isn't ready for it and you wake up at odd hours.
Nonetheless, we feel ready and excited about what is effectively the second half of our yearlong trip, both chronologically and geographically. The Asia/Pacific sector is complete and now comes the Africa/Middle East/Europe portion. The two halves were nicely broken up by a couple of quiet days in London where we stayed with my cousin Leon and his girlfriend Naz. We weren't originally planning on going to London, as it is so far out of the way, but none of the airlines that our round-the-world ticket uses fly directly from India to Africa. Therefore, we had this convoluted diversion to England. It worked out okay though - a couple of days in the first world made a refreshing psychological change from India and helped us gear up for the challenges ahead.
We arrived in Cairo around 1am, tired and with upset stomachs. This was of no concern to the crowd of pesky touts that greeted us in the arrival hall. They were at least an entertaining change from their Indian counterparts. While the Indian touts are just annoying, the Egyptian ones are annoying but with a bit of unintentional in their flamboyant hand gestures. Two well-dressed rivals were competing for our taxi custom into town and directing all their energies towards me (Jane, being a woman, was completely ignored). After a while I just said "Look, guys, I don't care who drives us, a taxi's a taxi. You two fight it out and let us know when you've decided". They looked at each other, took a deep breath, then launched into a loud and fearsome Arabic argument. The conversation contained all sorts of hacking sounds and gestures, including the Fly Swat, the Dart Throw, the Eye Roll, the Two-Handed Door Push, the Hanging Scales and the Clean-and-Jerk. Finally one of them turned to us and said, "you will come with me. Let's go". As we walked towards his taxi, the victor said, "the other man is my brother. He will take next customer".
We are coming back to Egypt in July and will do it properly then. For our one day here this time we are just interested in chilling out and getting a small taste of the city before our evening flight to Nairobi. With over 15 million people, Cairo is the largest city in the Muslim world, the largest city in Africa (although Lagos must be close now) and one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
It's a different kind of chaos from India. India was completely anarchic but everyone seemed to behave. There was a strange feeling of community in the chaos, a happy order in the disorder. Here you have the added element of Arabic passion that is like a lit match hovering above all this fuel. Car horns are blasted with a bit more menace here, a hand sticking out of the driver side window is more likely to mean "what's your problem?" than "hello, my friend".
The stares we (well, in fact they are exclusively directed at Jane) are lecherous rather than merely curious and often accompanied by some words that no doubt mean "hey, baby" in Arabic. But the passion is a good thing too. It creates a real atmosphere in the city. People aren't simply standing around like they do in India or Nepal, they are having heated hand discussions and bustling from place to place. The men are fat and wear suits; the women shuffle along quietly, hidden behind their burkas.