October is not like many suburbs I’ve seen. I use the term “suburb” loosely; it’s at least three million people. The new UN building under construction at the end of the block had people hanging out in front of it all day, sitting on the concrete barriers protecting it from the road. Half-empty buildings looked bombed out, but still had businesses running out of them. Graffiti covered walls, and windows were often missing.
That’s certainly not to say it doesn’t have charm; quite the contrary, for a suburb, I liked it. There’s some good food in the Iraqi neighborhood we hung out in, and people sit outside at restaurants and in the streets until one or two in the morning….often later. There’s much talking, hooka-smoking, hanging out and playing until late in the night. Cairo’s much the same, but it’s great to see somewhere that’s not an urban area.
One of the most amusing things that happened in Egypt happened on our first night. We were in October, wandering around, looking for a net cafe so we could use the internet for a moment. Bilal wasn’t aware of any names in Egypt for a net cafe, so we meandered around the streets at 2 AM, with Bilal speaking fluent Arabic and asking for a “netcafe” to use “internet” (quotes used to denote English) to which we mostly got blank stares. After three or four stores (many are still open at this time), one man stared at us for a while, until a flash of recognition flashed across his face. He walked behind the counter, smiled, and quizzically pulled up a can of Nescafe.
Nescafe, in case you’re unaware, is Nestle’s brand of coffee, and has an absolute monopoly on the coffee markets in Egypt. It seems to be the only coffee people drink there, as Lipton is almost the only tea. God knows why on either one.
October turned out to be an interesting city, but the largest problem was that it’s about an hour outside of Cairo. And then there’s the traffic…. and traffic in Egypt isn’t like traffic in the US. If you haven’t experienced it, I….recommend it. For about two seconds. Then you may want to leave the car. Ignore that instinct. Instead, pretend you’re on a rollercoaster and that it’s all fun. Then leave.
Cairo doesn’t use traffic lights (well, I think I personally found two…. for a city of 25 million people). Nor does it use stop signs. Most speed limits seem like recommendations, and the way to slow down cars on the highway is with speed bumps spaced out every few miles in some areas. These are highways on which many cabs we took were traveling in excess of 140 km/hr. Oh, and almost none of the cabs (or any other cars we were in for that matter) have seatbelts, in any seats. People will drive over fields to get through traffic, which is horrid at almost all times.
Still, it’s a nice place, and staying with No’man was wonderful. We got to wake up to bread with soft cheese and tea every day, a great host, and beautiful trees outside. You can’t put a hotel price on that.
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