Women of Egypt Magazine, by Azza Radwan Sedky
As I get ready to travel back to Vancouver, Canada, the same emotions that engulf me every time I’m about to leave Cairo tickle my senses again. I’ve lived all my adult life abroad. However, in the last 20 years, or so, I shifted schedules, courses, and life in general so as to spend a good portion of the year, especially the winters, in Egypt. And as I am about to leave again, I contemplate my goings and comings, my attachment to this city, and my emotions in general.
You would think that someone who had lived all her adult life elsewhere would’ve by now distanced herself from or forgotten about the birthplace called Cairo. Quite the contrary, as the years went by this intangible, unexplained bond grew stronger. I used to think my visits were connected to family and parental obligations and devotion. At least it isn’t so now since most of my extended family passed away. Is it age related then? Is it childhood memories and school friends? Is it attachment to a birthplace plain and simple? What exactly makes Cairo such a dear place to my heart?
Let’s be honest, Cairo, to onlookers, definitely has its drawbacks. In fact, it is not the most inviting city. Vancouver, Canada, has been my home for a good thirty years now. It is the most beautiful city on earth. It holds one spellbound by the spectacular scenery. The mountains transcending the ocean and the pristine inlets zigzagging amidst breathtaking lush greenery complement an astounding panorama.
And yet, year in year out, where do I pack my bags and venture on a 24-hour trip across oceans and lands to spend my winters? In chaotic Cairo. As I head there, I’m all excited. As I head out, I’m not as excited. As Canadians find solace in cabins far away from civilization, I find mine amidst one of the noisiest cities worldwide.
Under the layers of formidable challenges, Cairo has a charm like no other. It’s a city that does not sleep. One may wake up early or late depending on the person himself or herself, but sleep, Cairo does not. Then, its monuments, its history, its souks, its inhabitants, its noise level and its vibrancy are unparalleled anywhere else. As for the sun, well, it is there, all the time; ok, let’s be fair— 99 percent of the time.
The truth of the matter, though, neither history nor souks hold me close to it. I wouldn’t go off to visit the Pyramids or Khan El Khalili on every trip if at all. Besides, the night life does not attract me either, but a deep-rooted connection exists nonetheless.
Venturing out into Cairo’s vibrancy is like no other experience. Nozha Street, a few blocks from my apartment building, throbs with activity and pulses with commotion every hour of the day. Adel’s fool and falafel store could be the first stop: one can buy not only sandwiches but also fried falafel and fool tubs to last forever.
Am Ahmed, the vegetable vendor, comes next. Catch him early in the morning before he gets frazzled. Buy zucchini, its florals on, the biggest cauliflowers, or cabbages, the most-flavorful tomatoes and blood oranges—all dirt cheap.
Continue walking. Buy ground coffee at the coffee grinding store next door, get a set of keys cut at the key cutter, fix your watch, and get the darn in your blouse fixed, all at stores within a short distance from one another.
Scrutinize the fish displayed at the fishmonger. You can call later to get the catch of the day delivered—prepared. On your way back, stop at the pomegranate seller sitting at the curb. She sells it peeled and ready to eat or juice.
You can also have all this delivered if you are not the wandering person. Talking about delivery, in no other city can you have just about anything you want delivered: vegetables, groceries, meats, medicine, lab tests, ironed and dry cleaned clothes, and just about anything else you deem necessary.
Om Sabah delivers arugula, spring onions, and parsley to the door. If her regular customer is out, she hangs her delivery on the door knob and leaves.
In Vancouver, I live a precious non-intrusive life; rarely does anyone knock on my door. I fill my life with the stuff that I personally find special. If I am an athlete, I’d be immersed in sports. If, an avid writer, I’d be engrossed in this activity. If, a gardener, I’d be in heaven.
In Cairo, you are rarely alone, always surrounded by helpers, busy bodies, a support team, friends, and relatives. You are accompanied on your shopping sprees, on your doctor’s visit, and while walking around the track at the club. In Cairo you socialize like in no other place. Hence, you need to make sure to have enough decent outfits, always groomed and presentable, and willing to place your solitary activities on the back burner.
I realize that many Cairenes would consider my love affair with Cairo somewhat of a hallucination, but I assure them it is deeply felt.
Cairo, I will miss you. Until next year.
Azza Radwan Sedky is an academic, political analyst, a journalist and author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013. To read her articles visit her website: Egypt, Om El Donia and
Newpaper Online. The article was published on her website on January 30, 2016
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