Cairo: Hard knocks city

Originally uploaded by orclimber


This is what you see all the way to Cairo and back. Not only are you sardined in the mini-van/bus/car you’re travelling, but you’re also sardined in the roads.

I went out of the house with makeup on to not look feral, but by the time I arrived to Cairo, mostly all of it was gone, because the drivers on the freeways normally go 130 km/h and the limit is 80km/h, and when I come home I found my face beautifully masked with salty black dust. I’m like somewhat 2 shades darker. Egyptian “Sheer Cover”.

Travelling to Cairo from Kafr el Sheikh is so exhausting, I think I loose about 5-10 kg every time I go there, with all the walking, rushing, sun, heat …I don’t know how I managed to come home because every part of my body just felt numb, paralyzed.

It normally takes 2 hours from Kafr el Sheikh to Cairo. Yesterday it only took us 40 minutes faster from a different route -half of the road hardly had tar laid on it and it was in the middle of a sea of green and gold crops, literally in the middle of nowhere, it didn’t even have any houses. Was so relieved to see signs of an actual city (Tanta) because I really thought we were lost. Wonder what kind of response they’d get from such a drama series like this 😛

We went to Cairo this time to get my hubby’s documents certified. Finding the right Ministry office is like finding a needle in a haystack because they’re set in such obscure locations dotted around Cairo that even the locals, taxi drivers hardly know where the are yet alone know how to get there.

And on one English-translated (its normally LE 90 per page) document there normally is 5-6 ink stamps, 1 paper stamp stating how much you paid for it along with 5 million scribbles. They’ve not yet gone electronic yet. Ok, just one or two stamps means usually from one Ministry/Department and the minimum you wait for that is 2-3 hours, the maximum the next day. So imagine 6!

My hubby’s gone to Cairo again right now just because of this. And -you have to get the right stamp to start off with, if not, its another day’s travelling, which was why it took a month before we actually got married when I first came here last year, just to get all the right papers. Urghhhhhhhh so annoying!!!

There’s also the queueing. Everyone rushes and pushes in front of the counter and tries to get served first despite having a ticket. Doesn’t matter if you were there first and waiting for hours just for your turn. No courtesy here yet alone customer service. I just feel like getting into a sumo wrestling match with anyone that tries to push in front of me.

Is it me or whenever my hubby gets service in Arabic, the one serving really looks like they don’t give a shite and wants him to get out of their face asap. But when I start to talk English and demand things I get their full attention and everything’s done quickly like in the Singapore Airlines office when we were booking our tickets. Its different though when you’re shopping particularly in Khan al Khalili in Hussein -all the vendors then starts pestering you and start upping the price by 10 knotches until I hit them back with a few Arabic lines. Its really like who can out-do the other.

After booking the ticket we went to Hardees because we don’t have one in Australia (this was the last time I’d ever get to munch on any HALAL fast food before heading back, we don’t have much at home) just on the other side of Tahrir beside the American University. There you see every face from all over the world. Could even find a few Malay faces. But the food was hardly as delicious and big as advertised. Should have known. I still prefer KFC here of all the fastfood joints. If anyone knows any other in Cairo or Alex, please let me know.

We headed to Khan al Khalili ( to cheer us up (after the incomplete doco assignment) and also rest our wobbling jelly legs at one of the cafes there, with views of Al Azhar Mosque ( to our left, mammoth tourist buses driving through this really narrow lane (an accident waiting to happen!) and to our right t-junction to more centuries-old bazzars. Just sipping our hot tea away made me wonder how life would have been like here back in the Fatimid era ( ( when it was built and the only time Egypt had a Shia Islamic rule…with smells of incense smoking the streets from farway travels and maybe the usual fuul and ta’meya (perhaps?!?!), harems, wives peeping through wooden-carved geometric-designed windows, vendors still screaming out their offers, men smoking their shisha’s along the coffeeshops, turbanned pupils rushing to Al-Azhar mosque to learn the next hadith or tafsir for their ayah they just learnt (I know very Hollywood), to the likes of just decades before when writers like Naguib Mahfouz ( would write his pieces (like “The Cairo Trilogy”), taking his inspiration from this particular place before winning his Nobel Prize for literature.

To feel Egypt or Cairo in real not romanticized/bastardized, its best to read Egyptian (Alaa Al Aswany “The Yacoubian Building”, “Point Zero” by Nawal el-Sadawi)works than foreign (-like “The Alexandrian Quartet” by Lawrence Durell, Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile”).

The Khan just absolutely comes alive and buzzing before Maghrib/sunset and you get so disoriented more by the many labrinth of lanes, lights and more tourists beside you.

Tha haggling was what I enjoyed best here. My husband normally starts off in Arabic and when I know of the price I start haggling from 40% of the original price. Ahhhh the shock horror of the vendor faces every time they hear this. We do eventually settle for a good price. I guess this is pay-back for all the times we were scammed all because I was a English-speaking foreigner here. But just walking pass the stalls whenever a vendor see an Anglo-looking tourist pack go pass all you start to hear is a pelethora of languages spitting out from their mouths -just hearing it is just so entertaining because they sound like they have verbal gibberish diarrhea. What was not so entertaining, even depressing was to see small kids selling small bracelets, books, anything touristic to customers in the coffeeshops just to make a few pounds for their family to manage, when really they should be spending their day getting an education. But then again, just as you see many kids as small as 7 trying to make a living and not going to school, you also get many university graduates with impressive grades/ability but no jobs or in a demeaning job that doesn’t make great use of them. Are tourists making Egyptian kids not have a good education/better future? I wonder…

When we were heading home, we caught a taxi and he dropped us right beside Ezbekiyya Gardens to get to the Attaba Metro. In the day it was litted with grubby dozing vendors with discounted-goods stalls of ties, shirts, boxers, books, tissues, at night of streetkids roaming around, causing mischief with passbyers, druggies inside the garden. Who are looking after them at this time of the night? Where are their families? They should be at home. My motherly instincts just make me want to rescue them, take them out of the streets and give them a more enriching, healthy, aspriring life than the one their living in. It really makes me so sad to see them like that.

To help, please visit:

I needed to go to the loo badly and we happened to be at Mazzallat when one of the officers directed to one which happened to be a staff one but somehow everyone uses it. OMG the smell! The smell made me so fainting I really didn’t want go and this was a dirty squatting one! I had to rinse the area at least 10 times before I could squat and just prayed my foot didn’t slip inside the hole. If in Cairo -go to any Western fastfood joints and malls because they have more clean, sanitable, sitting, water squirting toilets with a few toilet paper leaves to spare. Its like paradise when you need to go. DO NOT USE THE METRO/PUBLIC ONES UNLESS IN DIRE DIRE DIRE EMERGENCIES! You have been warned!


I’m speechless….

Just signing off, these are some vids that will remind me of Egypt before we fly (this Friday insha’allah!!!). The first one I don’t have the translations to what he’s singing but he’s complaining along the lines of bread and water shortages, making it each day in Egypt (if anyone knows -please reply me), the second was what made me teary the first time I was to leave Egypt.


Sherine Ahmed – “You Didn’t Drink from Its Nile”

Our country is safe in our hands
We hold it high as long as we live
We live in it years and years feeling secure

You did not drink from its Nile
Then you tried singing to it
You tried in pride
Don’t be sad
You walk in its streets and complain to its
You did not walk in its suburbs fine
You did not grow up in it
And you don’t have a picutre on the sand on its beaches

Look within yourself and you’ll find it is friends and family of my country
And it would be hard to forget them
Maybe you forget because you in it and don’t miss it
And you have never been away from it
But those who have tried to leave say there is nothing in the world like it

I was away longing for it
I forget the world and I come to it
And if I came it would remind me of a million memories that I carry in my heart
Our country is precious to us and will stay in our eyes as long as we love our country it will be in our hands
We are the ones who hold it high and preserve it in our hands
Most beautiful to us and our children no matter what

~ by nursheikha on August 26, 2008.

5 Responses to “Cairo: Hard knocks city”

  1. Good luck going back home to Perth (and family) this Friday, hope all goes well, insha-allah – Nurul

  2. This is my first time visiting your site and i must say i like it a lot.
    Your article was a good read.
    I will surely check back here more often!


  3. Are you moving back to australia? Or just visiting? Have a safe trip may Allah reach you there safely.

    Great post, so so so true and well-written. You notice everything I do about Cairo, it made me a bit homesick even though I’m still here. lol.

  4. Thanks Nurul (even though we’re flying this Sunday) 😛 Happy Ramadan to you and your family. Send some pics 😉

  5. Lol, hi Molly,

    Thanks. Yelp, we’re flying to Perth, Australia this Sunday insha’allah (YAYYYYYYY!) 🙂 Been busy these days doing last-minute errands AKA ahhhh glorious shopping 😉 (no malls in Kafr el Sheikh) before we head off.

    If I was still in Egypt, would have loved to meet up with you. But we will be back later to do another house here and I’ve got my eye on an apartment in Alex. Hope we can catch up next time.

    I’m actually a Perth local but it will be first-times for hubby.

    There’s so much to write here when you’ve gone beyond the touristy mark because its not all about the Pyramids/that romantic as everyone thinks it is when one mentions “Egypt”.

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