Tag Archives: pollution

Have you seen a tall building in Cairo?

Walking in Cairo

I do not carry a purse, so whenever I go somewhere (i.e. a cafe),  with the plan to sit for a while, I immediately empty  my pockets and place the contents on the table to make sure nothing falls out and is lost forever. This system of keeping things in sight and mind had not backfired until yesterday, when I went somewhere new, a rooftop bar in Zamalek, and met a friend of a friend of a friend and enjoyed the company and the view. An hour later while reclining at home, my roommate got a phone call from me, and by from me I mean from my phone which was now in the possession of the friend 3 times removed since I had kept it out of mind though in sight. In other words, I left it on the table.

Obviously I was bummed that I would have to hunt down the phone, but I considered myself lucky since this friend worked close to where I live so I wouldn’t have to trek over to her neck of the woods in Maadi, an hour away by cab. She emailed me the name of the building, the street on which it was located, and the floor that she was on. It was a tall building–over 15 floors—and in an area I thought I was familiar with so I figured it would be easy to find. Once I got into the cab, however, it turned out that “Companies Building” on Shooting Club street (a long street) just ahead of the Department of Agriculture (in which direction?) before the end of the street (which end/how long before the end?) was not, in fact, a real address.

To make matters worse, prior to boarding the taxi I thought it would be a good idea to break my 20 pound note by spending most of it on hazelnuts. Thus, I wasted 15 of my only 24 pounds on hazelnuts so I only had 9 pounds on me when entering the taxi and was nervous the entire time that I would have disembark far from my destination due to lack of funds. As I sweated in the taxi cab and the driver asked me about my marital status, I stared like a hawk at the meter until it proved necessary to call my friend from his cellphone to get better directions. In her noble attempts at clarification, she told me that there was a gate, a big green sign that said “Companies Building” and that the building was brown-ish. Most of the right side of the street was gated and shaded by big trees which might cover up and/or camouflage a green sign, and everything in Cairo is brown-ish from the daily bastings of dust and pollution.

Cut to me getting out of the cab right as the meter turns to 9 pounds in front of a building the driver insists is correct, since it is tall and has a big green sign that says “Arab Development Bank,” which is not as close as it could be to “Companies Building.” I know he’s not necessarily tracking with what I’m looking for, but I get out anyways since I figure I could just walk until I find it.

Cut to me 30 minutes later, the saliva in my throat turned to pollution-mud, my face a mask of sweat, grease, and dust, and my heart heavy with despair as I trek back along the other side of a busy street under the merciless sun looking for “Companies Building.” Philosophical thoughts fill my brain: What if I don’t find the building and have to walk home without my cellphone? What if I die of heat/pollution stroke on the spot? What if my teeth start falling out because of stress?

I finally spot a sign that says, not “Companies Building” but something about USAID, the organization my friend works for, and enter into a gated compound down a dusty road/parking lost. I have found the promised land. The building is just as non-descript as was described but to me it looked like heaven. I climb a short flight of stairs, greet the men at the front desk and then head to the fifteenth floor. There is a man inside the elevator that pushes the buttons for me and asks what extent I am doing well…”good? very good? very very very good?” I answer “so-so.” and when I return the question he says he’s at 100%. Show off.

Two minutes later I’m sitting in the office of my friend with her colleagues shooting the breeze and drinking Nescafe in air conditioning. My soul is healed. Finally, after being in transit to this place for an hour and a half, I am able to leave in possession of my cell phone and renewed hope for society.

After exiting the building, I try to find a cab to take home. To my surprise, no cab driver wants to take me….I put two and two together and realize home must be closer than I thought. It was a mere twenty minute walk away. Things may take longer to get done here in Cairo, but they take especially long when you have no idea what you’re doing.

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The Moon Eclipse and the Green Laser

I went back to the houseboat yesterday in order to witness a total eclipse of the moon happening over the Nile. Even without the eclipse, the view from the houseboat at night is awesome since you can see the cityscape reflected in a body of water, exactly the kind of view that seems to have pleased humans the world over for millenia. It was a little hard to appreciate the rarity of the event since it seemed somewhat anti-climactic.The entire evening centered around the moon disappearing completely and thus looking like the sky does 70 percent of the time at night. Maybe it would have been more interesting had we been out in the country somewhere where the pollution didn’t fog up the view so much.

Even though the eclipse only happens once every sixty years or something, I found the houseboat community to be more interesting.

It is made up entirely out of foreigners, and at one point, everyone was popping out on their balconies and talking to one another just like we were in some kind of sitcom. The guy to the right and below my friends apartment came out in his wifebeater and beer belly and informed us about the mechanics of a lunar eclipse as if we were troglodytes  just as the chipper British lady living next door appeared on her balcony-separated from friend’s balcony by only a screen- and began eating her dinner, which smelled delicious. According to what she said, it was just something she whipped up. The people on the left side were all on their roof and calling us to come over to hang out. For a reason that remains unknown, they had a ridiculously strong green laser that they were making good use of by shining it everywhere. I’m sure there were tons of fish blinded that night in the nile not to mention humans living in apartments across the way.

Eventually we did go over to his neighbors and sit on their roof and watch the moon finish disappearing and then slowly reappear. Expat meetings like that are always a little bizarre: everyone’s there for a different purpose and the only real similarity between all of us is that we all happen to not be from Egypt. In fact, in these houseboats and in many upper tier apartment buildings, Egyptians are completely prohibited. I have yet to understand all the reasons for this, but it appears that there is a significant amount of racism propogated by Egyptians onto Egyptians themselves, and so foreigners are preferred tenants oftentimes with a specific clause that there will be no Egyptian guests, though sometimes this only applies to Egyptian men. We’re learning about Egyptian tourism in my Egyptian dialect class, and apparently foreigners are preferred in hotels not only because they can usually pay more but also because Egyptians order too much food and have too many children that mess everything up. It’s interesting hearing from my Egyptian dialect teacher the reasons why Egyptians are generally not as welcome in some hotels….the investigation goes on.

Weekend now=more time for blogging.

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Sitting on the dock of the bay and by that I mean houseboat on the Nile

View from a houseboat of other houseboats

One of the first things they tell you when you come to Cairo is to stay away from the Nile. Though it may look beautiful and refreshing especially in the summer heat, it is actually full of things that can and will kill you, like crocodiles and various diseases and bacteria mutated by pollution.

And yet, the river is still fun to float on (as long as you don’t touch it), either in boats, yachts, cruise ships, or house boats. One of my friends is currently living in a houseboat, and ever since I heard he was doing something ridiculous like that I had the urge to see what life is like out on the river.

Today we went over to his place to study, and I finally got to experience the buoyant life. The taxi dropped us off on the side of the road, and we went through a fence shaded by leafy trees and just down the slope there lay a row of houseboats….and they looked exactly like they sound: floating houses with little bridges to them from the shore.

We enter his houseboat and immediately feel a world away from all the exhaust, noise, and traffic of Cairo. The best part about it, of course, was the balcony that overlooks the Nile and provides a lovely view as well of all the balconies of his neighbors. So we sat on the balcony and watched the water and counted the empty containers we saw float by and felt the occasional wave from a passing boat blaring Arab pop music. I watched his neighbors as well—it’s hard to prevent that kind of thing since they were just right there about 15 feet from us. But I found the river life swell indeed.

I was also interested to know how waste disposal worked, but as far as I could determine, the toilet is completely functioning and probably doesn’t flush directly into the Nile. But I can’t be certain.

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This is how we cross the street

Crosswalks exist in Cairo. I have seen the lines painted on the ground in crosswalk shape and  a sign indicating that the area was appropriated for pedestrians to cross the street. The electric signs are a bit ominous, however, since the green figure moving across the triangle looks like he is sprinting frantically.

No one uses these crosswalks. Most of the time they don’t exist, especially at major intersections.

Allow me to paint you a picture: it’s 8:30 in the morning and you need to cross a busy street lined with Cairo life: shops, kiosks, carts, and people. It’s already hot outside and you’ve begun sweating. You can see your destination through the polluted haze on the other side of the road, and you know that you must take your life into your hands before you reach it. You approach the highway. Cars, motorbikes, and busses zoom past you. If you’re lucky, there is another poor soul taking the same route; strength lies in numbers. Too often, however, you must go it alone. The cars will not stop of their own initiative, and the only traffic light you’ve seen in Cairo was broken. You see a gap…someone had to turn. You rush forward through the first “lane.”  Suddenly you’re trapped in the middle of the street, vehicles whirling around you. Another gap…you hurry to the safety of the median and forget to look to see if there are cars coming from the other direction. Out into the street you step with over-confidence and notice row of three cars rushing towards you, but one of them quickly slows down to let you by. You give them a deft wave of the hand as if to say, “That’s right. You best slow down.” Suddenly you’re almost hit by a motorbike that came out of nowhere…your hair swooshes in the air from its draft and you’ve lost your breath and need a new pair of pants.

And that’s how you cross the street. Is it dangerous, yes. Is it fun, sometimes. It helps if you scream silently to yourself. I don’t think the cars will actually hit anyone, but traffic statistics tell me otherwise.

Towards the end of the year, I want to start a competition to see who can get the fastest car to stop for them. There will be no surviving losers.

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