Due to budgetary constraints (i.e. I have no money) and a wish to get rapidly reacquainted with the city from street level, I’ve been walking a lot. There were places I liked to walk when I lived here, but it’s not really a walking city the way, say, Amsterdam is. Or even Philadelphia or Istanbul. Walking here means walking in the road 80% of the time, for instance. So when I had to get around for work, I drove myself or used taxis or Embassy vehicles. This last made life very efficient, since having an Embassy driver meant you didn’t have to learn how to get to places. On the other hand, it meant you didn’t have to learn how to get places. I should have walked around more than I did.
Courtesy of Google Maps, I estimate the following for the last two days, Saturday and Sunday:
Distance walked (approx): 21km
Nile crossings: 3 (1 under, 1 over, and two half crossings)
Districts visited, in approximate order: Downtown, Maspero, Zamalek, Gezira, Downtown, Doqqi, Mohandiseen, Agouza, Zamalek, Maspero, Shoubra (edges of), Downtown. All on foot, apart from one metro ride from Naguib to Bahooth.
Sore feet: two
Freaky stares experienced from creepy shop-window child mannequins: too many
These past two days, in contrast to my wanderings through Sayyida Zaynab, took me in to the territory of the 1%. Zamalek is the zone of over-priced everything – $4 coffee in a country where so many live on under $2 a day. It is also now home to a Harley Davidson dealership (above). Sunday’s stroll through Dokki and Mohandiseen, more 5% than 1% districts, perhaps, revealed another such dealership on Arab League St. Among the vehicles parked in Zamalek was a bright yellow Hummer. Other popular U.S. exports visible at street level include, of course, fast food. The chains here charge more than most Cairenes can afford, so they have a bizarre class location very different from their role in US society. Almost chic.
It’s a whole other country on the East bank side of 26th July St, where I walked back through the evening crowds. In Zamalek, 26th July boasts long-established Europeanized eateries like Simonds and Maison Thomas, as well as newcomers selling the aforementioned overpriced coffee etc. Once it crosses from the island to the Cairo mainland, it runs between Maspero – home to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian TV building, scene of the massacre of mainly Coptic demonstrators last year, as well as workshops and modest housing – and Shoubra, one of Cairo’s poorest and most crowded areas, and a stronghold of the Salafists. The worlds of Zamalek and Shoubra don’t seem to overlap much.
It’s still freakishly cold here. Happily, the world contains lentil soup and kofta sandwiches.