Thursday, October 21, 2010
Cairo is a city of faces. High overhead we pass by in our tour bus with windows that allow for views. Down below while we sit in city traffic we find the faces of three small boys, clowning for the tourists, mugging it up for the sheer fun of having their own 'paparazzi tourists' making them famous. In the crammed VW vans which are mini-bus taxis, we often catch the eye of someone who is enduring another commute to work, or home, the doctor, or to buy groceries.
We catch glimpses of lives. Snapshots of moments in time.
5 men sit in the darkness of the street, gathered around a table, something non-alcoholic in front of them and the cooler night air reason enough to bring them into the street. Around them sit others: two men playing chess, another smoking a shisha pipe, a third, quite old, leans against the wall and may be sleeping.
In the day time I see two young women with brightly colored hijabs walk by arm in arm. They are discussing something with such animation I wonder if it is something from school or perhaps the gossip of boys and friends and weekend plans that has them so occupied.
Cairo is a city of confusion. To avoid paying taxes, most buildings, it seems are incomplete. Parents build on floors above their living spaces for their children to move into on their marriages. Often it is the top floors but sometimes many floors remain unfinished. The appearance as we pass by is of whole sections of the city which are incomplete. Apartment buildings, row on row, mile it seems after mile, stand, many with vacant windows spanning 4-10 floors, and often, with one unit in the middle of the floors, looking finished and inhabited, while many floors below and around it appear to be vacant and unfinished. It is an odd feeling, seeing this . At ground level, the warrens of streets are narrow, almost medieval looking, and certainly they are the living rooms, grocery stores and places of commerce for all who live above.
Egypt has been a place of refuge for refugees for milennia. From the people of Israel, to those who today flee Sudan and famines in Ethiopia and other desperate places, millions of souls have come here as a place to make a transition from the past to the future. How does the story of a modern day Exodus unfold ? Who will let these people go? And where is their promised land?
The Pharaohs and the people of their day spent an enormous amount of energy focused on preparing for an eternal afterlife. When one sees what this life is like for many people, it is not hard to see why.