Walk Like an Egyptian: Allure of Cairo
One of my favorite pastimes is recreating familiar city streets. Reliving memories and re-imagining years gone by – is that really how I remembered things or has my memory faded?
I came back to Cairo last month and it was like walking through a dream, meeting old friends in new places and new friends in familiar ones. The past mingles with the present and, in some ways, I feel that very little has changed. Then I turn a corner and nothing is the same.
I have not been in Cairo since December 2019. In the intervening three years, the city has grappled with the COVID-19 crisis, a currency collapse, and a sharp drop in foreign reserves as foreign investment falls and increases and rising import bills.
In late 2019, the Egyptian pound entered at around USD 1 to EGP 16, today USD 1 will stretch to EGP 27.5. Looking around, there are countless new buildings, new restaurants, and even new e-scooters. But, despite all these changes, the city has survived for thousands of years; three years is unlikely to make a dent in his long and winding road.
A few nights after I arrived, I had dinner with a friend overlooking the Giza Pyramids and we chatted about everything and anything as colorful lights flashed over the 5,000-year-old royal tombs. My Egyptian friend said he would not want to leave Egypt. Nowhere else could compare in terms of people, adventure and excitement.
At lunch, several days later, another Egyptian friend told me that she had never felt such friendship, warmth and companionship anywhere else in the world and, now that she lives abroad in Europe, she misses it her family and misses her often.
What is it about Cairo that keeps drawing me in?
I’m not sure I could put my finger on it exactly. This is my fourth time in Cairo and hopefully my longest stay. I visited in June 2018 for a four month internship, then returned again for the Winter holidays later that year, then again for a few more months after I graduated in 2019.
The first time I came back in the summer of 2018, I was picked up by a lively driver and dropped off at an empty apartment on the outskirts of the city. I waited anxiously for the other participants of the intercultural exchange program to join me, a mix of Egyptian and European students. I shouldn’t have worried, because they were the friendliest and most welcoming people I’ve ever met. We became fast friends over the next ten days, and almost five years later, I’m living with one of them and still in touch with several others.
It’s not just the people: the layers of ancient Egyptian history and vibrant modern culture draw me in deeper, the mix of old and new. The way Egyptian artists mix Nubian folk songs with Western ballads, how the language continues to evolve with expressions incorporating Egypt, and local films mirror the unique characteristics of modern Egyptian society.
I can’t get enough of classical Egyptian cinema or contemporary music; I have never learned a language so quickly or so enthusiastically. I studied Arabic for years at university and made slow progress, but when I came to Cairo my Arabic improved rapidly as I learned new words and expressions every day.
Other Egyptians and foreigners have told me that it is the food, the opportunities to travel easily in the country, or the weather that attracts them.
As I get back on my feet in Cairo, I may soon be able to give a clearer reason as to why I am here and why I want to be here so much. However, for now, it’s time to rediscover the city and all the wonders it has to offer.
Subscribe to the weekly Streets of Egypt newsletter! See the latest news, arts and culture headlines, exclusive features, and more stories that matter, delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.
Subscribe to our newsletter