This is the eleventh in a series of repeated posts (e.g. published elsewhere before) from outside of China, detailing the start of my expatriate life. There will always be a post a day about China so if you’re not interested in other material – you can stop reading now.
Traffic in Egypt is beyond insane, all over the Gulf people drive like lunatics but they do so in big heavy modern new cars, reducing the likelihood of death to a reasonable uncertainty. In Egypt the cars are made out of coke cans, they drive like madmen, and every single one appears to have been in at least 40 accidents. The only good news is that they can only manage a maximum speed of around 30 miles an hour in Cairo rush hour traffic and very often far less.
But it’s not until you drive around Cairo that you appreciate just how big it is, with over 40 million officially living there (and many more do so illegally) it is Africa’s largest city and it goes on forever, dwarfing cities like London or Paris. The Nile runs through the centre and it is also amazingly huge, you’ve seen rivers before but this makes the Thames look like a stream. Endless cruise ships run alongside the delta, and the shore is lined with hotels, it is the most ultra-modern part of this ancient city. One night we will take a bus to the pyramids, this journey takes 4 hours from our hotel, and it is not made in rush hour.
Night is a great time to land in Cairo, it makes the city look fantastic and livable whereas by day it is dirty and clearly past its best. And by angling my head to the side I can see the wonder that is Cairo, there’s a Mercedes, parked by a cart of watermelons which I presume has been put there by the donkey attached to it. A man in a suit haggles with the owner, whilst a one-legged beggar loiters within arms reach hoping for a handout.
Beggars are also a feature of Egyptian life, they are everywhere, and they suffer from terrible poverty made all the worse by the fact that only a complete idiot will actually give one any money. It sounds callous when a couple of pence could make such a difference to these people but if you give into temptation you will find yourself surrounded by a strident mob demanding you give to them as well, and this is viciously unpleasant and has been known to get nasty.
The bus driver is at University studying to be an Egyptian Guide and has nearly finished the 9 year course, as he seems an agreeable chap we engage his services as a guide for the next few nights to take us to see Cairo, his fee including a driver, car, his expertise and entry to the sights is around twenty British pounds a night. This feels like a bargain (and indeed proves to be so a few days later, when he negotiates the Egyptian price for everything for me rather than the tourist price, saving me more than the cost of his fee outright) and agree he can return for us the following night as he drops us off at the hotel.
The hotel is a dump, it may be optimistically described as 5 star (it transpires that this classification is given to any hotel with an outdoor pool in Egypt) but I should have listened to my heart when our lovely administrator told me it was a Novotel and insisted on something more central and better quality, the only good thing about it is it is very close to where we will be training our overflow call centre in a free zone called Smart City.