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Cairo Journals 2012 - 1 - Arriving on Mars

Coming back to Egypt was almost an accident this time around.

Not having visited the country in the last three years, my last memory of Egypt was of a magical evening on a white beach in Sinai, with many friends, music singing and laughter. 

The magic I was to encounter this time was of a darker nature. Arriving on the 28th of February, fresh and cold from Mad Graffiti Week Berlin, I landed in a city full of new opinions, anger and hopes. These are to be encountered both on the walls of Cairo and in verbal formats. 

From the air, not much seemed to have changed in the country: Egyptair still flies to Cairo from Berlin without stops, you still have to fill out the immigration form with Nefertitis head on it before entering the country and the pursers jovial presentation of Cairo from above still reminded me of bad childrens TV. 

The plane landed, the passengers disembarked, collected their luggage and passed customs. Again, although this was a new airport, not much seemed to have changed: I was accosted by various taxi services vying for my employ and found myself changing Euros to pounds at the CIB counter. 

My first point of contact with ongoing events was, as usual in Cairo, the taxi driver on the way home from the airport. A friend picked me up, warmly, and ushered me into the cab. The driver was Essam, a verbose, outspoken and informed man in his mid thirties. We talked Tahrir ( it has become dirty, a slum in the middle of West Al-Balad), the Economy (gone), the military (not hand in hand with the people) and how to improve things (The Egyptians need a grand project). A very informative conversation which left my head spinning as we left the white cab with a working meter. After the many conversations I have had with cab drivers in Cairo, I had finally been exposed to a new quality to the information and discourse. Change seemed to be in the air. 

We arrived at the flat in Zamalek and dropped my luggage. It was heartwarming to return here and find it almost unchanged, except for a greener, thicker lawn and slightly more dilapidated walls. The bed I had slept in as a child remains equally creaky. We were not to stay there long, as one of my traditions upon returning to Cairo is Koshari at Abo Tareks as soon as I land. Change struck in form of the place closing up upon us finally arriving there at eleven-thirty. I don't recall ever seeing the Koshary Mall closed before.

In stead of a 7amdilla 3al salama (welcome home) koshary, we decided to walk through the streets of Imbaba for a while, a section o the city which seems, superficially, unchanged, save for bouts of patriotism in form of Egyptian colours on every pylon of th 15th of May bridge, which my companion pointed out to me. It remains impossible to navigate the pavements, clothing stores still display their wares on the street and crowds still populate the street. Maybe it's nostalgia, but there seemed to be less bustle at eleven in the evening than there used to be. The reasons for this will become apparent later. Upon realising that no koshary would be forthcoming that night, we made our way home. 

The next morning, one of the first things we did was Tahrir tourism. 

The image I had formed of Tahrir from abroad and kept alive in my head was that of a utopian meeting point, in which a broad cross- section of Egyptian society meets to discuss lofty topics such as social justice, gender equality development and education amidst bloggers and performances. The Tahrir I saw in reality was closer to a Brazillian Favela flanked by neocolonial buildings and ads for Coca Cola. The cab driver had been right. Over the months, much dirt and trash had accumulated, as had people in need of a bath. It stank. Loud arguements were left to develop into fights. Far from the symbol for peaceful resitance and freedom I hoped it would be, it had become a reminder of many of the problems that need to be solved in Egypt. 


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