There is something strange about Cairo. It’s both homely and scary. There is the home itself: the constant hum of the television set, it’s soap operas sickeningly sweet, contrived and sappy, the crunching of pumpkin seeds and nuts, over-protectiveness, sentimentality, suffocation, confinement to it. Then, there is the street: harsh, threatening, dirty- faced, masculine, inconsistent, erratic, scary, somehow sexy.
Stop to see the compassion, the stranger offering the guy next to him on the curb a sip of his bottle of Seven-Up, the eagerness to intervene in an argumnet between strangers over traffic. In the constant hum, there is a conscientious, shared sense of responsibility. The Street is Cairo itself- the striving and pushing, exposes sincerity that is sad, surprising and very human. I thought that if Egyptians took some of this energy to the topics that mattered, less on the trivialities of say, traffic and soccer, and into political issues, then the society mightn’t be so stunted, the situation so corrupt and insufficient.
Yet, this shared concern became even more potent in Tahrir Square.
“Volunteers who arrived on Tahrir [Square] after mid-day found it spick and span, and started cleaning up other streets instead. I saw kids perched on the great lions of Qasr el-Nil Bridge buffing them up.” said Ahdaf Soueif, in a piece about this changing Egypt.
Cairo is not like a Western society. It is something more transparent, more sincere, perhaps sadder, but certainly simpler- I think it is realer. While the modern utility of Western society is useful, and practical and orderly, it is doll house-like, contrived by another, on the basis of what they suppose we should need.
Like a man who eats his wife’s beautifully arranged plate of greens, only to find that he is still hungry. Like claiming that you need to check your email, when there is nothing to see. Like squinting painfully into an Ipad, though it’s ‘the clearest resolution screen in the market’, and seemed so easy in the commercial. Like not taking the last piece on the plate, because it’s embarrassing to somebody else.
An Ikea stool, made by a thin Swedish couple somewhere in a cold city, is inept at actually providing comfort. The couch: soft, pillowy, excessive- is the truth of the human situation .
Playing in this doll-house, one might see that they don’t even like coffee. Wear this with that because it’s close-ish to what they’re wearing in the commercial, because you didn’t buy the vest full price from the brand name store. Cute, but stifling. Grunting onto the couch is the real eating, smelly mammal you- not Vesty mc post-it notes over there.
You over-polite, performing, imprison the grunty mammal. That animal wouldn’t do in the 12 inches of city-rail seat space, wouldn’t sit on the stool in a café, or in a café at all actually. So you wear the vest, drink the soy chai latte, buy some more post-it notes, slump onto your futon and continue, silently. This is the state of the young citizen in his Western society.
Go to Cairo. They need your tourism.