The first few hours, maybe even the first few days after arriving in a brand new place in the world is one of my absolute favorite moments to live for.
Within those first few hours your ideals and previous mental pictures of the place are shattered and the real city is exposed before you. Sometimes your imagination of the place was similar to what you were thinking, and other times your mind completely deceived you.
After nearly 2 years of living in SE Asia, I hopped on a plane to Egypt.
My flight from tropical Thailand touched down at Cairo International Airport at 5 am when the city was looming in thick fog and the temperature had fallen well below what my body was accustomed to.
Taking public transportation from the airport to the place I would stay in Cairo’s Maadi district, promptly surrounded me in a few extraordinary Egyptian observations.
I decided to take the bus from the airport to Ramses station in the center of Cairo. To do this I had to avoid the many taxi drivers and locate the airport shuttle bus going to the bus terminal.
When I arrived at the terminal, the bus signs were written in Arabic.
A taxi driver pounced upon me, trying with effort to hustle me into taking his taxi. A few moments after I neglected his offer repeatedly, I asked him which bus to take to Ramses station.
With little hesitation, he showed me to the correct public bus and even asked the bus driver to let me know when the bus had arrived. I thanked him and headed into town.
Getting on the Cairo metro at peak hours of traffic is like being in a rugby scrum.
With my belongings attached to my back and my first time in Cairo, I wasn’t overly prepared for a fight. Men pushed, shoved and ran in front of me, squeezing into tight spaces and boxing me out.
At the final moment I was able to step in the train, however the doors slammed on my backpack, leaving me almost helpless. Again, without hesitation, 2 men who had recently bumped me out of line, jumped out of their seats to pry the doors open and ensure that I also got in.
From Sakanat el Maadi station I took a taxi to a friends house without agreeing on an initial price.
My friend told me that I should NOT pay more than 15 LE. A quiet kind man drove me in his personal station wagon outfitted with bucket seats.
When we arrived, I handed him 15 LE, bidding farewell. He became enraged, throwing a fit, as I smiled back at him, taking it more as a joke.
A man standing on the street stepped in to become moderator, arguing back and forth for a few minutes. I slipped the cab driver an extra 5 LE and he drove away, happy enough.
My first hour in Cairo and there had already been 3 instances of Egyptian men helping me out in necessary situations.
Though at first it might seem that people are stern and unfriendly in Cairo, it doesn’t take long to realize that outside emotions are permitted, but in the end, Egyptian hospitality prevails!
A few more utterly random initial thoughts or observations in Cairo:
- People love to put things on the roof of their cars. It seems that if someone enters an empty car with a bag, they will throw it on the roof rack.
- In Cairo people will actually drive with no headlights, to be able to flash their high beams at pedestrians or other moving vehicles.
- One of the best and most effective methods of crossing a street is to look the driver directly in the eye and then extend your arm out and point your index finger directly into his/her face as if holding them back.
- You can order something from a coffee shop or restaurant and if they are out or don’t have it, they won’t tell you, just bring you something else in place. This happens even with locals.
My first meal in Cairo, called Hawawshy. As I was sitting at this street side eatery, a car almost decided to run me over! Welcome to Egypt!