The Testosterone Filled Streets of Cairo

I am in Cairo, sitting outside a mall waiting for it to open at 11am. I heard that the mall serves coffee, strong and blessedly cold.

The sun is baking hot. Sweat drips down my temples, evaporating on the dusty streets. I watch it fall, minute reflections of city life visible in the droplet. The streets are covered in dust and trash. Cars, dented and scratched, bump over potholes with a metallic grating. They are tired and groan at their labor like oxen dragging a cart. I am the only tourist in sight. Since the revolution, tourists are as rare as the rains.

There is a constant procession of old Volkswagon vans, painted white, with their side door removed and rear engine flap raised. They stop briefly unloading groups of young, testosterone filled, teenage boys, their hair cut short except for a mop on the top which makes them look like angry chickens. They laugh, arms swung over their friends shoulders. They know they rule this land and walk it with wistful abandon. Many of them smoke, blowing the vile fumes into the air where it hangs in the still heat of this land. Not a breeze blows. There is no respite from the midday sun.

Women and girls gather nearby, also waiting for the mall to open. They are more reserved than the roving bands of boys. They sit and laugh, heads covered in colored scarfs. They seem immune to the heat, faces radiating peace and tolerance, but eyes often betray a harder lesson. Unlike the boys who answer to no-one apart from Allah and their parents, the girls understand that, in this society, they must uphold the respect of the culture. It is the women who will guide the next generation towards the future.

I look around at the daily life which surrounds me. Cairo fascinates me. It is a stunningly, interesting place. On one hand it feels frenetic, testosterone filled, like a fight is about to break out. Yet, it is not the tension of danger that hangs in the air like the oppressive heat. It’s the feeling when a bunch of loutish teenagers get together and you never know what trouble they will get into, but you can be assured there will be trouble. On the other hand, this frenetic energy is tempered with respect: respect for each other, respect for me as a tourist, and respect for personal space.

I watch teenagers hold open doors for women and children. I watch men, withered with age and sun, pulling carts filled with trinkets stop to block traffic to allow girls chatting on their cell phones pass free from the danger of the traffic whizzing by. I watch it all from my western eyes knowing that I will leave this place a different person. That’s the magic of travel. Every place you visit leaves its mark. Cairo is an ancient city. It changes slowly. My life is but a speck, my time in this country a speck upon that speck, but I will forever be changed.

It is now 11am. The mall has opened. The groups of boys enter first followed by the women and children, and finally the men. I wipe the sweat from my brow, stand, stretching my legs and head in search of coffee and shade. A short time later, I sit at the coffee shop, at the base of a broken escalator, its steps choked with cigarette butts and trash. I type away on my phone recording my thoughts. My feeble words will struggle to capture my surroundings. I know this, yet I continue typing. It is through my journal that I can relive this moment, and in the end, moments are all we have.

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