There seemed to be nothing different as I left Cairo Airport, but almost immediately I was struck by the amount of traffic and the amount of honking especially as we manoeuvred our way through the exit. By the time I arrived, darkness had fallen and I could see very little. When we arrived at my daughter’s flat in New Cairo, I could see that it was as modern and well fitted as the photgraphs of it I had been sent.
Next morning the sun was shining when I awoke and the view from the balcony showed unfinished blocks of flats. a few of which seemed to be occupied. The impression was rather much of a ghost town. From the balcony the new American University could be seen where my daughter worked when she was well (see earlier post). It wouldn’t take long to walk there despite the sand and rubble. The few cars that came along were driving carefully to avoid potholes and various piles of dirt lying in the road. It was rather like a ghost town and this impression remained for miles and miles in New Cairo. Buildings with elaborate facades and entrance gates lined the route almost into old Cairo.
Nearer the centre the roads got busier and busier and the flats became less grand with often the inevitable washing hanging over the balconies.
We drove into Cairo in a minibus from the university. The driver, in the dense traffic, kept his hand on the horn almost constantly. The dwellings also became crammed together, sometimes cobbled together with little more than cardboard. The people condemned to live in these would never have been able to afford to rent or buy one of the luxurious flats in New Cairo. After an hour and a quarter we reached Tahrir Square. No sign of the rebellious masses from the Arab Spring, but the square was still crowded with cars, jam packing every inch. Crossing the road always seems to me a dangerous business, but if one wants to get to the other side there is nothing else for it.
We passed barbed wire, wondering if it would ever be needed again, and made our way to the old part of the American University which had been damaged in the riots, but the gardens there seemed an oasis of peace adjacent to the busy square.
We sat in the gardens in the sunshine, discussing how different it was from the horrendous traffic, not far away.
My daughter commented on the changes that had taken place since she was there. What had once been a busy cafe was now almost empty and had very little to offer in the way of food or drinks. There didn’t seem to be any classes taking place.
When we went out into the street, we saw graffiti on the walls. At one time there had been pictures of those who had died during the rebellion. They were called martyrs and I hope they have not died for nothing.
The last time I was in Cairo when my daughter first took ill, there were pictures of President Morsi everywhere, but he is now in prison. Some of the pictures on the wall were self explanatory, but others we found difficult to interpret. .
We then decided it was time for lunch. On previous visits I used to enjoy going to the big, luxurious hotels in Cairo, but most of the hotels in Tahrir Square have closed. The Semiramis is still open and we decided to go there. After another hazardous road crossing we walked round the hotel looking for an entrance. There used to be several, but now there is only the one facing the Nile which is open. This is the one furthest from Tahrir Square. The hotel boasts every facility possible and we settled on one of the restaurants for lunch.
From the window we could see the only entrance – gates with spikes across the top. A little man was kept busy opening and closing the gate for cars going in and out.
The restaurant was not full and there were only two other women, Egyptians, who were waiting for their husbands.
We enjoyed our lunch especially the elaborate sweets for which these expensive hotels are famed.
Afrer lunch, it was time to get a taxi back to New Cairo, an hour’s drive away from central Cairo, but in another sense, a whole world away.
Cairo fascinates me. It is like a person with many talents who can’t quite get their act together.