I had never been to Egypt before moving to Cairo about three weeks ago, but I’d heard a lot about both country and city. So I knew that I was into quite a difference from Beirut. However, from what people had told me I did think that Zamalek (a small island in the Nile that I live on and where most embassies are placed) would be a bit like Beirut. It’s not!
I noticed this my first day here, when I stepped out into the street and saw woman after woman wearing a veil. I was wearing a summer dress that in no way would have got any attention in Beirut. It sure did here.
The more time I spend here, the more I discover all the differences between the two places. This in everything from how people dress (there’ll be an entire post on that later), how people drive and how people speak. I’ve gotten used to saying “Ma behky 3rabi, behky lubnani” (I don’t speak Arabic, I speak Lebanese) when people ask. And I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. But I just find the dialects so different that sometimes they seem like two completely different languages.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about similarities and differences between the two cities and here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
This is what I miss about Beirut:
– There’s a hairdresser/beauty salon on EVERY corner. And I almost mean that literally. If one corner is missing one, you can be sure to find to in the middle of the block.
– The many, many places where you can buy all kinds of freshly squeezed juice. So far I’ve only seen one here and they mainly had orange juice.
– The supermarkets that are overflowing with just about everything. Especially the high-end ones in Down Town. I’ve gone to what I’ve been told are two very big supermarkets here, but they don’t come near the big ones in Beirut.
– Being able to sit alone in a cafe. This has something to do with the entire male/female harassment issue, which I’ll probably blog about at a later time.
This is what I like about Cairo:
– It’s actually normal for restaurants and cafes to have websites with directions and menus and everything. In fact, the whole web-scene seems light-years in front of Beirut. Even a slow internet connection here is quicker than most of the fast ones in Lebanon.
– The many trees. I thought Beirut was a green city, but it’s got nothing on Cairo. Alright, I probably shouldn’t say Cairo here. I’ve basically stayed in Zamalek my whole time and everyone keeps reminding me that Zamalek is NOT Cairo. But in Zamalek there are trees everywhere. Many streets are completely covered, which not only gives a very welcome shade from the sun, but also covers the island with the most amazing light! Plus, everyday to and from work, I walk through perhaps the most romantic street I’ve ever seen. Again it’s the trees that do it. But I can’t help feeling like I’m in a Woody Allen movie whenever I walk there. So I do every day, even though it’s a small detour.
– The many and cheap flowers. Where Beirut has its salons all over the place, Zamalek has its flower salesmen. You can buy the most beautiful roses and lily’s for next to nothing. And living in a (slightly unpersonal) furnished apartment, having lots and lots of flowers around makes the place seem a bit more like home.