We are off to Luxor on the sleeper train tonight. For the last three days we have played tourist in Cairo. On Friday we spent most of the day at the Egyptian Museum, a massive jumble of some 250,000 artifacts at the north end of Midan Tahrir. It could use some curating and a deep clean but the collection is impressive. Also, the Tutenchamun exhibition is in residence. We then wandered back into Zamalek looking for an internet café and some dinner. We ended up in a place called Arabica, where you can see that there is a literary and cultural life here. Yesterday we followed some of the traces of the Jan 25 revolution – in and out of Madin Tahrir and around the neighborhood then down to Abdeen. The tent city is still very much in place. The old party headquarters is still a burnt out shell. All streets leading south out of the square are still blocked by massive concrete blocks. There is some great graffiti (see photo). Half the shops are boarded up and battered. The Pizza Hut just off the square has reopened but the McDonalds is still boarded up and closed. It has taken a massive hit. There is a real Mad Max feel about the place, as if it is about to slide off the edge. Today, we took the motorway out of the city to go to Giza to see the Pyramids. After crossing the Nile we passed mile after mile of ghost-like, half built apartment blocks. Then big piles of rubbish, some burning, began to fill the outside lane of the motorway, before it abruptly ended – like a Mad Max car-chase where the bad guy drives off the end of an elevated road under construction. The contradiction is that while the fabric of the built environment is unraveling in many places (not as badly where the rich live of course), there is a contrasting sense of civil society re-establishing itself – rather than unraveling in tandem. The weather here is mild and very pleasant. There should be lots of tourists. But there aren’t. So the touts and hawkers are desperate and even more competitive than usual. One taxi driver wanted an exorbitant rate we were unwilling to pay. But instead of turning his back and telling us to fuck off he laughed and pointed us to the Metro, which we then took. In spite of the anxiety we have sensed in most people we have met there has almost always been an underlying sense of kindness. They want to help. They want things to change. Somehow they seem to have hope.
It’s a great season to think of others.
So please think of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania this Christmas.