Caroline in Cairo: Observations
Over winter break I traveled to Cairo, Egypt where I spent a month with Lamis and her family. I had an amazing time, learned a lot of Arabic, saw some crazy stuff, and returned with a lot of stories! Here are some observations I made while in Egypt.
I’ve taken all forms of transportation available in Cairo.
Train- pretty cool. average train ride. my ticket from Cairo to Alexandria and back was 90 Egp.
Bus- no. never again.
Minibus- so so so crowded. also scary.
Microbus- super cheap and generally pretty trustworthy. Most tickets were 4 Egp.
TukTuk- So much fun! They’re usually decorated with feathers, lights, or stickers. The only downside is how slow they are.
Boxtruck- Yikes. Crammed with people, nails sticking out of the sides, guys hanging on the back, and a very bumpy ride.
Taxi- some drivers have timers that determine the fare. These drivers are suuuuper slow. Downside of taxi is that sometimes the drivers try to be funny.
There are no rules for driving. At all.
Cars will try to run you over. Especially female drivers.
Crosswalks either don’t exist or they’re not visible. Crossing the street basically just means jumping in front of cars and looking mean enough to hopefully make them stop for you.
Sidewalks are where stores conduct business, the street is shared by pedestrians and cars.
Traffic lights and stop signs are suggestions.
Animal-drawn carts aren’t the weirdest thing. If you leave the house you’re most likely going to see at least one donkey pulling an orange cart
While in Egypt i ate pigeon, rabbit, quail, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, ful, t3mayya, kufta, koshary, mulukhayya, and just about every other thing you could think of. The food was always so good. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent host mother (my friend’s mom) who was continuously cooking for us.
Nescafé is love. Nescafé is life.
Guests are served coffee, tea, juice, or Nescafé made to their specifications on a silver tray.
Every meal must have side dishes. Grape leaves, stuffed vegetables, other meats.
Black tea usually follows a meal.
There are endless types of cheeses and everyone has a different favorite. *Cue weird looks if you eat the wrong cheese with the wrong meat.*
You can get a sandwich for 2 Egp (shoutout to Shabrawwi) that tastes amazing.
Falafel is called T3mayya is Cairo. Just go with it.
Abu Tarek has the best koshary and that’s final.
Lemonade will probably never be the same for me. I drank a lot of Lemonade with mint, 2hwa mazboot (sweetened Turkish coffee), and tea with mint. I also tried fresh mango, strawberry, and guava juice!
There is a song for everything. Everything has a movie or TV show reference, a little chant, a song, or some connection to pop culture.
Key gestures and phrases made my life 1000x easier.
ex: there’s a gesture to show someone you’re actually full and not just being nice.
there’s a phrase to tell the person asking for money that you don’t have any but you hope their life gets easier.
*sidenote* sometimes shopkeepers will tell you that your items are free and you don’t have to pay. they’re just being nice %99 of the time and you really do need to pay
I’m creating a second post dedicated solely to shisha and coffee shops.
The Quran is absolutely EVERYWHERE. This might’ve been the biggest shock for me when I got to Egypt. Almost every car has بسم الله, ما شاء الله, الله اكبر or some other religious phrase written in sharpie, painted, or (the most common) attached as a sticker. Taxis, buses, microbuses, and minibuses are especially decked out in written prayers asking for God’s protection. Quranic recitation is unbelievably prevalent. I heard recordings of the Quran being played in: taxis, microbuses, grocery stores, on the street, shops, etc. I was touring the Citadel in Alexandria and i even heard one of the cleaning men reciting the Quran.
*sidenote* One of the mechanics across the street from Lamis’s house blared the Quran non-stop 24/7 the only exception being during soccer games.
Idle chitchat is mandatory when a guest comes over. I really value alone time so i occasionally struggled to keep up with the Egyptian social life.
People stare. A lot. Some people make weird comments. No one ever touched me or was hostile.
Personal space doesn’t exist outside of the house. There are a ton of people in Cairo and it’s very apparent when there’s a big event or holiday. (like New Year’s Eve)
Foreign brands are everywhere (they have cheetos).
People yell in the streets at all hours of the night. It’s fine. Most people are awake anyway.
Being late is normal. Meeting times are just general suggestions, give or take a couple hours.
Men will invoke the name of God while catcalling you because that makes it fine???
Haggling is a must. Speaking Arabic helps. Being Egyptian helps even more.
The conversion rate during my time in Egypt was about 18-20 Egp/ 1 USD.
Egypt was very affordable for me but worsening economic woes have exacerbated class tensions as purchasing power decreases and prices of basic goods continue to rise.
I gave my dollars to Lamis’s dad to convert for me at the bank. I didn’t mess with conversion companies but I did see some around.
I bought lots of gifts and spent rather freely and i ended up spending ~1100 Egp / Week. (including a train to Alexandria and frequent trips to coffee shops)
I know that generalizations aren’t the best way to obtain a nuanced perspective of a country or a culture; however, the aim of this post is to provide a fun and funny glimpse into Egypt as I saw it.