Egypt – Life in Cairo
by Zan Jia
I live in Egypt. Normally at this statement, people conjure a picture of garbed men with beards who live in pyramids with satellite TVs, and drive camels (6 camel-power). Unfortunately, if you have conjured such an image, you are wrong! Cairo is a great urban city, teeming with life and cars. The language here is Arabic, not hieroglyphics or any exotic language like that. Things here move very slowly, and they are done in a relaxed manner. Everything is done “tomorrow” which means it is rarely done. Especially for foreigners, everything is done bookra (tomorrow). In the end, nothing much is done. Some things don’t happen, even after a year!
Pita bread (top) Falafel ( middle left ) Tahini ( bottom right )
Normally, Egyptians wake up at around 9 am. in the morning. Then they have their breakfast of French-fries in bread. Most of you are assuming that the bread Egyptians eat is the normal European type, but that is not the case. Egyptian bread looks a bit like chapatti. It has nothing in-between. Food like falafel is commonly put inside. Falafel is a deep fried ball or patty made of broad-beans or chick peas, though the former is the normal ingredient in Egypt. Sometimes, tahini sauce is put inside. Tahini sauce is paste of grounded sesame seeds. As you can imagine, it tastes wonderful.
Anyway, moving on, the men normally set of to work at 9:30 am. Then, they get caught in the jam for an hour. In the end, they arrive at work at about 10 or 10:30 am. They continue work until 3 pm or 3:30pm., or sometimes 4pm. After which they get caught in the jam for another hour, and reach home just in time for lunch, at about 4 or 4:30pm. From 5:30pm. onwards, they take a siesta until 7pm., they have dinner at 10 or 11pm. Then after dinner, they talk and cool down outside their apartments. They don’t go to bed until 1 am. or so. But during Ramadan, they can stay awake until 3 am. or so. It is extremely hot in the afternoon and nothing can be done then.
As I think you are curious how life is here, well, here is your answer. In Egyptian lifestyle, drinking water does not exist. The word hygiene also does not exist. Excuse me sir, how do you spell this word? That’s what the local waiter in a local restaurant will ask you as he nonchalantly digs his nose while gazing at flies settling on your food. The plates normally hang on rusty racks, and are very convenient for the chef to sneeze or blow on. Over here, diarrhea is very common. In the Egyptian culinary culture “the springs of life” are Coke or Pepsi. After all, who wants to drink water? Deep-frying is very common here, and steaming is non-existent. Think of the horrible diseases you could catch using water! Crisps here are also very popular, and are very nice. Here, a bottle of Pepsi is L.E.1.50(S$0.30). Interestingly, they still use glass bottles. Pita bread is also very cheap.
Fruits here are extremely cheap. Now it is grape season, and a kg of grapes is about L.E. 6(S$1.20). You don’t know how juicy and delicious the grapes are! They are much fresher than those in NTUC. Strawberries (when in season) cost about L.E. 4-5(figure it out yourself). The strawberries are also very fresh and delicious. Quite interestingly, they have mandarin oranges here. They too, are extremely cheap and very sweet. All the fruits here are much cheaper and fresher. No matter how fresh Cold Storage claims its fruits to be, they cannot beat the fruits here!
For some more musically inclined, Egyptian music is very Middle Eastern. It is a mix of rock and oriental. However, there is the national opera house which performs Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Puccini, and Bach. Once in a while, we have the treat of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. That is about L.E.450(S$ 90) per seat. Once in a blue moon, the Carmen is performed. Indeed, they have a lot of classical music performed here. It is just as good as our esplanade; the performances here are just as captivating.
Egypt has her pro and cons. Both balance each other, and in the end, the scale is equal. She may have her weaknesses, but we have ours. As far as I am concerned, Egypt is a very beautiful place at heart.