How You Fall In Love With A City: Inside Egypt

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The essence of a city is what makes people fall in love with it. Sure, there are many things to do in an urban center much like there are many things to do everywhere, but it will steal our heart when we get to know the people in it, the blood that pumps through its heart and keeps the body moving.

This is not my first time writing this: cities have always captured my fascination because of their energy. One of my favorite moments when flying into an international airport — usually situated on the outskirts of the city core — is seeing the highways flowing with glossy cars carrying people to-and-fro the core. Sometimes, you can see the bottleneck effect of where traffic was clogged from construction or an accident. From up there, you can see how the buildings go from low-laying sprawl to high-rise reminders standing at the heart.

I always dreamed of going to Cairo. The allure was partly the history, partly the proximity to the desert and partly the culture. It was its warmth and glow that pulled my attention.

With the not-so recent events, a different Cairo is surfacing into view for all to see. As this recent article on CNN highlights, our view of contemporary Cairo has evolved. It is not just about the pyramids and the sand, but about the people and their lifestyle.

I asked a friend — Angela, who runs a B&B here in Buenos Aires — about Cairo. She lived in the city for a few years, got to know the people, learned the language and observed how they lived. By being there, she got to get a feel of the essence of the place:

I agree with every single bit of what the article said. I always loved how Egyptians hang out on the bridges over the Nile on warm summer nights. The breeze off of the water and because there are no buildings blocking it makes the bridges the coolest part of town.

There are all sorts of vendors selling everything you can imagine. Wedding parties head out to the corniche (the streets along the Nile) to have pictures taken, hang out among the beautiful buildings, get some relief from the heat and be social. On the boats, there are parties happening with loud music and dancing. It’s a blast. The Nile is the center of everything there.

When I asked her about the “slum” housing, she observed:

The low-income housing in Cairo is really interesting. They call the houses “generation houses” because each new generation builds an apartment of sorts on top of the already existing structure. So when a son marries, he and his wife move in above his parents and the houses just keep getting taller. You can tell how many generations live in the house by the number of floors. The problem is that there are no building codes and these houses sometimes collapse.

Still, despite its housing flaws, Angela still feels like it was the “safest place” she has ever lived. She continued to tell me that. “The pollution and noise in the city can become draining after a while. But that’s also the beauty in a strange way. It’s a magical place.”

Perhaps for traveling, when we do instant snapshots, we only get a glimpse of the surface. That’s O.K. too, because we need those moments. When watching a movie, nothing is more hilarious than getting the chance to say, “Oh wow, I was there!” But, when getting to know a peoples, sometimes you need to discover its problems, look at its faults and appreciate the people who have lived through it all. Perhaps this is how you fall in love with a city.

And sometimes, you just know.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog,

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