Though I don’t particularly like Cairo much, in fact it’s as boring as spectating a golf match, I gotta say there are some impressive components. Like, walking the line of a war zone without being right inside it. Secondly, I never stayed at a guesthouse where there was a car flipped over and burnt to its steel outside the front door. And third… No. Not the Citadel. Honestly, I’ve been living in Istanbul for more than half a year, and as wonderful as some people find these mosques, I don’t find them very riveting (and neither do I churches for the most part).
The most interesting, invigorating, part of this city -relative to a curious traveller looking for unique character- would be the ‘Garbage City’ -told to me by a debaucherous traveller while I was with him drowning in Red Horse in Manila.
And this is the reason why this city is so damn clean compared to any other place south or east of the Mediterranean, I mean its a pretty big place in the World’s Top Populations.
‘But what is it Savvy? What is this Garbage City?’
Glad you asked.
At some point, I suppose, when the fuel of Islam really started to get flamboyant in this country, they started drawing lines and the Christians were certainly not going to be on the same side of the line as them.
They made it as hard as possible for them to make a living -in likely hope that they would starve and fade away. Instead of dying, or fading, or moving on, they built a community on garbage. All of the scrap metal and such that people are collecting, selling, and earning cash for these days; well they’ve been doin this a long ass time already.
You could call it the ‘Red City’ as well, as the buildings look like brick tenements from North America. They don’t exactly stand upright, and seem to bend slightly -some of them anyhow-, carved by the wind, and you don’t have to look too closely to see the base of these buildings, made into garages to store all the garbage that is collected throughout the city.
It’s a very poor district and though I won’t say it is dangerous, I also wouldn’t say it is ‘safe’. Most people were puzzled at my request to find this place. Most didn’t even know how to get there. But what I can tell you, from Tahrir Square; it is no simple feat. And you will certainly pass by the Citadel – and realize you have to pay some extorted price to enter- before arriving.
The general energy of this hood (or slum) is very provocative. At first, I wasn’t too easy waltzing around, as I got stink eyes from a few of the rather large men. But after a little bit, they softened up -a little- and we eventually got invited into a home for tea.
Unfortunately, me and my Japanese mate, were both quite paranoid about being pulled into this little apartment, by a young lady no older than 16, to meet her grandpa (or potentially her pimp). And when he didn’t appear, before we were labelled as perverts, paedophiles, or rapists we fled the scene and moved on through the region.As you move up the quarter, there is a hill and at the top of the hill, which is paved anyhow, there is a cave. Before the cave, a huge picture of Jesus, and some scripture, carved into the stone of the hillside high above local eyes. And beside it, the stone plaques of the ten commandments.
Inside the cave are about fifteen thousand seats in a half moon, like an auditorium -its also an ampitheatre and Opera House- and a podium at the front -with a big screen.
One of the things I was told is that people had said -many people said- that at some point they had a revelation, and saw Mary appear. She appeared clearly and a few words were mentioned (I think) and then her image faded away.
Everyone at the ‘church’ gathering saw her.
The place, when I was there was about 100,000 occupants, full-stop. It was certainly an unexpected experience being greeted by Christians, and though I was a bit uneasy in the area, I have to say it was a lot more refreshing than being harassed to read the Qu’ran or enter shops, drink tea, and then pressured into buying different perfumes and useless shit. It felt a little more sensible to me. And not at all hopeless.
In a city of nearly 11 million and their population 1/100 th of that.. the fact that they have survived as long as they have is an incredible feat. Sadly, recent news that I’ve gotten wind of, is that Egyptian-Christians recently found in Lybia, by Isis, were beheaded as a warning to Western States.
This ‘Garbage City’ was a wonderful place, and I dearly hope these people are not faced with execution after all they’ve been through, all the struggle and oppression and belittlement -just because of religion. I hope that this group (Isis) doesn’t get the chance to completely dismantle this wonderfully, strange and somehow exotic place within the real, garbage city that is Cairo.
Of course, you can go and see the Pyramids in Giza, an ear’s shot away. A perfect view of a crumbling society, wiped from its ancient history by a stern regiment of religious decree. And you can also tour around the city, and get into a few fender benders along the way, no doubt -I was in two on the way into the centre from the airport, on a local bus.
And, while things seem to be steaming up right now, and a whole lot of pain seems to be coming to unfortunate innocents tired of tyranny, you can likely see something of a unique experience at Tahrir Square if you time it right -I was there for the ‘democratic election’ of the Muslim Brotherhood and that was certainly an event of anti-climax.
The food is cheap, transport as well (locally), and despite fear mongers, I say if you want to experience all that this country has to offer, don’t be afraid at all, and dive right in. Waste not time on a packaged tour (paying more in a week than a local family would spend in a month), and head down to the ancient temples on your own. Take your own steps and try as many of the little pita eateries along the way. From Mousaha (local moussaka) to Foul (bean dip made in a clay cement mixer), falafel, thick cheese, baba ganoush (eggplant dip), humus, and glasses of fresh, ridiculously good orange juice, all for about 50 cents a piece, though quality is not very high, the food is alright most of the time and life is very cheap. Toutes might be a pain in the ass, walking their malnourished camels, and you’ll certainly get lonely, stuck hanging out with the few tourists that signed up for a 10 day tour, but if you read Siwa Desert, you know where to go to get away from all of that.