Streets of Cairo

Dear Alan.

What can I say about the streets Cairo? The streets of Cairo are not a built environment in the way we would normally conceive of one. There is nothing finite or permanent about them. They are as organic and alive as a beating heart. The daily rhythm creating an expansion and contraction that sweeps matter in all forms along in its wake, as breath entering and exiting the most powerful lungs. So many purposes co inhabit this space, yet they find themselves here not at cross purposes but occupying parallel paths on the way to accomplish their diverse aims, in no way isolated from each other and with no consciousness of the precedence of one over another.

The streets here you see, are as much for people (alone on the way from work, mother with child perched straddling one shoulder, friends joking, talking on mobiles, pulling carts piled with roasted sweet potatoes, carrying plastic sacks of groceries, with cardboard parcels tied with string or racks of fresh pita bread balanced on their heads) as they are for wheeled transport (donkey-pulled carts pulling loads of fodder or garbage, horse-pulled carts vending fresh vegetables, bicycles, buses with passengers dangling like Christmas ornaments, minibuses with the doors wide open, passenger cars, and the ever present taxi urging the whole mess onwards). You see the people who are contending with this mass of organic and metal movement have chosen this route over the sidewalks as the path of, well, lesser resistance. The reasons for this choice are abundant and include (from my favorites to the less romantic): cafes whose domination of the sidewalk fluxes with the weather, time of day, clientele, and football schedule; vegetable, fruit, and bread stands; next the entrepreneurial individuals who claim a piece of pavement and manifest a livelihood from it by selling any number of incidentals from tissues to watches to slipper to pens; then there are the mechanics whose patients take up residence for any length of time in various states of disrepair; finally there are the more coarse and transitory invading forces of construction, parking, and garbage.

Life dominates here. This means that the unfortunate and misguided soul who wants to GET somewhere… is relegated to the street, a much more efficient route, though riskier of life and limb.



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