Sunday, June 24, 2007

Abnormal normal

Again greetings from Cairo,
Since we've resided here in this Middle Eastern metropolis for almost two months, I've actually been excited to add to my previous comments. As Ammon mentioned earlier, about 20 million people call Cairo their home including three million residing on and in the cemeteries of their family's direct ancestors. We've witnessed this on more than one occasion, in more than one location...can you imagine? I've read that of the total population one third lack running water and one quarter have no sewers! Its been figured that the green area per citizen is about 13 sq. cm (not enough to even cover the palm of a young child). Not too surprising when almost 97% of this France -sized country is desert! Cairo out does LA. in air pollution each day although we've noticed days of wide fluctuation as measured by how many bridges spanning the river are visible to us on any particular day when either walking or taking a taxi across the Nile to work. A good comparison is that for each day of breathing downtown air its like smoking 30 cigarettes! Having read what I just wrote, I'm both amazed and disturbed that I have somewhat become adjusted to it. Traffic is the main culprit with coaches, city buses, tourist buses, mini-buses, all sorts of different vans and taxis, motorbikes, and scooters all contributing as well as those crazy enough to drive their own private vehicles. Sitting in the front seat of a taxi makes one really believe many if not one pedestrian (they really are technically all jay-walkers who risk life and limb trusting in the quick reflexes of all drivers) will be found under the front bumper or any of the fenders upon reaching one's destination! Riding a bike in traffic is tantamount to suicide! There are more than 60,000 service taxis alone (large extended vans) that carry a million plus back and forth to work daily. There are two lines of Metro (subway/train) transport with a third hopefully to be built in the near future. One line travels under downtown, then under the Nile and towards the pyramids with nineteen stops. The second line crosses the first line deep under downtown at about a right angle and has a total of 33 stops. As a rule the first cars are reserved for women only and once accidentally I got caught alone in one of these. The others were entering a particular car and I was afraid I wasn't going to make it inside with the crowded conditions so I practically dove in the next forward car's door. Oh well, wrong car, and embarrassed, I made a point to quickly alleviate any fears (yes, I generated a few "concerned" and many curious looks from my female co-passengers as well as my family members looking through the connecting glass door between the two cars) by making friends with about seven children hanging bewildered on their mothers' attire. Soon they were encouraging their offspring to speak to me....their English was much better than my handful of Arabic. It actually was not only humbling but also fun and I felt a keen sense that not only I but they were disappointed as well when I calmly exited waving goodbye and rejoined the others to our mutual relief.........
We're still hanging out in a totally low end hotel in the center of downtown Cairo. Its $11.00 cdn a night total for the family.... We're making friends and going exploring on foot and city bus to Old Cairo, Zamelek, Islamic Cairo, Coptic Cairo, etc..... all of which are quarters of this mega city. In the Islamic sector, Bre and I each climbed our own of twin minarets high above a Mameluke-built heavy wooden entrance gate upon which unfortunates were nailed (900-1100's AD). The last uppermost tier was accessed by a very open spiraling wrought iron ladder that shook around in the wind through the narrow pillars that supported the small dome above.
It really is too crazy to explain what its like here. Traffic jammed into 10 lanes on a street designed for 6, butchered parts of various animals (including tail) hanging in the doorways of the street shops in the hot sun and flies, hearing the loudspeakers blaring the Muslim prayers from the nearby mosque throughout the day beginning shortly after 4 am., live chickens, ducks, pigeons, and rabbits held in wicker type cages being sold on the street as an option for that night's dinner, young and old alike jumping in the rear side door to catch a moving bus as it merely slows down for its would-be passengers in heavy traffic.....all too common occurrences to mention a few in this family's daily routine.
We plan to leave in two groups in a couple of days for a most likely temporary jaunt up to Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea. Maggie and I will leave first as we have a commercial to do. Rhiis will accompany us with Ammon and the others following.
I eagerly await sharing it all with my nephew Clayton who as I write is boarding his plane at SeaTac Int'l preparing for a trip he'll not likely forget any time soon!!!
All the best, Brandon

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