Egypt is like India.
Take out the greenery and replace by sand; take out the Indian automobiles, and replace with foreign cars; replace the odd mosques and more frequent temples and churches with a mosque every couple of blocks; and voila – you have Egypt instead of India.
You still have the crowded roads, the unruly driving, blaring horns, pedestrians anywhere and everywhere, and a society that smacks more of poverty than of affluence, more of making do with what they have than deciding where else they can spend their money.
In fact, in some ways, Cairo almost seemed even less prosperous than the major Indian city – most of the private buildings and high-rises of apartments were not even plastered on the outside. Where in India plaster of paris is at least mostly visible, most outside walls in Cairo were simply cement.
Have you ever seen Egypt on Google Maps? You should – it’s a beautiful sight, and more, it’s a stunning visual confirmation of what we all know: Egypt is the land of the Nile, and the Nile is what sustains civilization here. Northern Egypt is home to the Nile delta, and is green, southern Egypt is green and flourishing only on the two banks of the Nile. The stunning difference is visible around Cairo too, both from the air where you can see the clear demarkation of where irrigation from the Nile stops, and on the ground where the landscape changes suddenly from yellow to green, from dusty to lush. (Oh, and by the way, I discovered at Doha airport today when they were announcing our flight – Cairo is known as Al-Kahra in Arabic. Cairo is only the English approximation. – As is, on second thoughts, other major cities: Luxor (Al-Uksur), Alexandria (Al-Iskandaria), etc.)
Our first evening at Cairo was spent on a dinner cruise on the Nile. The major attraction was, of course, everything but the food, so, perhaps expectedly, the food was less than world class. Everything else, though, was great. It was a pretty big vessel sailing around on the Nile, there was a small open upper deck where you could take in the breeze and the sounds – and there was some choreography, with the major attraction being belly dancing.
And it was good! I’d never seen the real thing before, so the muscle control and flexibility was amazing to watch. The dancer took turns dancing for and posing with several guests, and even inviting several to center stage to have some fun. And fun it was. A few people were challenged to match he flexibility, and when one person matched the first act that she was challenging, she promptly moved up a gear to where no one could reach. The music was of course typical Arabic fare, with a foot tapping score and raucous vocals (I didn’t get a word of the lyrics of course – so I don’t know what they meant).
Other than belly dancing though, there was another local dance form that was equally, if not more, amazing. Belly dancing is the more famous form, so we at least have some idea of what we would see, but this other dancer really surprised us. His whole routine comprised turning round and round, with props of various kinds making appearances, and various pieces of cloth turning about with him – it was a spectacle indeed. Really – what control, and what sense of balance!
Anyway, the first evening in Cairo is over, and it’s time for me to hit the bed at 1.25am. Early start tomorrow, and we’re headed to the Pyramids!!