Lettere dall'Asia - Cairo: The beehive (January 14th, 2009)

Lettere dall'Asia

Cairo: The beehive (January 14th, 2009)

Ramadan in Cairo is a curious time.
When the sun is set, because of the Iftar, every street and square is virtually empty. The familiar uproar and the rock concert-like atmosphere vanish as if the city were the setting of a dream.
If you are crossing a road you can relax: you donít need to spring as if you were a scared cat dodging speeding cars on the lanes of a highway.

A few hours later though, letís say at one a.m., you go out for a snack and as soon as youíve crossed the doorway of your hotel you get swallowed up by a whirl of sounds, lights and smells, and you freeze on the sidewalk amazed by the sight.
Deep into the night the shops are still open and huge crowds gather in front of the windows hunting for shoes, clothing and sweets. Youíre looking at people of any kind: not only adult men but old gentlemen too, dragging their legs along the busy pavements, and mothers with children strolling around.

A web of human flows has invaded every space. They glide on the asphalt; they hit, block, cross and twist on one another.
They look like a bunch of water snakes that swim back and forth the length of a basin resting on the ground of a Vietnamese marketplace.
Who is in a hurry and keeps kicking other peopleís heels decides to swerve aside and to share the dusty lanes with the endless chains of battered vehicles.
At the main junctions the flows intersect and as in the screen of an old videogame they cross the road with intermittent starts.

Just before 2am you go back to your room while the activity of that beehive has yet to stop. When youíre in the dark, under your bed sheets, the shrill honks of the cars, the screams of the vendors and the baritone roar of the background noise, mixed up with vapours and a hundred spiced fragrances, keep filtering in through the chinks in the window.

This is Cairo during Ramadan: thatís the way they sing lullabies here.

Bangkok (Thailand), January 14th, 2009


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