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The floods of Cairo

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The US may have captured the market on submergence this week, but I would have you know that Egypt can inundate with the best of them. From the ancient times, where the yearly rise of the Nile waters spelled either wealth or disaster, up to the present day, Cairo is regularly swamped by different currents.

In the last week alone I have counted seven different streams that swirled around the city. The first I noticed was a reversed one actually, more of an ebb if you will. It started last Thursday and had a second wave following close in its wake on Friday afternoon.

Any public holiday will see a migration of Cairenes to anywhere but Cairo, and preferably somewhere that incorporates sea, sun and sand. This Eid was no exception and as I saw the long lines of cars on their way north, east and south I was filled with gleeful anticipation of empty streets to roam and wander at will.

As I flipflopped down the street early on Friday morning, I was confronted by the second flood, a literal one this time. Pools of red-brown water covered large parts of the streets and as I carefully picked my way around them I realised that maybe for once I should have listened to the discouraging comments I regularly receive on my insistence to wear shibshib.

The remnants of the ritual slaughter seeped from buildings, butcheries and makeshift, tented-in areas that were set up all over the neighbourhood. Resigned looking livestock, waiting their turn, were tied close to where the men who wield knives were still going about their business and fresh blood kept feeding the stagnant puddles on the streets.

Making my way down to the Nile I encountered the next flow that is to be expected during a feast. A pickup truck filled with a complete extended family, including grandparents and children, food for a week and deafening music nearly ran me off the road.

Those unable to leave town visit any area of Cairo that is green, from parks, the zoo, the banks of the Nile to little strips of green that separate roads. The small, square, grassy area in front of the gas station in Maadi was turned into a virtual entertainment park, with toys strewn about, 12 different kinds of music blaring loudly and hundreds of plastic bags filled with homemade food being enjoyed by all.

The barrage of irritating little boys and obnoxious men of little sense and no honour that roamed these same areas intent on touching, groping and catcalling in celebration of this holiest feast of the year, was yet another torrent that manifested itself.

I saw a youngster, 15 if he was a day, stretch out his hand to try and grab some part of me as I passed him. Before he made contact I turned around, stared him down and told him in no uncertain terms I would smack him if he would dare to lay a hand on me.

Granted, he probably had no idea what I was saying, but a tall, older, loudly screeching female proved to be enough to see him slink away in search of other prey. Such a shame we cannot introduce these guys to the butchers I mused, walking away.

Undercurrents of absurdity have become staple entertainment here and this week was no different. There was the holy man who patiently explained that the fact that women leave their houses is the reason why they get harassed. It is our own fault I know now and we should all stay home where we belong. The upstanding citizens of Minya that disrupted a musical concert, with joint performances by different religious groups to encourage understanding, stood out too.

Not taking no for an answer, these righteous rioters made sure the performance had to be abandoned midway. Unity is the last thing this country needs of course, what were the organisers thinking.

As the week continued a barrage of invites for Halloween parties flooded social media, urging potential revelers to embody sins and depict the worst Hollywood has to offer. I am waiting for the outpouring of condemnation against this pagan ritual that celebrates the night where the veil between the worlds is supposedly thinnest and candy and vampires are equally important. Bans on broomsticks should be called for and the first person asking for a treat will find I have some tricks up my sleeves.

If it is hard to hold onto sanity in a nearly empty city and the smallest ripple is enough these days to set people off, it will be next to impossible to do so after the resurgence of all its inhabitants and their often very vocal beliefs.  As Cairo is slowly filling up to the level of pre-feast insanity, the levees of tolerance will be pushed again to breaking point.

And once they go, the floods of Sandy will seem like a trickle.

About the author

Adel Heine

Adel Heine

DNE Art & Culture, and Lifestyle Editor


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