I’ve got a lot of time on my hands at the moment, since I am now living in the dog house. I supported South Africa against England in the Rugby World Cup on Friday night and my English wife told me I had “crossed the line. You see, the English were humiliated and I am now on the streets.
On the streets though, Ramadan is proof to me there is a God. For around two hours at least, I can stroll along the Nile’s Corniche, catch the breeze and be at one with myself and the mystery of life, the universe and everything.
Iftar is a blessing. It is three hours of free time to explore Al-Qahira, criss-cross the City, go where no foreigner has gone before and just have fun free wheelin’, without the cacophony of noise that the snarled traffic usually spews out.
I am in love with Cairo again. On the 26th of July Bridge I stopped to chat with a fella who had parked his BSA bike to catch the breeze over the river. Like all bikers, Youssef was very proud of his 50-year-old machine, which proudly sported a Union Jack sticker.
Further along an old woman sold me two packets of tissues, though she was somewhat camera shy when I asked if I could take her photograph. Others weren’t, like the smartly dressed couple walking up the road out of Boulaq who happily gave me a smile.
Folks are super friendly after iftar, I’ve found. Cairenes stroll along pulling on a cigarette or picking their teeth, with big smiles and greetings for a lone khawagha, who has a camera round his neck and looks like a misfit who hasn’t been invited to the party.
Of course it is easy to get involved in iftar. You can host a meal yourself if you want and stay home, or for the more adventurous, join one of the many free meals that are sponsored by restaurants and shops. One of the best free spreads is laid out by the waiters from the Marriott, who set up 15 bench tables next to the fountain in front of the Zamalek hotel.
When I enquired after an invitation at the Guest Relations desk in the Marriott’s lobby, I was told I would be very welcome. Free food and no service charge, see there is a God.
I like this tradition a lot. I’ve been watching the various shops lay out their iftar in Zamalek for some years now. Even the simplest fare – dates, bread, salad and water – are not only popular but are conducted with dignity and reverence. I love the slow start to eating when people break the fast. It would be easy to think that the faithful would woof it down, but no, the ritual of breaking the fast has a quiet reverence. If you haven’t experience it, you should.
I dropped in on the restaurant boats along the Nile – La Pacha and the Imperial. I love the River and when it is hot I look for every opportunity to hang out on her banks. These restaurant boats are great fun. Ramadan is a quiet time for them for some reason, but the maitre d’ can’t tell me why. But they do start serving alcohol after 8 pm each day. As does La Bodega, where it is business as usual. The bar is open for lunch and dinner.
Quiet – that is my Ramadan. For me, iftar singles the time to move. The streets are empty, so a trip over to Khan El Khalili takes only 10 minutes. I could probably get out to Maadi in 15 minutes if I had to, but thankfully I don’t have to. See, there is a God.
Even the road around the Gezira Club was still empty around 8 pm as I flagged a taxi for home. A cheeky policeman appeared out of the shadows and jumped in the back. Obviously I was going his way. Before the taxi turned into my street the policeman jumped out and I called after him. “Lao samaht, lao samaht, gineeh, gineeh, rubbing my thumb and forefinger together. The taxi driver thought this was the funniest thing he had ever heard and roared with laughter.
“Ramadan kareem, I said to the driver, who may have been 50 but looked 70. I gave him my money and said it was for the policeman too. He laughed so hard I thought the old taxi would fall apart, and I joined him. Ramadan you see is contagious, watch out, you want to catch it!