A KHAWAGA'S Tale: Making friends in Cairo

Peter A. Carrigan
6 Min Read

Firstly, my editor, Smokin’ Joe Fahim, said I must congratulate Manchester United and all their Cairo fans on a stunning upset against Chelsea last Wednesday in Moscow and apologize to boot.

So, to all those who even care about some secondary city in England’s north east where hairdressing is the fastest growing industry, I apologize for last week’s one inaccuracy, that Chelsea would win on penalties.

I look forward to the chocolate cake though, which Joe promised to buy for Daily News Egypt’s staff if Man U won the Cup, and to meeting what I hope will be a new friend who got in touch via my email address after reading this column last week.

He is yet another Chelsea fan and he sounds like my type of guy: he has worked in several countries, enjoys a round of golf and is not afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone. I will withhold his name of course, in case he is warned off becoming my friend, by those that were once my friends.

Making friends in Cairo: Is it easy, difficult or would you just not be bothered and much rather have a date with yourself, take a hot bath and sit down with a good book?

Friends come in clusters. You shouldn’t think of this networking nonsense, people can smell a salesman miles off.

Clusters are patterns that form around connected activities. Drinking clusters; you always see the same characters in Cairo’s speakeasies. There are the sporting clusters, adventure clusters, work clusters or clusters of culture vultures.

The top places to make new acquaintances and possibly a new buddy in Cairo are: St. John’s Church Maadi, Moon Beach (though technically not part of Cairo, it is a popular expatriate hang out) and the Marriott Hotel Health Club in Zamalek. There’s also the BCA Mohandiseen’s Meet and Greet Club on the first Tuesday of the month, La Bodega Bar – the last Thursday of every month for ‘everything’ Dutch – and the US Marines Ball in November, if you can get a ticket.

You see, if you are a foreigner, you have 15 minutes with any other foreigner. For example, it is acceptable to stop interesting looking people in Alpha Market and just say hi. This is what one English mum I know does and she is better connected than half of Zamalek’s ambassadors.

If you are an artsy fartsy leftie, then the Townhouse Gallery, followed by dinner at the Greek club and beers at the Horreya, is the best night downtown. You can always substitute the roof bar at the Odeon Hotel for the Greek Club, but there is no substitute for the Horreya.

If the Horreya is not your scene, which I can understand given the fact they have a bathroom facility imported from medieval Manchester, then you should try the library at the British Council in Agouza.

Libraries are always top places for perusing. It may have been Esquire magazine which lists every year the top 20 US college libraries for meeting girls.

If you are in the market for students, then schedule a party in a month’s time, pass out a few photocopied invites and it will be like your ol’ student days all over again. Friends you never knew you had will be banging down your door and they’ll show no shame when they arrive with a bottle of nasty cheap wine to a party, because that is all there is anyway.

Of course if you can get your hooks into an Australian or New Zealand diplomat, they have access to fine vintages, which are fun while they last.

Traveling is always productive for meeting people. The Cairo Museum is the perfect place to trawl for new friends, even though the relationship may be short lived. I am not joking, you have to pick your mark of course, but nothing is easier than striking up a conversation around a sarcophagus and before you know it, you’ll be sipping Mojito’s at sunset on the roof of the Nile Hilton.

Desperate times require desperate measures; I even went to Scottish Highland dancing once.

But if it is not the night you need to fill, then the CSA Club in Maadi offers day tours of Cairo’s historical sites and you can always place an ad in the expatriate magazines – English language in exchange for Arabic. My brother did this for English in exchange for Japanese in Hiroshima, though apparently he was always booked up when guys called.

But it doesn’t really matter, because at the end of the day in Cairo, as soon as you make a new friend, they leave anyway. Or that is what they tell me.

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