Nov. 21, 1989 was the day Giza acquired a new sister: it was the day that Giza was paired with Los Angeles.
Sister cities or city-twinning is a political program launched by ambitious mayoral offices who want to promote ties between two cities. Often the hope is that economic and cultural ties will blossom. Perhaps this was the thinking that led to an agreement between Los Angeles and Giza. Or perhaps it was simply a good opportunity for some city hall officials to take a trip with taxpayers’ money across the globe.
Sister cities are often chosen because from the air they may have similar features. But you don’t have to spend hours staring at a map to know Giza and Los Angeles have little geographically in common. Indeed in my mind Beirut, not Giza, is the closet geographically, and culturally, to Los Angeles.
Conversely Cairo proper is a municipal sister with New York. This makes sense: the Big Apple and the Big Mango make a perfect pair. Cairo is a lot like New York: the steel canyons, the constant activity and the devastation wrought by rent controls.
Despite these differences I have spent the past few months trying to find a link for justifying the pairing of the City of Angeles and the City of the Pyramids. Some may argue that linking the two is impossible. Everything from the flow of traffic to the lack of strip malls makes Giza unlike anything in Los Angeles.
While this is debatable, there are links between the two nonetheless.
Los Angeles is known for the celebrities and Giza’s famous Pyramids are a bigger celebrity than any in Hollywood. Residents of Los Angeles, statistically speaking, know they are unlikely to ever spy Tom Cruise grabbing a fruit smoothie from Jamba juice. Still if you live in Los Angeles you inwardly hope one day to have a celebrity encounter mainly so you can brag to friends in other cities or take a photo with said celebrity.
Giza’s most famous celebrities are far more accessible. Unlike Samuel L Jackson, the Sphinx will both take a photo with you and spare you some attitude.
Los Angeles has learned one key lesson from its semi-inaccessible celebrity residents: image is everything.
Giza it appears has learned this lesson as well. Judging by the shops on Shehab Street or Gamat El-Dowel Al-Arabia Street in Mohandiseen, your typical Gizan denizens is concerned about the same things as an “Angeleno : Cars, designer sunglasses and a flashy cell phones. The mass transit system is a joke in both cities. The simple Giza line has more subway stops than the Los Angeles Metro.
Still it is important to point out that Giza is considered a part of Greater Cairo. This is something we in Los Angeles practically invented the concept of: living far from your job and spending many hours each week commuting great distances to work. At one point in history this was apparently considered progress. The neighborhoods of Giza resemble to some extent certain suburban communities in LA. Dokki is Culver City and Mohandiseen is Santa Monica without the beach.
According to international surveys Los Angeles is one of the healthiest cities in the world, and Cairo is supposedly one of the most polluted cities in the world.
A recent experience has left me less than convinced of this. One August day I decide to call my parents in Los Angeles and inquire about the weather. My mom tells me the temperature is well over 100° Fahrenheit (roughly 38° C). Additionally fires were raging in the chaparral covered hills of California. Ash is falling from the sky and people were avoiding the outdoors.
I decided to retreat from this harsh reality by embracing the most popular of Los Angeles summer treats: the fruit smoothie. Luckily these are plentiful and delicious here in Mohandiseen. After wards I take a cab down Gamat El-Dowel Street and note the flashy fast food restaurants and car dealerships. For a moment it is like Los Angeles.
Suddenly I hear the screech of tires and look to see the once moving street has become a red sea of brake lights. A million car horns sound off in frustration. Then I realize what city officials must have realized in 1989. The key piece that links Giza, Egypt and Los Angeles, California: traffic jams so bad you wish you were on the other side of the globe.