I was a tourist in post-revolutionary Cairo
In May 2012, I visited Cairo for a few days while touring through Egypt with my boyfriend (now husband). We booked our trip fully aware of the post-revolutionary political unrest – we were already planning to be in Egypt anyway and wanted to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a city as ancient as Cairo during such a tumultuous, transitional time. With a watchful eye on the news and a steady flow of pacifying texts and emails to our families, off we went.
Cairo is a huge, bustling city. In many ways it’s typical of other cities near its size in that part of the world: deafeningly loud, crowded, and smelly. The first thing I noticed after setting down my luggage and peering through the hazy, thin window panes of our 5th floor hostel room was that you can apparently park anywhere you damn want to in Cairo (and, from what I hear, many major cities in this part of the world).
Let’s play a game. Street, or parking lot?
Can you guess which lane of traffic is actually traffic?
Sidewalk, or parking lot?
I’m perplexed by how anybody is ever able to move their cars given the likelihood of being completely blocked in at any given time.
Welcome to Chaotic Cairo.
During cab rides, we circled Tahrir Square on two separate occasions; once at night and once during the day. Tahrir Square is a big open plaza surrounded by a traffic circle. It seemed remarkably less chaotic than the rest of Cairo on both occasions, but the ragged tents and flags betrayed that quiet sense of calm: it was clearly only like that between demonstrations.
We visited the Egyptian Museum, which I unfortunately found a bit underwhelming. I was expecting it to far surpass any Egyptian exhibition on display at American museums, given that you were at the source, but it seemed more like a haphazard display of broken artifacts, improperly marked and almost completely unguarded. It turns out the best museums in Egypt are the temples and ruins actually still standing, which to their credit are an experience that far outweighs any stale-aired, stuffy American museum.
As we left the museum, we heard a deafening roar of what must have been thousands of voices yelling and chanting in the distance, along with the steady boom of drums. It sounded like a soccer match or football game during a touchdown, but it sent a chill down my spine: the Egyptian Museum is only a few blocks from Tahrir Square, and Tahrir Square was definitely not the empty, deserted-looking place I’d seen before.
We made our way back in the direction of our hostel, weaving in and out of cars and crowds of people doing their evening shopping and errands for several blocks. We passed an avenue of car repair shops and turned right onto an empty, calm street, sure we were far from the demonstration. After walking about a hundred yards, I heard the same sound, only closer. The demonstration had moved from Tahrir Square to the surrounding streets, and we were about to meet it head on.
So, we got the hell out of there.
Truthfully, it was a peaceful demonstration, as many of them are. These are scheduled, regular democratic protests that only sometimes turn violent. You just don’t want to be there if it does. Generally, you don’t want to be an American (especially a blonde one) anywhere near a demonstration, peaceful or not, when you’re traveling abroad. Good rule of thumb.
The food there was amazing by the way:
Wine (or any alcohol) was a little harder to come by, but we expected that, being a conservative Muslim country.
Also, the Bridesmaids movie apparently has such global appeal they made their own Arabic version:
All in all, I’m glad we made the pit stop to Cairo. I’m not sure I’ll have a reason to return anytime soon, but the experience of being there was worth it.