Sunday, August 17, 2008
I have just returned from Nasr City-On-Sea, where I counted the minutes until my flight back to Cairo.
Last week was full of omens. First of all my mobile fell down the toilet while I was entering the starter's blocks and it was in my back pocket. This is the 2nd time I have done this, disproving Pavlov.
Then, as I was walking down Abdel Khaleq Sarwat, downtown, I saw a small object convulsing in the road, and realised that it was a cat, hit by a car. I dragged the creature, paralysed at the waist, to the side of the road, where I asked a store owner for a piece of cloth and a box so that I could take it to a vet to be put down. The store owner was very kind. Bystanders looked at me and shook their heads, feeling sorrier for the stupid foreigner than the bloody cat.
The sad thing is, attempting to rescue a cat did feel self-indulgent, in this age when there is not enough humanity to cover humans.
A grocery owner came out and placed a tub of yogurt in front of the cat, which was now frothing at the mouth, in agony. When the box and the blanket eventually arrived he shouted after me “take the yogurt! Cats like yogurt!”
The cat died in the taxi en route. I had never before witnessed a death, human or animal, and was shocked by how stealthy death is. One moment the cat was writhing in agony, desperate to escape the box, the next he was perfectly still. This happened when the taxi driver was asking me where I am from.
“Are you Egyptian or foreign?” he asked.
“Both” I said.
“Where is the foreign part from?” he asked.
“England” I replied.
“Aih? Cameroon?” he asked, inexplicably.
It’s true what they say, live things do look more at peace dead, even when fleas are still crawling over their heads. The cat was smiling.
I left the dead cat with my vet, where I washed death and germs off my hands in his sink. He had a tiny baby kitten corpse preserved in a jam jar of some liquid or other next to the taps. The kitten was standing up, defiantly, with its paws by its head. Roar.
On Thursday I went to Nasr City-On-Sea, for work. I had to get up at 4 a.m., and if life had given me a choice between getting up at 4 a.m. to go to Nasr City-On-Sea, and having my fingernails pulled out one by one, I would have hesitated.
There was no choice, and I found myself in the street wrenched out of sleep at that time when it is dark but technically a new day and only two birds and you are awake in the whole country, and then the next minute I was at the check-in desk, where I had a fight with a queue-jumper. Queue-jumpers are just above homicidal maniacs on my shitlist.
The fight refreshed me, and I was relatively awake on the plane, awake enough to register the safety video.
Just after the do3a2 el rokoob [prayer for travellers], and in the ‘gentleman’ of “Ladies and gentlemen, for your safety…” the electricity went out on the plane. Not just switched off, but a massive cabin-shaking power cut. People laughed nervously.
Being an Egyptair flight, this happened twice, at exactly the same moment. Star Alliance my arse.
Luckily it didn’t happen when the plane was actually in the air, and we arrived, technically alive, even if all of us to a man looked like death warmed up.
I was put in a 5-star hotel in Nasr City-On-Sea because I was there for work, one of those places where fruit is trapped under cling-film in your room and robes bearing the hotel’s initials spy on you from the wardrobe and you are charged for farting and you are meant to feel exclusive.
The bed had 10 pillows. I counted them.
Approximately eight of the TV channels were European. I watched a programme on male gymnasts in Dutch. Male gymnasts require no translation.
On the day I left I watched three hours of ‘Qalb emra2tin’ a soap opera featuring Ilham Shaheen, she of the huge teeth. It was awful, but it was about 420 degrees outside and I don’t dive, which left absolutely nothing else to do. At least 80 percent of the scenes were about nothing, by which I mean this model:
Boy: Aywa ya 7abibti [hi darling]
Girl: 3ala fekra, ana z3lana mennak [by the way, I’m upset with you]
Boy: Laih ya noosa!/ya Sooma!/ya Nivi! [why! –insert pet name --]
Girl: Le2an el saa3a ba2at 2 wenta makelemteneesh men el sob7 [because it’s 2 o’clock and you haven’t rang once]
Boy: Ma3lesh ya ro7y, asl ana mott fe 7adset 3arabeyya el saa3a 11 [I’m sorry babe, but I died in a car crash at 11 a.m.]
Girl: Tayyeb…ana mesh za3lana tab3an/m2darsh 3ala za3lak 2abadan/a variation on this. [Ok…I’m not really upset of course/I can’t stand to make you angry]
Nasr City-On-Sea is Nasr City, on sea, by which I mean a huge, ugly, built-up urban area next to the sea. There is absolutely no concession to the beauty of the surroundings whatsoever, unless you count painting buildings white a concession. It is an unremitting visual assault of the type of generic plastic-looking tower blocks indigenous to Egypt.
What is worse is that there is, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing to do in Nasr City-On-Sea outside of ocean-based activities, and excluding staring at women in micro skirts.
Attempting to fend off boredom I went for a walk one day, aiming to refuel at Felfela, and from there proceed to a hotel called Merit, which on the map appeared to be next door to Felfela. A concierge in the Marriott hotel (from where I started my promenade) had advised me that Felfela was only 800 metres away or so and that yes, I could walk it.
Twenty minutes later, and slowly getting pickled in my own sweat, I flagged down a taxi and told him that I wanted to go to the Merit hotel. “Ah, that’s behind us” he said confidently, and did a U-turn. Five minutes later he pulled up outside the Marriott. “El Merit” he said. It was that kind of trip.
For three hours on Friday I sat on the beach amongst Serbians and two middle-aged women having a fight in Arabic at high volume. One of them appeared to be foreign, but spoke heavily-accented, passable Arabic, or at least enough Arabic to accuse the other woman of not knowing what she was talking about. She sounded a bit like me, as it goes. A man sat between them and smoked resolutely, looking out at the ocean. He probably would have thrown his cares into said ocean, if he had been able to carry their substantial body mass.
A man from the hotel tried to sell me massages offered in the hotel’s health spa. I tried to stop him, explaining that I earn in LE, but he then said he’d give me a discount, and opened his folder to show various types of body manipulation available for only several hundred pounds.
He asked me where I am from. England I told him. He asked me my name. I told him. “It’s an Egyptian name!” he declared, ignoring its Semitic roots and universality.
“You are married to an Egyptian!” he asked/told me, as is obligatory.
“You are not married!”
“No” I said, wondering if my he was an simultaneous incarnation of my mother and my guilty conscious.
“But why! I see queen before me!” was his stockpile response.
What, Brian May AND Roger Taylor? I wanted to ask him.
On the flight back home I was put at the very front of the plane and then an air steward closed the curtains in the aisle behind me and I realised that for some reason I was in business class.
While I can see the point of legroom and wider seats on long haul flights (but cannot justify their exclusion from economy class), business class seems utterly redundant and a vain display of self-importance on short flights such as these. Still, it’s not about legroom is it. A stewardess came round and threw a big white serviette on our foldaway tables which we were to pretend were table cloths before proceeding to put down a tray of two tired looking sandwiches, and two olives, all wrapped in Clingfilm.
Me and the man in the seat next to me (who seemed equally perturbed by the experience) sat and started at the sandwiches, smothered up to our necks in the serviettes, before we consumed them.
One was some sort of exhausted cheese, the other a sort of vile-looking meat. I also learnt that business class people (all eight of them) get a bus to themselves (although I missed it) while the other 80 plebs have to cram into a bus on their own. Everyone has to wait at the luggage carousel together though, so the upper-class suitcases mingled with their inferior brethren, even if their owners did not.