New Year in Cairo
At night the whole city dreams. There are still car horns but somehow the sound becomes more festive. The mosque minarets are lit with grass-and-emerald green lights, and spires all over the city point elegant green fingers to the sky. There is not one star. The sky becomes a dusky red-purple as the perpetual Cairo smog reflects the lights of the city that throbs below.
I sat last night in a window on the 20th floor overlooking the narrow edge of the Nile that wraps around the back of the island I live on. It is called Gezira and literally this is Island. They call our suburb Zamalek. Suburbs here seem to alternate grotty with elegant, defined mostly by the width of the streets. Narrow is grotty, wide boulevards are elegant - no matter how many lines of cars force themselves along the marked lanes.
The Nile wraps around Gezira, two thirds on one side and one third on the other, and I was looking over the narrow strip. It is like a back entrance compared to the front one - less loved, without the grace element of feluccas drifting slowly under sail, lined by somewhat seedy 'houseboats' used as clubs and restaurants and places for wedding parties. Occasionally one of the little motor boats loved by Egyptians for happy Thursday night parties drifted through - hot pink, lime, scarlet and lemon neons flashing, and music blasting so loudly that remnants reached even the heights of the twentieth floor, to break through shouted conversations with thin thready drifts of Arabic music.
A friend had volunteered a party for New Year's Eve and I was able to hog a seat in the window and withdraw a little from festivities. Our youngest daughter fitted in beautifully and I loved watching her mixing and chatting, and her bubble of a laugh gurgling through the other party sounds. Most of the group was young. I had several glasses of punch which I assumed - rather stupidly considering that it was a party for New Year's Eve in a Western house - that the punch contained nothing more lethal than fruit juice and tea. By the time I had had three glasses of it I was starting to realise that there may have been something more - as the initial glass of Moet and Chandon champagne was not enough to account for the fact that I was somewhat blurred and concentrating carefully on what I said.
So - I sat in the window and mulled over the year that has just passed and how much I love this city - and how sad I will be to leave. We were looking down on the Fish Gardens - a park area not lit at night so it made a large black pool beneath the apartment block. Then the Nile. Then the busy and crowded streets of Aguza, and the high rise of Mohandiseen and Dokki behind. It has been such a privilege to live in a city like this - large and unwieldy and complicated and not always well behaved. I have had such joy here and probably equal frustration. I often think knowing the time I have is finite is easier as I know the annoyances are temporary and that the pleasures the same - so I make the most of the best things, and let the bad slide past to the keeper.
The best this year was undoubtedly my trip to Gilf Kebir and Jebel Uweinat - and I promise I will finish the write-up in the next few days. The worst was coming in to my kitchen to find my dear chef profoundly distressed by the fact that he had collected his mother from her home to bring her to spend the evening with his family, and they both walked straight into an honour killing and saw the whole thing in terrible detail. His hands shook as he recounted what he had seen, and how the brother and father who had killed the young woman had just sat down beside her body and lit cigarettes until the police came to take them away. His mother had fainted against him, and he could not carry her away so was pinned there to watch, and it had all happened so fast that the group nearby had been too horrified to move until it was over.
I still feel my own horror and our chef's frustration and he still occasionally talks about the murder - but his grief is all for the mother who lost her daughter, her son, and her husband all in one moment.
Happy New Year to all those out there who read this blog. I feel sometimes that I talk to my friends when I write this, and yet most of you I have never met and might never meet. I started this to tell friends and family of my life here without having to mail out dozens of emails and risk missing people. This way my family and friends can choose to see what is happening, or not. Sometimes it feels almost as if I am dropping stones in a deep well, as it is an odd way to communicate - strangely one sided and quiet as I know there are a lot more readers than there are comments. Then I travel somewhere, and find that there is someone in a group who reads my blog - and I come back with a new burst of energy!
Happy New Year. I hope for all of you and for all my dearly loved family and friends that the year will bring the best of what you hope for, and that the problems will be easily solved.