I have a particular affection for Egypt, having lived in Cairo for a year with my family. On Monday my husband said “I wish we were there,” as we watched the massive and inspiring demonstrations in Tahrir Square, but since then things have turned violent and the outcome is still uncertain, so I suspect that like many others by now we’d be queuing at the airport.
Although the political ramifications are huge, what I think about most is the fate of the average Egyptian, the kind of people we knew on a day-to-day basis.
What has happened to Mr Salah, my husband’s driver? We quickly learned from him that Egyptians like to be addressed in what, to us, seemed a more formal style, so he was always “Mr” Salah. His English was shaky (although far better than my Arabic) and he often got words confused. When driving us past the Egyptian Museum (in Tahrir Square) he proudly waved his arm at what he called “The Egyptian Limousine.” :)
What has happened to Magdi, the taxi driver who worked from the taxi stand at the end of our street? Once a week he’d ferry my husband and son to their RC car club meeting, my husband hanging on to the passenger door for dear life, so it wouldn’t swing open as they went round corners.
And Magdi’s colleague, Mr Adel? The first time he picked me up from the supermarket he told me I didn’t need to give him directions because he already knew where I lived, and I should tell my son it was alright for him to answer when he said good morning to him on his way to school . It was only then that I realized what a small “village” I lived in and that all the locals already knew all about the new family in Digla.
Has Dr Ghaly’s family medicine practice been affected? Do the expatriates still gape with amazement as he summons his assistant with a bell to bring him a pen so he can write a prescription?
Does the unlikely Engineer Mohammed still own the knitting wool shop in Horia Square, where I used to buy supplies for my craft group?
And does Engineer Gamal still bring his apprentice to clean the air conditioning units, perching on top of them with a dust pan and brush, 9 floors up, much to my horror and amazement?
We lived in Cairo through 2001 and after that dreadful day in September, the biggest worry for all these people was the effect it would have on the Egyptian economy. Their reaction may at first seem heartless, but the reality is they live a precarious hand-to-mouth existence and are very dependent on the expatriate and tourist trade. Fortunately in 2001 Egypt remained peaceful and there were no evacuations, but how are they coping now?