Cairo has a pretty shitty reputation.
Westerners who visit the city are awe-struck by the endless chaos that is Cairo traffic. (See Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations in Cairo.) The Lonely Planet warns in great detail about the air quality and the overcrowding.
Arabs don’t have much more love for the city, either. When I was living in Jordan and told people there I was going to Cairo, they would invariably say, “Cairo is too dirty! So crowded! Why go there?” I’ve heard plenty of Palestinians and Lebanese say the same thing. For that matter, Egyptians will often disparage their capital. My Arabic tutor had me repeat a sentence the other day that translated to “New York is cleaner than Cairo.”
Even expats who have lived here for years talk about what a challenging place it is. But you know what? I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as everyone says.
Yes, it is dirty. Yes, it is crowded. Yes, it is hot. Yes, the air is full of particulates that leave you with black boogers at the end of the day. But living here is not the Herculean struggle that people make it out to be. Sometimes the gridlock traffic makes me want to tear out my hair, but that happens in North Jersey, too.
Cairo is a big city and in a lot of ways it’s not that different from New York. I wouldn’t expect it to be as comfortable as, for example, a small college town in northeast Ohio. But in Cairo you find a way to make it your own, find calm in the chaos, develop systems for yourself, just as you do in any city. Drink a glass of orange juice and watch the traffic. It’s kind of fun.
It’s worth noting, though, that I am not a woman. This seems like an exceptionally unpleasant place to be female, particularly as a white woman. Sexual harassment is ubiquitous and appalling. A few days ago I was walking along a main street on my way back from work about ten feet behind two Egyptian women wearing hijab. For the whole half mile that I was behind them I watched as groups of men—old, young, unemployed, police, any kind of man you can think of—yelled catcalls at the two girls. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if they were blonde girls in T-shirts. (There will probably be more posts about this topic in the future.)
But precluding that, I think this city gets an unfair rap. I find it pretty damn livable. Then again, maybe you should check back with me again in another six months.