Twilight in Cairo
One night in 2006, during my first visit to Cairo, Egypt, I had some free time so I went for a walk.
At the time, I had no phone or knowledge of the language. With just a few strange bills in my pocket and naiveté to protect me from whatever came my way, I weaved my way up the “calm” streets of the Doki neighborhood where I was staying . Along Al Mesaha street, using the McDonald’s as my landmark, I navigated my way to the Sheraton Hotel and then over El-Galla Bridge.
On Gezira Island I saw a group of well-dressed couples entering a colonial opera house whose beautiful structure arrogantly juxtaposed against the chaotic surroundings of the neighborhood it belonged to. I ignored a man trying to sell me something that resembled a giant pretzel and continued on, cutting through the thick, humid air and sucking up taxi exhaust. I snuck between two lion sentinels that guard the entrance of Qasr al-Nil Bridge, and then, in the middle of that bridge, time suddenly seemed to stop.
Alone, standing over the ancient Nile River, seeing the felucca boats criss cross until they disappeared into Giza, I felt like I had finally made it to some mythical place you only hear about but never really see. At twilight, Cairo and its Nile are horribly romantic, and that night I sipped on them both.
Rimming the calm flow of the Nile is a frantic, kinetic city that demands the same awareness and attention as a toddler holding an active firecracker. From the center of Qasr al-Nil Bridge, the city’s lights, sounds and smells assault incessantly from every direction.
It's impossible, to capture the entire cityscape in a single visual scoop. I had toured the city with a group the week previous, but now, alone, I was seeing the city for real and I felt completely absorbed in its pulse.
This was a grand moment for me. I can't describe the exact picture that I have stored in my mind, but most of the time I’m glad that I can’t. It's one of those personal, special life-moments I keep.
That moment gave my life a feeling of newness and of being completely lost in a culture and place so foreign to anything I had ever known. I felt so stimulated by it, like I knew it was something I would only taste once and then spend the rest of my life hunting for it.
I felt the same way in Istanbul, standing between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and again, biking the dirt roads of Siwa, or exploring the narrow streets of the old city market in Damascus. And every time I have that feeling of self-discovery while travelling, I say to myself…”I wonder when and where I’ll feel this next.”