This is Cairo, the city called the Mother of the World.
Al Qahira, “the Victorious,” is an amazing, vibrant city with alleys filled to the roofs with people, people and more people.
My fellow study-abroad students describe this place in terms that vary as much as the street corner scenery. Sinan, my Turkish roommate, calls it a “crappy Paris.” Andreea, from Romania and not my roommate, says that compared to her third-world country, Cairo is eighth- or ninth-world.
I love it. I haven’t been to Paris or Romania. But I can tell you this place, Cairo, reeks of history, spices and bright dreams. For me, that’s a potent combination.
Cairo is Mr. Clean’s nightmare come to life. Grand mosques and garage doors alike suffer the streaks of age, grime and pollution. The air heaves with car horns, bus exhaust and freshly-killed chickens.
The people are, well, like people everywhere – some rich, some poor, some well-dressed, some ragged and filthy. At one corner, a small girl with big eyes begs for small change, and on the next corner a man walks by wearing the latest trends and shiny sunglasses that keep the world away.
That’s what’s so amazing about this place – the sheer contrast created by 20 million people packed into this relatively small place. Cairo is said to have a sardine-like quantity of people per foot. That means both Ahmed Rich and Mohamed Poor live with one foot in each other’s house.
The American University in Cairo is located smack-dab in the center of the city, so it’s hard to miss the action. I could be blind and still know I’m not in Brookings anymore. All I have to do is stand still and let the muezzin’s call to prayer wash over me and welcome the sunset.
Jeremy Fugleberg is a journalism and political science major. He is in Cairo, Egypt, for the year, studying Arabic, political science and Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.