A Fresh Look at Egypt: What Cairo Has to Offer

When I was in the seventh grade, I moved from a diverse community in an urban setting to a claustrophobic cluster of suburbanites. I sat with the “cool” table for the blink of an eye before bouncing to and from clichéd teenage cliques until I realized that it was possible to incorporate all the ingredients of my last neighborhood. Puerto Ricans with whites, African-Americans with Europeans, anyone with anyone, it was all the more simple than previously thought. I was lucky enough to never have lingered too long in the friendless abyss of middle school mortification. As I met plenty, I became closest to Noha.

Noha (left) and myself on a snowboard trip in 2000

We did the normal teenager thing until she left me (and the United States) in the beginning of my first year of high school. I remember standing in the main entrance crying, hugging, and making promises to visit as soon as I could. My Egyptian friend was about to move halfway across the world, and this past September has marked ten years since she has left.

Fortunately, the two of us have remained in touch. And while our common interests and ability to meet up at the local mall have long changed, we have been able to relate to each other still, over 5,500 miles away. Thanks to the social networking outbreak, I have been able to communicate easier and more frequent. As we go back and forth about our very different lives, I cannot  help but ask myself what I really do know about her hometown of Cairo– Egypt– the Middle East. What I know is what Fox News shoves in my face. She answered some of my questions for this blog and for the rest, well, I researched. I have longed to put Egypt in a more deserving light for some time.

With a degree in Business, Noha now focuses her time on being a mother to a nine-month old boy. She is continuously balancing life as a mom, wife and part of the Egyptian youth who has faced a burdening amount of intolerance and national issues.

I hear my friend’s concerns, frustrations and hope for Egyptians. It has unfortunately been all too easy for many Americans to cast prejudice towards the Middle East, but is it just? Of course not. Like myself, there must be a place inside of you that is curious to know more about the inner workings of this culture; the food, the sights, life somewhere so … forbidden. A country whose existence is one of the first known civilizations, it is obviously worth the discussion. What has become of the capital city during recent political troubles and its constant subjection to discrimination? Hop on board this half day flight turned 10 minute read and open your mind.

Because the majority of tourists seem to always be an older crowd, I figured nightclubs, bars and casinos were acceptable concerns for the young and frisky when planning a loose trip itinerary. I wanted to start easy by covering Cairo’s rocking nightlife.

“Cairo really is the city that never sleeps,” the 24 year-old said, “It doesn’t matter what time it is, people are out; the malls are open until midnight and the cinemas close at 3 a.m.”

Nightclubs seem to be a big hit as well, just like the United States- whattaya know!? According to 10Best.com, Cairo is pretty stacked in the nightlife department. Absolute dance club is located on the Nile and hosts live DJ’s and cocktails until early in the morning. Bars in Cairo are similar to the strip of bars in NYC, lit up and doors open for business. After Google searching Cairo nightlife to death, it is clear that Egyptians are accommodating to tourists, offering a variety of entertainment; Arabic music infused with a Western twist. Many hotspots boast a great venue to people-watch tourists from around the world.

Luckily for the hungover tourist there is no shortage of cafes that cannot help get you back on your Louis & Clark traveling way.

“Here in Egypt we have so many cafes and yes, we have a Starbucks! But we also have places where you can eat a bit then make pottery, and smoke Shisha (vanilla, strawberry, mango, cherry). Also, we have casinos.”

You read that correct. Cairo is home to over 20 casinos which also act as luxurious hotels. Poker, slot machines, horse racing and your typical U.S casino gaming can all be found here. But after a long night of dancing and gambling, what does one hungry tourist eat? Surely filets are available but I would only expect myself, and all you other curious travelers, to try the local fare first.

“We have a lot of different kinds of foods, us Egyptians love food. There’s falafel, koshary, foul, mahshi, and so much more,” Noha proclaimed.

While we may be familiar with falafel, or deep-fried chickpeas, there is another popular dish mainly eaten for breakfast that is like falafel. Pronounced “fool”, this dish is similar in that it is made by mashing Fava beans and adding fresh ingredients such as Chili pepper, onion, Cumin powder, and olive oil and bringing to a heat. There are slight variations of this recipe by adding other fresh veggies to ones liking. Check out AlternativeEgypt.com to try to make your own. One of my favorite that I was fortunate to have at a Mediterranean restaurant in Barbados was Mahshi, or a stuffed eggplant with chopped meat (usually lamb) with rice. Delicious! Check out this recipe I found online that I plan to use this week.

I dare you to try falafel and say you don’t like it!

If you are looking to travel Egypt, here is some reputable advice from the Cairo native, “Anyone who wants to visit Cairo has to see the pyramids. You can also swim in the Red and Mediterranean Sea. You will find the whitest, purest sands and turquoise water there.”

Guided tours are readily available for both the pyramids and Nile River tours. This TripAdvisor approved website can help you customize your Cairo vacation and point you in the right direction for tours and sightseeing. If you are looking for more non-touristy things to see and do, I suggest watching the No Reservations: Egypt episode. Mr. Bourdain is known to keep off the beaten track. Click here for an overview!

The new mother says she at times misses the United States, especially the very clean streets and Taco Bell! But when asked about her future in Cairo, Noha says she has no idea what tomorrow brings.

“I love both Egypt and America. There are good schools here in Egypt and I want my son to know how to speak and write Arabic… but the States can give him a good education, too.”

Between the flurry of stereotyping and prejudice Muslims have had to deal with over the past decade, Noha can assure those leery of her people that Egyptians do not just ride camels all day.

“Some people think that we live in tents in the desert, we ride camels and everyone is poor. Well, that is what they show on news channels such as CNN. We actually have nice communities; nice cars like Lamborghinis and Maseratis. Of course there are poor people, but what country doesn’t have poor and rich?” She explained.

Thousands come together in Cairo to rally the new transition in government

If you are not aware of Egypt’s political troubles, this past February held a revolution for the Egyptian people, mainly on their rights for speech and free elections. They held protests in the streets of Cairo as well as the ancient city of Alexandria to overthrow Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak. Alongside his two sons, the former Egyptian leader will be tried in court next August for the killing of peaceful protesters and corruption. Although he has resigned, the ongoing struggle to end civil disobedience continues today.

“Hosni Mubarak was our president for 30 years, and as of recently our country has had a lot of trouble. He stole 70 billion pounds from his own country (one American dollar equals six pounds), and employed people were not getting paid well,” Noha explained, “of course this country is going through struggles.”

But she is optimistic about the future of her native land.

“I hope my country will become the best it can be. We have great tourism and history here. I hope that people will want to know more about this country in the future; this gorgeous country that is one of the oldest in the world,” Noha said. “It is amazing here and I am proud to be Egyptian!”

Regardless of this ancient country’s recent afflictions, tourists still flock to see the remarkable landscapes and architecture. The mystery of this country is relentless; through pictures, television and the words of my friends. I hope to visit someday to see my friend and celebrate her new family and our ability to have stayed connected. I also want to visit to gain writing inspiration; to prove to those with their bias preconceived notions that Egypt is a world wonder.