Struggling to find comfort in today’s Cairo

Struggling to find comfort in today’s Cairo
A busy Cairo street
A busy Cairo street market

Cairo is home. I was born and raised here and nothing that happens in the defeater of Al Moez* ever truly surprises me, yet I still find every day Cairene incidents overwhelming. Before I joined Cairo’s angry drivers club, I used public transportation and it simply made me hate life: the random bus stops, the crammed buses, the harassment, the driver that always smelled and never had the right change, the woman staring at me and the man drooling in the back – these were all things I could momentarily escape only when I thought of home.

When I go home, I’ll be alone, I’ll be in control, I’ll be comfortable – I used to tell myself. I will escape people’s intrusion and vulgarity, and the state`s chaos and negligence. When I go home, I can rest after standing in the heat for hours in a government office trying to get some papers done as I wait for employees to finish their private conversations while grinding my teeth and rolling my eyes, contemplating bribing them and begging them to get their jobs done.

When I go home, I won’t have to pave my way through the garbage covering the ground like a second layer, I won’t have to cover my mouth because of the smoke, or turn a blind eye to street children. When I go home, it will all be over.

The moment I used to walk into my building, my day out experience would slowly begin to peel off, with every step I walk up to the third floor of my building, my sanity would restore itself by a slow memory shove – one tiny experience forced out after the other. I reach my doorstep; the state no longer exists. I am no longer at the mercy of gridlocks, or heated and overcrowded buses. I am not held hostage by a man`s stares or a woman`s abrupt conversation about the virtues of al hijab. I am even freed of the negative energy my brain keeps emitting because Cairo is too much to handle. When I am home, I am free.

Or so I thought.

We live in a society where everyone and everything is under surveillance, either by the state or the people. Whether or not you care, that is beside the point. What we wear, the things we say, the places we go and the things we buy are never overlooked. We are always judged, and if we are lucky, only watched. I am of the opinion that no Egyptian is truly and utterly free, at least not in Cairo. The only thing that guarantees all of us freedom is a closed door. At some point, we all just want to hide and be ourselves, keeping the rest of Egypt out of the picture. We want to feel we have control over what we do, what we drink, what we wear, what we say and who we`re with. Of course, we can leave the state outside our doorsteps but then we have to deal with the authority figures at home, but that is really another story.

Finding solace at home is too much to ask for nowadays. Because simple things are becoming more complicated and harder to accomplish. Simple things like ironing our clothes- God forbid, whenever we please- or reading after dark or switching on a fan are now luxuries. Even more luxurious are things like waking up in the middle of the night, craving something and cooking it, or connecting to your Wi-Fi or going to the gym whenever you want. We are all held hostage to our government`s despicable incompetencies, lack of organisation and apparent apathy. Am I talking about the power cuts? Yes. I. Am.

Egypt has always had power cuts. Our energy infrastructure has always been unreliable, but things have never been this bad. The recent energy crisis in Egypt started during the short-lived presidency of Mohamed Morsi for which he was severely blamed, but it heightened to unprecedented levels under the new rule of our new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It is absolutely unjustifiable and inexcusable to be living in the Egyptian capital and have at least 3 daily power cuts. It is beyond my comprehension what the government is or is not doing about this issue, which, without a doubt, has cost so many businesses and households a lot of money and time.

The pure intrusion and interruption of one’s home and privacy is too much to put up with. Where are we supposed to find comfort? Where are we supposed to run off to after waiting in a ridiculously long line to finish some papers? Or after a 3-hour standstill in traffic? Or simply a long day at work? It’s laughably pathetic the situation we are in: the state is doing a great job denying us simple citizenship rights, and we are doing an even better job at not claiming them.

Egypt cuts no one any slack. It has always been difficult to be out and about, whether for pleasure or business. Years of accumulative negligence and corruption have finally yielded the state we’re in today: we’re not even going to find comfort in our own homes. I’m sorry to break it to you, but sadly, solace is nowhere to be found.

*Cairo in Arabic is Al Kahera which is short for Kaherat Al Moez (‘the defeater of Al Moez’)

Edited by Menna Amr

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Nehal Elmeligy is an English teacher and a Fulbright Alumna who likes to write on the side. She is a passionate writer who is moved by people, ideas, religion and culture but only writes when she has no escape from her muse. She does not fear laughing out loud in public or saying hi to complete strangers. She is only addicted to three things: coffee, working out, and her closest friends. http://onmymindelmeligy.blogspot.com.au/

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