Cairo was one of those city’s that I read up on a lot before my trip, prompted mostly by the overt concern people were expressing in my decision to come here. Most reviews said the city could be seen in a weekend, but now having been there for five days, I would take that one step further: spend just one day in Cairo. Definitely dedicate a good chunk of time for Egypt as a whole, as you will want multiple days in each Luxor, Aswan and Dahab, at a minimum, but Cairo… not so much. Organize an early morning ride to the pyramids, do a camel tour of the pyramids & sphinx, spend the afternoon checking out Tahrir Square & Khan el-Khalili market, do an evening cruise on the Nile, maybe even stretch it to a day and a half by doing a tour the following morning of both the Islamic & Coptic Christian areas, then high tail it out to another city.
The thing about Cairo is despite the revolution being back in 2011, it is still going through the growing pains of finding itself again. At least I hope it is, for if it’s not, the prospect on regaining its glory as a tourist Mecca is quite dim. The first thing most tourists will notice about Cairo is the amount of garbage – everywhere. At best, there’s garbage completely littering the streets to such a degree you actually have to walk through it to get anywhere you want to go. At worst, from what I saw, there are areas where the garbage is piled so high one might actually mistake it for walls at a quick glance. As one of our drivers explained to us, when the people revolted in 2011, many of them didn’t even know what the democracy they were demanding actually meant. So when the Mubarek regime fell, many people thought the new democratic government would clean up after them and began throwing their garbage on to the ground anywhere and everywhere, thinking democracy meant there would immediately be someone else would pick it up. As time went on they quickly realized this was not the case, but by that point there was such a lack of any sense of community, just a blantant disregard for a city with no pride in it to be found. I witnessed this time and time again. The people would throw their garbage on to the streets, the sidewalk, on the floors in restaurants, literally anywhere they were the moment they decided they were done with something. The culture shock I experienced witnessing this was significant, as even in Dar Es Salaam, a city I would never recommend anyone go to, the people did not have this level of disregard for where they lived.
In addition to the garbage everywhere, the buildings are treated with the same disregard. They are dilapidated to such a point that they are literally falling apart bit by bit, with any semblance of maintenance trailing far behind the pace of their degradation. It is actually quite sad to see, as with each day, each week, each month, the ability to try to undo the damage there becomes less and less of a possibility.
And finally, the city infrastructure is just not there. In most places, there are no sidewalks, forcing tourists and locals alike to choose between walking on the street, amidst the chaos that is Cairo traffic, or in the sand, dumped there purely so that people aren’t walking on the crack pipes and electrical cords, which are still visible.
It seems Cairo is in such a state of disrepair that even a functional government would be overwhelmed, unsure of where to even begin fixing the problems. My hope for Cairo’s immediately future is almost non-existenent, when I take into consideration the instability of the current government. It’s so unfortunate, to have witnessed a city with so much history, so much to offer, completely imploding. Perhaps that’s what it needs though, before the people will seem to care enough to change it.