First Impressions of Cairo

Ayan Mukhopadhyay is a Global MBA student from India who is doing his International Immersion Project with PlaNet Finance in Egypt

The alarm rang at 9am sharp and I woke up, my head aching in tandem with the alarm.  Although I wanted to snooze the alarm few times out of habit, there was barely time. The flight was at 4.30pm and I had to be at the airport at around 2pm. But before that a huge task was still left: cleaning L0612D and packing rest of the seemingly important stuff. After a rocking 8 months stay with my roommate Uday, sadly enough, it was time to part ways, temporarily for 2 months. Itmighty” game for the last time, it was time to head off to CDG.

I would be taking the Polish Airlines. I had read quite a few reviews about this airline and was a bit apprehensive but then couldn’t care less as long as it would take me to Egypt. Apart from a 1.5 hours delay at Warsaw, the plane food and the thunderous weather, the flight to Egypt was largely uneventful. The delay even turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was able to watch the Euro 2012 finals along with 2 English, 2 Polish, 3 Egyptian and 1 Russian co-passengers.

I reached Cairo at around 4.30am and the hasty immigration procedure was over in few minutes. I was greeted by Umm al-dunya, meaning “Mother of the World”, (an old nickname for Cairo) with a warm wave of air outside the airport at around 5am. I started sweating immediately with my wet t-shirt pressing down on my sticky back. Soon enough, taxi drivers thronged around me offering to take me to the best hotel in Cairo. My eyes were however frantically looking for a piece of A4 paper on which my name was supposed to written. Mohammed from the hostel was present at the airport and had been waiting patiently for the last 2.5 hours to take me to the hostel. The cultural difference was clearly showing.

I was sitting in the front seats of a very old Astra along with one of my bags. Driving through the streets of Cairo, the first look at the city reminded me of my city, Calcutta. Somehow the streets looked familiar, not in their shape or structure but by the way cars were parked, how people slept on the pavement, and by the old houses built by the side of the streets. The environment truly transported me momentarily to my city while Mohammed kept feeding me information about Cairo and the places to see. The journey was not as painful as I had thought it would be. The roads were quite good and apart from few rattles & clatters, it was ok. As I reached my room at 6am, it was time to catch a nap and get ready for the first day at the PlaNet Finance office at 9.30am.
I was bold enough to decide to take the metro right on the first day. There are only 2 lines crisscrossing the city and I realized that it is relatively simple to navigate. The problem was the walk from the metro station to the PlaNet Finance office. After walking in the sweltering heat for 5 minutes, I realized that I have missed the left turn I was supposed to take and that it was time to ask someone. The strong sun, the pollution and the dust was already testing my... I don’t know what! My first two attempts to find my way were futile since the people didn’t speak English. I was lucky the 3 rd time when the man with impeccably combed hair gave me directions.

Cairo as a city is as multidimensional and complex as it can get. It is the largest African city that encapsulates different elements of Egypt. Although the flavour and spirit of western culture continue to influence Cairo, the city still retains a sizeable portion of its ancient orient culture. As such, a walk down the streets of downtown Cairo results in an exotic and chaotic assault on the senses. The crowd of vendors trying to sell just about anything and everything, the intoxicating smell of food and spices, the congestion of traffic and people alike, the warm weather, etc. gives an experience that is exoticized by many. Cairo is definitely is, however, not a city for the faint-hearted, and to survive hereone has to deal with the many problems wrought  by a population boom along with bad governance and infrastructure.

To be continued...

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