National Geographic : 1993 Apr
Clamorous Heart of Egypt Cairo By PETER THEROUX Photographs by REZA I 'LL TELL YOU how Cairo has changed," a Cairene woman told me over a convivial dinner. "I took my son's shoes to a street cobbler. He wanted a deposit! I told him, 'Look, do you need a deposit when you'll have these beautiful Ameri can loafers? Do you think I won't be back?' I had only one pound in cash on me [about 30 cents] and offered it. He threw it back at me, along with the shoes, and said, 'Keep your pound.' This snarling attitude is incredible in Cairo." I agreed but had to smile at this tame Cairo horror story-she had told it the way a New Yorker might describe a homicide. Was this the most notable change in the Middle East's largest city, the biggest metropolis in Africa? It had been 12 years since I'd been in Cairo. In the interim the city's population had nearly doubled to 13 million, and its streets were thick with pollution. Yet instead of complaining about those things, Cairenes were fretting over whether the proverbial sweet nature of the natives was eroding. Having lived in the city's outer regions as a student ofArabic and a teacher of English at the American University in Cairo, I had some idea what that irascible cobbler's day had been like, starting with a long and bruising commute on a bus overflowing with work ers, crated produce, and possibly chickens. On his curbside post he would have breathed the blue, lead-laden (Continuedon page 44) Adding to the chaos of the Middle East's-andAfrica's-largest city, a drover and his camels jostle through crowded streets to a slaughterhouse.Bringing both vitality and problems, peoplefrom the countryside continue to flood Egypt's swollen capital.