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Page 2

Andrea Rowe

“My friends,” purrs Chita, “you cannot tour without me.” His pale pink tongue flicks sunflower seeds. “You cannot cross the road without me even, for you it is too dangerous,” flick, spit, flick. “You don’t know Cairo.”

Our gazes shift to the mulch of pulpy mess gathering around our Blundstones. We think him wrong, we’ve researched Cairo, leafing through a kitchen table pile of guidebooks for months. We shake our heads defiantly before legging it defiantly past shoeshine boys calling “Baksheesh, baksheesh” (don’t they know an Aussie never polishes their Blunnies?), underneath the washing lines thrusting like flags across laneways, along the bolted doorways of abandoned embassies, fleeing quiet Zamalek Island into Cairo central.

The horns. The early morning sing-song prayers blasting from well-rigged PA’s atop domes of mosques, and yet more horns. The traffic, crazy mopeds overtaking on left and right, centre lanes, criss-crossing over curb and street and up on to footpaths. A well-dented Mercedes screeched to a halt, as slick yet slightly spoiled sedans veer and blare around it, “Taxi, taxi, where you want to go”, “Hey Mr, Missus, Taxi, Taxi, I take you, I take you.”

Nobody walks in Cairo.

Each road crossing becomes a jagged dash fuels my panic and exhilaration. The ‘other side’ we’ve left behind, we’re fast learning, is an island of paradise.

Tehear Square. Where country routes converge with direction-demanding lanes, families cling together on Kawasakis, passengers peel like grapes from braking buses, bewildered travellers search for traffic lights and crossings. And over all this din, this crazy offence to numbed ears, the earnest cry “Baksheesh, baksheesh ... where you want to go?” 

To cross the road. To get out of this.

To reach the next baksheesh battling and photo snapping tourist trap.

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