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Page 3

Andrea Rowe

To survive the cacophony of Cairo.

With relief we spy a sign of order. A pedestrian crossing where three lanes merge and a pubescent policeman sits cradling his gun and thousand-miles-away thoughts.

We shuffle closer and join the throng of pedestrians. Safety in numbers.  A break in the traffic surges us forward, a wave of dashing legs. The scuttle.


The unsuspecting kiss of bike and body, the white of our eyes connecting in surprise and the tumbling, flying, rolling. Smoggy sky, gritty tarmac, smoggy sky. Again, and again.

Cairo captured through a fish-eye lens of pain.

I watch the pandemonium erupt.

The grabbing hands, the gaping flesh, fatty globs sprayed like seafoam across my shoes, and the unbelieving fear in my husband’s eyes as he grabs at me mid-faint. Demands for ambulance and tourist police evoke little response, but an inflated 50 baksheesh has us bundled and bleeding into a blaring taxi, bound for Cairo’s ill-equipped public hospital.  Baksheesh rattles locked casualty gates and unlocks doors for weeping Westerners, it seems.

What it does not unlock is dispensary cabinets on dwindling public resources.  

Nurses wheeling wonky-legged beds side-step sleeping cats in corridors. Cleaners splash and slop buckets of antiseptic liberally in hallways, women ladle broth from small tajines to muttering mouths. Wound-stitching, it becomes apparent, requires a hospital hunt for a disposable needle. Trainee doctors guide my bewildered husband clutching black market baksheesh to search for suture thread and morphine. The dispensary cupboard is bare.

Six eye-widening hours later I limp uneasily from hospital, stitched up, spent and sore.

We have baksheesh for a taxi and ponder over Chita’s prophecy, “You can’t cross the road without me.”

Ah yes, in Egypt, baksheesh makes your holiday happen.

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