Well, it’s 83 degrees in Cairo and the Egyptians are freezing in their jackets. Life has adopted a degree of normalcy here, though “normal” is an extremely relative term. I have scientifically deduced that the human body can run on adrenaline and reserve nutrients for about two months until the physical effects of a city like Cairo begins to take its toll.
According to one report, “[the] air quality in Cairo has been reaching dangerous levels of lead, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and suspended particulate matter concentrations, due to decades of unregulated car emissions, urban industrial operations, and chaff and trash burning … The level of air pollution in Cairo ranges from 10 to 100 times higher than the standards set by the World Health Organization.”
The city is one part unbelievable beauty:
And one part unspeakable filth:
Half the excitement of Cairo is its dirtiness, but even the immediate effects are staggering.
I live several blocks away from a grocery store called Metro Mart, the walk to which, there and back, is about thirty minutes. I have remained in relatively good shape thanks to the school gym, so this is not as much a reflection of my physical fitness as it is of the air quality in Cairo. When I return from Metro Mart, usually laden with groceries, I slump into the nearest chair feeling shaky and a little nauseated. The effects of this air are absolutely insane. It’s not even air, as most people know it. It’s pollution infused with body odor. Most sane people would have refused to get off the plane when they realized Egypt has about as much fresh air as outer space.
One of the reasons Egypt is so filthy is because Egyptians see no need to pick up after themselves – the city can’t really get much dirtier. It’s like how you treat the restroom in a gas station versus one in a private home. You don’t really care if water splashes or if you drop a paper towel in the gas station restroom; it’s gross already.
One wakes up every weekend here to pizza boxes, plastic silverware, and cigarette cartons littering the common area from the previous night’s binge. The Egyptian girls see it as the responsibility of the janitor-type figure, who is actually really cute and more of the floor’s maid than anything else, to pick up their entire mess. Americans are practically OCD next to Egyptians, just because we pick up our wrappers.
Cairo would not be the same if it were filled with beautiful Montana air. It would lose much of its fast-paced, polluted charm. However, it is important to balance the grub with exciting adventures, otherwise you just have headaches all the time. Thank goodness midterms are almost over and Halloween is just around the corner!
Author’s note: I wrote the post above in 2010, when I studied abroad at The American University in Cairo for a semester.