Saturday, March 21, 2009

Romantic Cairo Nights

Behind the trees that line the sidewalk around Cairo Zoo, away from the street lights and the cars, guys and girls lean against the zoo wall in the evenings and speak with soft voices and look into each other's eyes.

Along Kornish el Nil, the walk that runs along the Nile in downtown Cairo, couples walk slowly and stop for tea or chickpeas or roasted sweet potatoes.

On the bridges, they sit on plastic chairs or stand leaning against the rail, close, close together. As close as they can possibly get without breaking the law. You can't kiss on the streets. You can't embrace. But you can hold hands, stand so close so that your bodies touch. You can whisper things in each other's ears, and you can look dreamily into each other's eyes.

I'm one half of such a couple. We walk from el Gezira to Wust el Balad. Down Kornish el Nil. Stand on one of the bridges. Which one is it? It doesn't really matter. A boy walks up to us and offers pink, red and white carnations threaded on white string. Special price for married couples, he says and winks at us. My Cairo date takes it as a sign, gives the boy two pounds and hangs the carnations around my neck.

They smell sweet and fresh.

We go down from the bridge, zigzag our way between the cars and cross the street, walk passed an old lady hectoring people helping her into a taxi, go down to a feluka place and rent one of those small boats with a huge triangular shaped sail. He holds my hand.

I don't know. Cairo is innocent, romantic, crazy, loud, crowded, sweet and safe.

The feluka guy tells my date he can't put his arm around me. We sit with proper distance in between us, feeling cold in the chilly night air. Five minutes later the feluka guy offers hasheesh.

We float slowly, slowly on the black surface of the river Nile. Other felukas with engines speed past us. There's loud music from the shore. Honking cars. Winking lights and dusty Cairo air. Somehow the Nile eats up all the stress, all the noise, and leaves you with a feeling of perfect peace and calm.

I meet him first at Cilantro in Mohandeseen, by the way. He orders a cappuccino that comes out like this. Another sign, I'm sure.

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