Sunday, December 10, 2023

My Cairo experience from GC to Egypt

It is exactly 24 hours since my record breaking 30-minutes SA 8459 flight from Gaborone to Johannesburg enroute to Cairo on Wednesday April 26. 

“Ladies and gentlemen it looks like we are ready to descend 30 minutes ahead of schedule,” the cabin announcement said.  A cue for me to down the glass of wine I had barely touched.  

With my colleague Ruth Kedikilwe having warned me they don’t serve alcohol on EgyptAir, I knew I should have utilised my time on the GC-Joburg flight more wisely.

The white guy behind me was certainly impressed by the “record time”. 

“It’s a good thing it wasn’t the ‘Scare Botswana’ (Air Botswana) aircraft or it would have been a bumpy one-hour flight.” And he had a point. Anyone who has ever boarded AB would know what he was talking about.  

Well, time to check in at OR Tambo. “Do they serve serobe (tripe) in Cairo,” the immigration official quips after taking a look at my passport.  ‘

“I won’t get my hopes up,” was my response.  A few minutes after check-in I am enjoying a drink at Mugg and Bean when I realise the boarding gate for EgyptAir flight MS840 on the flight information display screen in front of me does not match the one on my ticket. I quickly dash to the new boarding gate waiting area where I feel incredibly outnumbered. 

The only other black guy there is my would-be Zimbabwean friend. His name is … you guessed it, Pardon. Nobody has an easier task of naming babies than Zimbabweans. No stress at all. They just pick an English adjective from a conversation on their way to hospital and that’s the name for the new-born baby.  

 “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board Flight MS 840 with service from Johannesburg to Cairo. We ask that you please fasten your seatbelts and secure all baggage underneath your seat or in the overhead compartments. We also ask that your seats and table trays are in the upright position for take-off. 

“Please turn off all personal electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones. Thank you for choosing EgyptAir and I hope you enjoy your flight,” the flight attendance interprets following her Arabic announcement as we prepare to jet off. 

“What are you here for,” the immigration official at Cairo International Airport interrogates for the millionth time before scrutinising my passport for what seemed like an eternity. 

The incident reminded me of an episode from television Up Abroad channel National Geographic’s Banged where perfect holidays turn into hellish nightmares for the travellers featured in the series. 

The television series recounts, through first-hand interviews and re-enactments, their experiences of being arrested in a foreign country for drug smuggling, and how they coped with the resulting lengthy prison terms. “Did a bankie of weed somehow land on my suitcase,” I wondered. 

But it turns out the guy was just being a prick. Soon as I stepped out of the terminal and took a long sniff of the Cairo morning breeze as I looked around for my chauffer, I realised I was the only black guy among a sea of Arabs and white people. 

Suddenly I see my name printed on a sheet of A4 paper with two other names. One of them would soon turn out to be my now best buddy Hoosen Bhai from South Africa. He is of Arabic descent so the guy just blended in. “Just great,” I think, “I remain the only black guy here.” 

Interestingly he seemed more relieved to meet me. “Man I have been wondering what I was gonna do by myself in this foreign city.” 

I’m like “nigger whatchu talking about, you’re home.’ Anyway, the anxiousness that I felt on landing has since vanished with every minute I have spent here. 

I went across the street earlier today for some window shopping and learnt a few things about Cairo. Driving on the “wrong” (right) side of the road was certainly my first observation.

Crossing the street here in Cairo is an acquired skill. The streets are packed with cars zig-zagging around each other trying to find space in heavy traffic.  The driving here reminds me of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) president, Duma Boko’s description of President Ian Khama’s dancing moves; Reckless and uncoordinated. Incredibly there are hardly any accidents.

But crossing the streets here is a harrowing experience for someone from the relatively sluggish Gaborone traffic.  You do not walk across the street here, you run. 

Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country and as such they generally do not drink alcohol here. Although alcohol consumption is not illegal, finding a drink here is a real challenge. I haven’t had a sip since Jo’burg.  Although it is summer and temperatures reach highs of 34 Degrees Celsius don’t expect to catch a glimpse of a cleavage. 

While you can wear anything you want, it is considered inappropriate and disrespectful to wear certain types of clothing. Younger Egyptian women wear form fitting clothing that covers all of their body. That’s only as far as it goes. Most locals here don’t speak English either. Language is quite a barrier. 

On the bright side, if you are from Botswana you’d love the exchange rate. Pula is quite stronger as compared to the Egyptian Pound. A buck would give you almost two here. Even my SA friend, Hoosen, whose Rand currency is weaker than the Pula, went bananas about the exchange rate. 

Cairo is also one of the safest places in the world. You don’t get to worry about getting mugged here. I saw a guy walk into a bank with shopping plastics full of cash earlier this morning, no worries at all. That’s the Cairo I have discovered so far and I love every minute. 

No more beef with my Editors Spencer Mogapi for imposing this trip on me. As for my Chief Sub-Editor, Eddie Kuhlman, I did not fly over 12 000km for you to spike my story. From Cairo with love.


Read this week's paper