Monday, August 16, 2010

Ramadan Night, Old Cairo

Old Cairo comes alive after the sun goes down during Ramadan. Once the city center, Old Cairo remains a sort of flashback to the past after Progress moved north along the Nile to what is now Downtown, Zamalek and Garden City. The narrow, unpaved streets wind in every which direction, testifying to the utter lack of city planning in this historic district. Think Disney's Aladdin. After iftar--the breaking of the day's fast at sundown--it feels as though the day begins. People come out of their homes, shops and cafes open, children and men play soccer in the streets. The commotion doesn't begin dying down until after the last meal before sunrise, beginning the following day's fast, around 4:30am.

Thrice I have been to Old Cairo thus far, and not once have I seen another foreigner. Last night, I took the metro into Old Cairo with my buddy, Sears, to meet up with a few Egyptian friends. We congregated at a cafe somewhere in the Middle-Of-Nowhere. The cafe, run by an old, extremely friendly Cairene, Nani, was spilling out into the streets after iftar. Tables and chairs were set up on both sides of the streets with men smoking sheesha, playing backgammon, drinking tea, and watching the single television on Nani's patio. Sears and I were set in chairs facing a large group of men watching the television serving the patio of Nani's cafe. Half engaged in lazy conversation, Sears and I were suddenly awoken from our daze by two men on the patio shouting at each other. It escalated quickly. Shouts turned to shoves, two men turned into about twenty, a quiet patio transformed to chaos in a matter of seconds. I sat with my legs crossed, Sears with his hands behind his head, both relaxed. One of us, I don't remember which, commented on how the situation's entertainment value was directly correlated with how physical it became.

This went on for a minute or two before Nani was able to calm everyone down and get back to their seats. No blows were thrown, but I did see an older man slap a kid in the face pretty hard. When relative calm was resumed, I asked my Egyptian friend, Mohay, what in Allah's name the problem was. This is what I learned:

During Ramadan, a bunch of new television shows are released which people refer to as, "series." Each series airs a new episode daily for the entire month of fasting, usually right after iftar while people are getting ready for the day (night). From what I can tell, the series are extremely popular among younger generations--it's sort of like an entire season of Friends or Sex and the City airing within a month's time. So this particular night, a patio full of men were watching the next series episode of a Cairene, Friends, when someone grabbed the remote and changed the station to an Egyptian football game (soccer). One guy on the patio became really angry, really quickly, speaking out against his offender.

While Mohay was telling me this I began to consider, as are those of you still reading this, the boldness of the man who would openly express his fury in this situation. If you're at a bar in the states and Dude A is watching Friends, and Dude B grabs the remote to put on Monday Night Football, Dude A says nothing. If he does, Dudes B, C, D, etc., pretty much gain the right to ridicule, if not physically overcome Dude A under full protection of the law. I didn't really say much, because I thought there might some sort of cultural misunderstanding. However, Mohay said the guy wanting to watch the series was outnumbered by every other guy on the patio. (I guess he deserves respect for boldness). He then told me that, in Egypt, wanting to watch a series over a game is for Khowels (see Cairo, Day 2).


  1. it's really stupid we didn't make it to old cairo because i think we would have actually liked that part. alan is to blame. what an ass.

  2. yea joy, unfortunately I didn't meet my old cairo friends until you had already left, otherwise we definitely would've visited.

    I also think you would've like that part... :P