Picking up where I left off with my last post where I was milling about the shops outside of the Coptic Area, I met a man, Amer, who owns one of these little shops. Amer spoke English quite well so we sat at one of the tables outside of his clothing shop. For several hours, we drank tea together and talked about life, family, and travels. The evening wore on until, finally, he had to close up his shop. He invited me to join him as he went to meet with his friends and family. I was happy to go along since it was a long holiday weekend and I didn’t have to be up for work the following day. About a 1/4 mile down the road from his shop is the part of Old Cairo where he grew up. As we walked along the street, people would call out a greeting to him so of course we stopped for a moment to shake hands and say hello. Turning down a side street, we entered into what appeared to be the part of town where all the mechanics live and work. Even with the sun now far below the horizon, these men were still busy working by lamps and flashlights trying to finish whatever repair they were making. The sound of hammering and ratchets echoed between the buildings as warm, gusts of wind carried the smell of engine oil and car paint. Small packs of filthy, scraggly-looking dogs could be seen lying about the street or digging through anything that bore even the slightest resemblance of food.
Winding down this side-street you could tell it was home for Amer, where everyone knows everyone. As we made our way along the poorly lit street he would point out people, “That is my cousin, and that guy there is my friend…” The people of this Old Cairo neighborhood are not the wealthy, or well-to-do middle class. They’re the salt of the earth people: mechanics, painters, laborers, shop keepers, all my kind of people. I find among them that there is a simple honesty and a value and enjoyment in the most basic things in life. No one puts on airs about who they are or what they do. What you see is what you get. After spending the first part of the day at various religious sites, this was a breath of satisfyingly fresh air.
Amer and I rounded one more bend which led to a wide spot in the road that was bustling with activity of even more mechanics who were busily twisting wrenches on old Fiats, VW Beetles, and mini buses. Beside a workshop building, several large trees loomed above leaving their animated shadow to wash over the cracked and oil-stained sidewalk. We approached three men who were sitting there beneath the trees, huddled around a small metal table. Amer introduced me to them. They spoke no English but were very friendly. Each took a turn to stand up, introduce himself, and offer me a firm handshake. I was then offered a chair as Amer shouted off into the distance to some unseen person across the street. Moments later a boy in his teens came awkwardly running up to our group. Amer asked if I would like tea or coffee; it’s really an option of the two, not so much a choice yes or no. Humbly, I chose another tea. The sweet tea was warmly welcomed since my blood sugar had crashed hours ago from not eating all day.
Over the course of the evening, more and more men showed up. I discovered that this bend in the road is the evening spot where these guys congregate to talk about the day, have a laugh, and just unwind.
Second from left is Amer, and to the right one more, his older brother, Gamal.
By way of translation through Amer, I was able to have conversation with all of these wonderful people. The four hours I spent there just flew by. I lost count of how many cups of tea and Turkish coffee I drank. At one point in the evening one of the guys ran out to get food for us. He returned with a bag of pre-packaged meals consisting of lentils, rice, and noodles. Amer hooked mine up with a very spicy sauce which the next morning I found to be very… invigorating to the sense of heat in a particular nether region. The food was delicious, the tea and coffee, medicinal, and the company of these kind, generous souls made for an evening I will not forget. I hated to leave but it was very late, I was tired, and I was depending on Uber drivers to be out this late in order for me to make it back to my place.
Gamal’s oldest son, Mohamed, was getting married that weekend. Before leaving, Gamal invited me to join them in this celebration. There was to be a street wedding in this ancient part of town. Of course I said yes! Upon that, I made my rounds to all the guys to wish them a good night, letting them know that I will be seeing them at the wedding.
Amer made sure I made it to my Uber pickup ok and we shook hands in a manly embrace. The twenty minutes it took to get back to my place were spent in thought about the evening and the turn of events. I had left that morning with the only goal of going out to shoot some images of the Coptic Area. With nothing but my camera slung over my shoulder and a desire to ‘see and meet’, the day turned into something far greater than I had imagined. More important than any image that I captured that day, people from different countries, cultures, and walks of life met and enjoyed each others’ company at a bend in the road in Old Cairo.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little precursor to the next post. Wedding day!