The energy pulses from the crescent-shaped streetlamps and rustles in the palm trees. It slaps you in the face along with the heat, as you step off the plane and take in your first breaths of Egyptian air. A bus brings you to the terminal, overflowing with people, bags, plans, relief, excitement: energy. Inside the building, tourist groups cluster around men with signs and clipboards in language-barriered silence, while restless tour guides take over with a swagger you come to identify in every Egyptian man you interact with. They bark in Arabic to their colleagues and brandish pop-song-singing cell phones, one hand slapping the back of a friend while the other controls their cigarette. Conversation, commotion and smoke arc across the ceilings, buzzing indiscriminately in everybody’s ears. Shouting into their phones while signaling a puny boy for another cup of tea, they point solo travelers towards a counter to pick up visas before going through immigration.
Oh wait, that’s you.
You leave one line for another. Fifteen US dollars, cash, gets you a grunt and a stamp and you are back in the original line, politely telling others around you to do the same while the airport employees attend to urgent jokes and phone calls announced by a techno beat in their pockets. The high decibel Arabic rattles your ear drums while a rattled immigrations officer drums impatiently on his desk, getting louder when he wants the next person to step down.
Outside, the foreigners have been ushered onto brightly painted buses or zoomed away in large cars. Locals scramble into smaller vans, claiming their seats with the baggage they have already thrown in through the window. Those leftover are waiting for family members, stepping to the side to pray, or idling in the airconditioning and enjoying a cigarette. Fending off piercingly persistent taxi drivers while waiting for your friend – “no, thank you, no taxi, my friend is coming,” – you become keenly aware of men everywhere. Bushy eyebrows, abundant facial hair, tall figures, Cleopatran noses, handsome faces, wide grins greet each other with kisses, hugs, cigarettes and praise to God; Al Hamdullilah!
“Welcome in Cairo,” a sign reads.