Cairo

Cycling Europe Day 56: Good Latvian Vibrations

When I grow up, I want to be a Latvian motorcyclist.

We crossed the border today from Lithuania to Latvia. The 70km ride through northern Lithuania was similar to the past few days: rural. Latvia, on the other hand, almost immediately had a more modern, urban feel to it.

After reviewing our maps, Colin and I found a route that would allow us to get to Riga, Latvia in one 153km-long day instead of my originally planned three shorter days. We decided we would give it a go and if we got too tired midway we’d find a roadside hotel.

It was a whopper. I was fine till kilometer 100. Then a truck passed me way too close. I screamed but kept the bike under control. That episode just took all the energy out of me. We stopped for a big lunch but nothing gave me my energy back. It was a rough 53km until we reached Riga.

Just after we crossed into Latvia and took our commemorative photos at the border sign, we started off on the major road we were on and heard a police siren give an attention signal behind us. I started to pull over, thinking, “This was bound to happen. We’re on a major road. It’s probably illegal for cyclists to use it. To stay out of Latvian jail, Nadia, CRY!” (more…)

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Cycling Europe Day 44: When Hope Returns

I didn’t get killer hills today!!

Turnov, Czech Republic

Turnov, Czech Republic

I got thunder, lightening, intense rain showers, and absolutely soaking wet.

BUT I DIDN’T GET KILLER HILLS TODAY!

You have no idea how happy I am. I cycled 95km today. In the best of conditions that is a lot for me. The terrain was not flat by any means. It was mildly undulating. For most of the ride it was raining really hard. I had to be extra careful so I wouldn’t slip. I got splashed on countless times by trucks and cars. I had to change my upper body clothes twice because I got so wet I was shivering. I had to pee more times than normal probably because I was feeling cold. But did any of that matter to me? Not one bit as long as I did not get the killer hills!

Everything is so relative. If I had a ride like today just some time last week, I’d have been miserable. But now that I’ve seen TRULY miserable, almost anything is better in comparison.

I’ve been thinking about my visit to Prague and other large cities and why they don’t impress me much anymore. The advantage to doing the kind of trip I’m doing is that you get to see so much more of a country than you would by taking planes or driving a car on motorways. You see the backroads and the small towns and villages. You stop and eat in the tiniest of roadside restaurants. You see how people live across the country and the differences in standards of living. You stop in towns where tourists rarely, if ever, go.

I wouldn’t say that you get to see the REAL country and people. The capital city, with its inhabitants, usually smarter lifestyle, tourists, and tourist attractions are all part of what makes a certain country what it is. But it’s only a part.

That made me reflect on Egypt. Cairenes tend to think of Cairo as being Egypt. Not only that, Egyptians who live outside of Cairo, when traveling to Cairo, will say they are going to Masr, the Arabic word for Egypt. When I think about all the horrible things I dislike about living in Egypt, most of them are related only to living in Cairo: such as the awful traffic. I’ve always said that the second one sets foot outside of Cairo, one sees how beautiful Egypt actually is. (more…)

Memories of an Egyptian Revolutionary

On March 5, 2014 I am due to give a talk in Barcelona to mark International Women’s Day. The talk is titled, “Arab Spring or Desolate Arab Winter?” It continues to be very difficult for me to prepare for this talk, as it involves delving into my experiences of those fateful 18 days and the events of the three years that followed. Finding the ability to sit down and face the demons of Egypt’s recent history – and my own –  has proven to be difficult. Images keep coming back to me of things that happened to me and others while in Tahrir. And it reminded me of a blog post I wrote little over one month following the Revolution. I repost it today as a reminder of memories that can never be erased.

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It’s been very hard for me to even consider writing lately. When I write, I share my soul. And my soul is dark these days.

This man's image is forever etched into my memory along with many others. It is horrible not knowing whether he and so many others I saw fall survived.

This man’s image is forever etched into my memory along with many others. It is horrible not knowing whether he and so many others I saw fall survived.

Egypt – and Egyptians with it – has witnessed since the start of 2011 some of its most difficult and its most triumphant days. Within a period of less than three months we have experienced the full range of human emotion in its utmost intensity: curiosity, wonder, hope, fear, desperation, anger, absolute loss of fear, grieving, resolve, steadfastness, and more hope, fear, desperation, anger, loss of fear and grieving. Festiveness, light-headedness. Looking death in the face and accepting it should it come to take us. Hope, indignation, anger. And boom! Triumph! Then exhaustion. The most intense exhaustion one can imagine. Mental and physical. And a return of grieving. Followed by hope. Then confusion. A continuous unrelenting state of confusion. But always, ALWAYS, there is hope.

In my head, images from the past two-and-a-half months go round and round and round. I keep them in this state of constant motion. This way they are only a blur. But every once in awhile, an image will jump away from the blurry mass and bam! A jolt of intense memory electrifies me. (more…)

Are Egypt’s Estranged Revolutionaries Moving Out?

“I’m counting the number of very close friends planning to move away next year and so far the toll is at 5. I really can’t bear it.”

Picture taken by Nadia El-Awady on February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted

Picture taken by Nadia El-Awady on February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted

These were the words of one of my friends on a Facebook status a few days ago.

Another wrote just one day earlier, “I am currently witnessing the largest mass emigration of friends and family from Egypt.”

The subject has become a common topic of conversation among family and friends. People leave, others announce they are leaving, yet others talk of their desire to leave.

Egyptians have been emigrating out of Egypt in large numbers since the early 1970s. According to the EU Neighborhood Migration Report 2013 published by the European University Institute, the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, and the Migration Policy Centre, there were 6.5 million Egyptian immigrants living in different parts of the world in 2009, 74 percent of whom were temporary migrants. Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar were the highest receiving destination countries of temporary migrants that year while the U.S., U.K., Italy, France, and Canada were the highest receiving countries of permanent Egyptian migrants.

How these demographics are statistically changing after the January 25, 2011 Revolution and then later in 2013 as political upheaval has overtaken the country is yet to be seen. Yet it is clear that a change is indeed happening, if not in sheer numbers then in the reasons that are causing Egypt’s revolutionary youth to leave.

I asked several of my friends who have left or who are actively in the process of leaving Egypt – all active participants in the January 25, 2011 Revolution – to write a couple of paragraphs each, explaining their reasons for wanting to leave. I had originally planned to incorporate some of their words into an article on Egyptian emigration post-Revolution. But after reading their words I have decided to leave them as is (albeit translated from Arabic). You will see why. (more…)

A Race Against Myself

I have always struggled with running. It is not my sport. I usually resort to it only when I absolutely must. When I’m in

Running in Cairo with the totally awesome Cairo Runners.

Running in Cairo with the totally awesome Cairo Runners.

Egypt, my treadmill becomes one of the few means available to me for a daily workout. I stopped going to the gym in Egypt a few years ago because it took too long to get to it in Cairo’s horrendous traffic.

My problem with the treadmill is the mind-numbing monotony that comes with using it. After running for a kilometer or two my whole body feels like giving up because I am simply too bored.

I tried picking up running properly when the wonderful initiative of Cairo Runners started with weekly Friday runs. But due to my irregular participation, I was suddenly running distances that I had not properly trained for or graduated up to. My knees were unable to take the pounding from running long distances on pavement. I had to give up running completely for a few months to nurse my knee back to health. In the meantime, I focused on other forms of low-impact exercise.

Once my knee was better, I wanted to take up running again. I don’t like thinking that there is something out there that I cannot do. I find running boring, it hurts sometimes, and it requires tremendous endurance and willpower from me that I do not always have. But what all that really means is that I need to engage in a battle with myself and win it.

So I signed myself up for a 10 km race in the UK. (more…)

The Egypt I Choose to Remember

I grew up in the United States as a child and a young teenager. Even so, Egypt grew in my heart with me. My father constantly told us glorious stories of his youth, growing up in the village, living through the 1952 Revolution (although quite young at the time), and protesting against President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. He told us how Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully and how a person’s religion was almost irrelevant. Before I ever visited Egypt as a youngster, I recall seeing my father, with my five-year-old eyes, watching the news from Egypt very closely in October 1973. I had no comprehension of the war going on between Egypt and Israel at the time. Even so, I have a clear memory in my head of my father weeping with joy in front of the television set on October 6, 1973, when the Egyptian army successfully crossed Israel’s Barlev Line.

The Egypt of my youth was one of wonderful summer holidays. It was an Egypt where sheep roamed freely with people on the streets of Cairo. It was an Egypt of sun, warmth, lots of good food, neighborhood children to play with, walking along the main street of Roksy with its flashy shoe stores and then eating the best shawerma in the whole world, riding on camels in front of the Pyramids, streets with few cars, doting grandparents and uncles and aunts and extended family members who were all also called uncle and aunt…

I finally settled in Cairo in 1986 to start university at the age of 17. It was so exciting for me. (more…)

Where Are We Taking Egypt?

It is hard being Egyptian these days.

I remember how I felt just after the 2011 Revolution. I had a business trip to the US just two days after we toppled Mubarak. I walked through the airports with my Egyptian flag waving, my head held high. At the international conference in which I was an invited speaker on science journalism, I instead talked about the amazing achievements of the Egyptian Revolution to standing ovations of large audiences. I had never felt prouder to be an Egyptian.

Now, I just hang my head in confusion and despair. I knew our road to democracy was going to be hard. But I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Now that light completely eludes me.

The last three years in Egypt have been, for lack of a better word, shit. (more…)

Things I learned from today’s bike ride in Cairo

I’ve cycled in Cairo a few times before but I’ve always limited my distance and my area of travel. Recently I came across a cycling group who do long distance training sessions, mainly on a couple of our out-of-town highways. I cycled with them last weekend for the first time and really enjoyed it. We cycled from Lebanon Square to Smart Village, 20 km away, and back. I never would have thought that possible by bike before. But it was a truly enjoyable experience. They weren’t cycling this weekend so I decided to do a long distance solo cycle.

Here is what I learned:

  • We have way more potholes on our streets in Cairo than I originally thought we had.
  • People on the street will think of you less as a woman if you wear loose clothing and you put a geeky bike helmet on your head (and thus you don’t get harassed as much).
  • You know those large families riding on a single motorcycle that we stare at as if they are aliens? Well, they all stare at you if you’re a woman in a geeky bike helmet cycling on the streets in Cairo.
  • Dogs like to chase people on bikes. I screamed like a little girl today when one dog growled at me while sticking close to my right leg. Apparently little girl screams frighten dogs away.
  • If we had bike lanes in Cairo, microbuses would use them as their private bus stops. We may as well not have them at all.
  • Note to self: next time wear a gas mask while cycling if you can’t handle breathing in extensive quantities of automobile exhaust.
  • Cycling among Cairo traffic is frickin scary. The only way to go about it is to pretend you’re a car, honk a lot, and give crazy hand gestures to idiots who don’t treat you like a car. Seriously, it isn’t the safest thing in the world to do. You need to be confident and careful at once. You do need to ring your bell a lot so that cars know you are coming. You need to make a lot of hand signals so that cars behind you know what you are doing. You need to anticipate the movement of cars/busses parked on the side of the road so they don’t start moving just as you reach their blind spot. You need to be extra careful when you reach side roads that open up onto a main street. Cars tend to swerve into the main street, not looking over their left shoulder, and expecting other cars to avoid them. They are an accident in the waiting. Be very vigilant.
  • Wearing cycling goggles might be a good idea for Cairo. Our streets constantly spit sand and pebbles into your eyes.
  • Cycling in Cairo may not be like cycling along the coast of Italy, but it’s all Cairenes have. If more of us just got out and did it, it will become more commonplace. It’s also a great way to keep fit.

Two Egyptian Women, the Police, Lots of Bedouin Men, a Convicted Drug Felon, and Asfour the Camel

There are some places in this world that require you to walk long and far and with a certain amount of risk to life and limb in order to reach them. Months and sometimes years of training are needed to achieve the physical strength and the mental willpower necessary to take you to these places. These places are worth seeing.

Our night ascent to the summit of Egypt’s highest peak was grueling at times. We were pushing hard and were not taking breaks. The moon shone bright over our heads. Our headlamps were not required. My breathing became heavier and heavier as we went higher and higher. I began to feel the weight of my backpack that was carrying four-days-worth of clothes and snacks. “Why do I keep doing this to myself?” I thought. “I am not enjoying this. I feel miserable. What is wrong with me?”

We reached the summit in a short three hours. My best friend Arwa slumped down on the floor of the summit hut, shivering. I took her in my arms and rubbed her back to warm her. We ate a quick snack and jumped into our sleeping bags, lying side by side with our two Bedouin guides barely a meter away.

After a very restless sleep – altitude gives me nightmares – I woke up and saw the door to our stone hut was lined by a dim halo of light. I put on my sandals and fleece jacket and opened the door.

This was why I did it, I suddenly remembered. Below me lay a wide expanse of clouds and mountain range, shining under the rising sun.

Getting to this point was not easy. (more…)

Running with Cairo Runners

Hundreds of young Egyptians gathered this Friday morning in Heliopolis. It was not to protest in front of the Presidential Palace. It NadiaCairoRunnerswas not to throw molotov cocktails. It was not to express anger at government policies. Hundreds of Egyptians gathered this Friday morning in Heliopolis to collectively and proactively express the importance of physical fitness.

A new running movement seems to be gearing up in Egypt. It was started a few short weeks ago by a group who call themselves Cairo Runners. Their aim is to organize a half marathon sometime in April. And until then they are gathering people from all over the city to gradually increase the distances they can jog.

Today there were two routes; a shorter six kilometer route and a longer 11 kilometer route. It was one of the most amazing and inspiring experiences of my life to run alongside my fellow Egyptians on the streets of sunny Cairo. Instead of the typical harassment girls have come to expect, people were standing on the sides of the road cheering on the hundreds of young men and women who were chugging along. There were all kinds of people running today. They were mostly young people in their twenties. But I saw younger teenagers and older 50-year-olds as well. There were girls running in their hijab and girls without. There were guys with beards and guys without. There were extremely fit men (the kind with bulging muscles that you just want to squeeze) and there were young women who were nice and curvy. One young man was running with his two huge dogs on their chains.  Some people jogged the whole distance. Others jogged until they got tired and then walked.

If jogging on the streets of Cairo has been one of your dreams – as it has been mine – your dream has now come true! I’ll be joining Cairo Runners next week. I hope you will too.

Follow Cairo Runners on Twitter @CairoRunners and on Facebook where they post details of where the next running event will happen approximately half way into each week.