It is still quite cool this morning when I sit in a small café in Imbaba, a working class area of Cairo. Chairs are aligned against the wall so that two people would have to sit next to each other, separated by a small square table. I prefer to come alone anyway as it is the best way to get to know people. I sit opposite to the regulars who are on the other side of the long and narrow room. Flies love the hookah's smoke that the fan hardly disperses. All is quiet and peaceful. I am serene.
The television sings Koran's verses which are also written on the screen in Arabic and in English. I find out that the Moïse from the Catholic religion is also highly present in the Koran, but the story is told much too quickly so that I can really understand the meaning.
The 10-year-old Sam has been staring at me for a little while with his malicious look. We obviously both want to communicate but we don't know how to do so. He climbs on a chair to point the remote very close to the television to change the channel. I surprise him by taking a picture of him in this incongruous position; his roar of laughter breaks the ice. He can't wait to see the picture on the camera and I can't wait for this american show to end up.
I always bring the "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" book when I am on a trip. I started it many times but I have never travelled long enough to finish it. Will I go on a trip again if I finish it this time? I don't like the idea but Sam makes me think of something else. He asks to see the picture that I use as a bookmark. A simple family picture which is as exotic for him that a 3 wheel taxi for me.
Something is moving under my table. The dozing cat goes off to the scullery.
I am quite disappointed by the tea. It is an industrial Lipton tea like we find in Europe. Apparently it is made here but I have some doubts about the existence of Egyptian tea plantations. I think that only the packing is done in Egypt. It is identified by a bar code as if it is easier to define than a flavor. But we trust more figures than senses in our society even though there is nothing more abstract than a succession of figures and vertical lines.
Shadows decline and the bustle in the street as well. It must be about 40 degrees. The afternoon forecast is 45 degrees. No need to moan. Complaining about the summer temperature is like grumbling about the lack of light at night: a vain waste of time and energy. I content myself by ordering another tea but this time I specify "tchai" instead of "tea". But I am served the same tea with the yellow label and not the traditional tea enjoyed by the regulars.
I could specify to the waiter which tea I want by pointing at my neighbor's glass. He would probably be happy to prepare a glass for me and it would be another opportunity to get in contact, yes but... maybe he won't understand... maybe it is a favour to be served industrial tea... maybe it is not polite to point at something... maybe I'll look ridiculous... maybe everybody is going to look at me... maybe I only try to find excuses. We can be very creative when we look for reasons not to do things! What a waste. Tonight I will ask what is the name of the traditional tea. Today I only know a dozen Arabic words. Tonight I will know about fifteen.
A woman walks past the café, obviously burden by her problems and her shopping bag. The veil worn by the coquette adds a bit of mystery to her large black eyes. Frowning, staring at the ground, she moves slowly then stops and turns around, determined. Her only hand available in bulhorn, she shouts at the top of her voice something that I do not understand. I have not been in Egypt long enough to guess if it is question, an encouragement or a scolding.The answer comes from far away, I can barely hear it but she seems to be satisfied with it as she leaves with a dreamy smile. Her worries and her big bag seem to weigh much less. At that instant I know she is happy. Me too. A precious moment.
The big cat comes back to sleep below my chair.
Now it is a young Egyptian who walks past the café in the street, smiling at me and giving me a small friendly nod. Why? We do not know each other. I am obviously a tourist. I smile back at him and it seems enough for him to decide to join and sit down in front of me. "Welcome in Egypt" he said. I don't remember having said something similar in my country when seeing a foreigner. He is called Mohamed and he speaks English a little. Actually one word out of ten is in English and the other ones in Arabic. Might as well say that our discussion is succinct and I rely on my imagination. I especially remember his comment about the harvest moon being next week. He wants me to understand that the moon is beautiful. I don't remember having heard a comment like that in Europe where we don't dwell upon the beauty of nature.
The nice American inspectors have put the naughty Puerto Rican dealer in jail. This is the end of the TV show. I decide to leave. I will repeat this immersion experience tomorrow. I would like to come back here but I am going to force myself to find another café. Coming back at the same place would be too easy, too comfortable, and of course less rich. Comfort lowers the feelings.
I have not visited Egypt today. I have lived moments. Some people call it "contemplative tourism". What a weird habit than putting labels on everything, on behaviours and on tea bags...