Take a second and read this:
And Cairo unraveled with bravado. Every thread of that once tightly ordered pattern breaking loose: blue and green and red and black and every shade and texture, all sprung away from the tapestry, in disarray, tangled, knotted, vivid, sizzling, present. The city stayed awake longer, put more people on the streets. It threw up new haphazard districts, and when the government would not supply them with water or electricity, people stole them from the mains.
Small art galleries opened, and tiny performance spaces, and new bands formed across the musical spectrum. Mosques and cultural centers clutched at the derelict spaces under flyovers. Green spaces vanished, but every night the bridges would be crammed with Cairenes taking the air. We suffered a massive shortage of affordable housing, but every night you’d see a bride starring in her wedding procession in the street. Unemployment ran at 20 percent, and every evening there was singing and drumming from the cheap, bright, noisy little pleasure boats crisscrossing the river.
Trees that were not cut down refused to die. They got dustier, some of their branches grew bare, but they grew. We looked out anxiously for the giant baobab in Sheikh Marsafy Street in Zamalek, for the Indian figs on the Garden City Corniche, for what my kids called the Jurassic Park trees by the zoo. If they cut a tree down, it grew shoots. If they hammered an iron fence into its roots, the tree would lean into the iron, lean on it. If a building crowded the side of a tree, the tree grew its other side bigger, lopsided. I knew trees that couldn’t manage leaves anymore but put all they had into a once-a-year burst of pink flowers. And once I saw a tree that seemed looked after, that had just been washed: it couldn’t stop dancing.
Cairo is unique. And her streets, her Nile, her buildings, and her monuments whisper to every Cairene who’s taking part in the events that are shaping our lives and our children’s futures as I write. The city puts her lips to our ears, she tucks her arm into ours and draws close so we can feel her heartbeat and smell her scent, and we fall in with her and measure our step to hers, and we fill our eyes with her beautiful, wounded face and whisper that her memories are our memories, her fate is our fate.
(Photo: Moises Saman / Magnum)