Cairo is a city of suburbs. Ranging from the bustling suburbs of downtown, Zamalek, Mohandessin, to the quieter more picturesque suburb of Maadi.
I live in Maadi, and have done so now for quite a few years. My friends for the most part live in Maadi, and up until last week, I also worked in Maadi. Now, I am working close to downtown, and it has truly opened my eyes. My friend's and I live in what we like to call our little "Maadi bubble." It's a syndrome that doesn't take long to infect Maadi'ites, everything you would ever need is just down the road. Sheisha bars, cafes, pubs, restaurants, schools, work, recreational activities, malls etc are all available within the small area that comprises Maadi. One of the least densely populated areas of Cairo, Maadi gives you a sense of stepping out of the urban sprawl, and traps many people inside it's bubble.
With its quiet streets and greenery, it's not hard to see why people are reluctant to leave Maadi
I have often heard many of my friend's grumble when you suggest we head downtown, a brief 15 minute taxi ride should traffic permit. "Why should we go downtown???!! It's so farrrrrr, lets just stay in Maadi." It is a haven for expats, with many embassies allocating family housing in the suburb. Even its history is indicative of its "expat friendly" environment, having been one of the areas the British colonisers moved into - Old Maadi's streets are actually laid out in the shape of the Union Jack. This of course is a bone of contention for "downtowners" who come to Maadi, and claim our streets are the hardest to navigate with all the medans (roundabouts) and small alleyways. Maadi'ites will defend our turf, and fire back that downtown is impossible to get around in due to all of the one-way streets, and Maadi is exceptionally easy to get around.
Anyhow, to get back to my point. I now work downtown. And I can now honestly say how sheltered us "Maadi'ites" are. We take for granted the extra liberty granted you as a foreigner living in an expat haven. Shops and businesses here are catered towards the foreigners, rarely will you find businesses here that do not speak English. We are also granted more leeway in abiding by Egyptian customs, where having parties in your apartment is not necessarily frowned upon by your neighbours or landlord.
*Enter downtown here*
Downtown Cairo, is a world in it of itself. The streets are crowded, there is minimal green surrounding you - a fact that many living in Maadi take for granted - the bountiful number of trees that line the streets. The air is heavy with pollution, the traffic almost nonnegotiable. Driving downtown is a sport itself, dodging horse carts, donkey carts, vegetable stands, fruit vendors, tissue boys, microbusses racing from one end of the city to another at breakneck speeds, all combined with an exceptionally densely populated area.
The view of Cairo you see from Maadi, is not really Cairo. But to understand this, one must actually step outside of our comfort bubble, and this does not mean a trek into the Wadi Digla with the Hashers, or a trip to the Golf Course in Katameya ;). The intensity of downtown Cairo may prove too much for many, but the excitement and high energy that you feel upon crossing
into this turf, is unrivaled. I will be sure to update you on my stories from downtown, as perhaps now, I will truly be able to say I have seen the 'real' Cairo, and not the sugarcoated bubble that Maadi has become for so many. :D