Swila: Egypt projects itself as gateway to Africa with a beauty to boot
A month has elapsed since my return from duty at the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations finals held in Egypt.
With enough time to reflect and recover from the rigorous assignment, which I must admit denied me the lust to pen as much as I would have loved, my in-tray is full, informed by the observations I made of the life in Egypt, and which I’m going to share with you, one after the other.
And of course my boss Robin Njogu whom I regaled with these tales has been on my neck, asking me to document the intrigues I experienced. It became first, a debt, and secondly, a fulfillment of journalistic duty, though the reverse should apply.
Egypt, a land of extreme beauty
Every city has its own way of presenting itself, of showing off the best side, of letting the visiting tourist know where he or she is and what the history of the place is, and Cairo is no exception.
In fact one of the lasting impressions of Egypt is its beauty that ranks it among the top 10 best destinations in Africa.
From the National Museum in Cairo, where its ancient history is preserved, to the world famous Pyramids of Giza, there is much to learn and document, for students of history, researchers and journalists alike.
For instance, travelling 215 kilometres North West of the capital Cairo, one arrives in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, a major economic hub, extending about 32km along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. Its low elevation on the Nile delta makes it highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, but it is this uniqueness coupled with its refreshing blue-salty-waters that makes it a magnet for tourists of all shades. Not far off the east of the prying touristic eyes is of course Israel, a stone throw away!
But that is not all, contrary to Cairo that is large; bustling with life and home to some 20 million teeming souls, the population of Alexandria is about 5 million, slightly dwarfing Nairobi, the major difference being the chaotic nature of the latter.
In Alexandria life is calm, cheap and quiet. It is equivalent to Kenya’s Mombasa but it dwarfs the latter in terms of population, orderliness, impressive infrastructural design, economic opportunities and of course, its beauty.
With an average of Sh8, 000, one can afford accommodation in a four-star hotel. Food is rather cheap and a budget of Sh 20,000 is enough for one’s upkeep for a fortnight, some wild fun included.
Contrary to perceptions, Egyptians are generally warm and hospitable people, ever willing to go out of their way to help, the major challenge being language barrier.
Having been a British colony like Kenya one would be forgiven to think that the Queens language is popular in this part of the world. On the contrary one is left baffled, at times frustrated by the inability to communicate. Arabic is the preferred lingua franca here with a staggering 90 percent of the population unable to express themselves in any other language.
This makes travel within the country a nightmare. For instance, to order an uber, one has to rely on the help of hotel waiters or better still revert to Google translate app. Here you type your message in English, the language of the Queen, whom Kenya’s leadership adopted at the dawn of independence, and have it translated to Arabic, for your service provider to understand what you really want!
There is no gainsaying that Egypt’s economy is one of the most robust in Africa, only dwarfed by Nigeria and South Africa.
Behind them, at position four, is Algeria. The burgeoning economy is fuelled by its oil deposits.
The Arab Republic of Egypt as it is officially known, the country of some 95 million people, has the sixth largest proved oil reserves in Africa, with over half located in its offshore waters.
The main producing regions are in or alongside the Gulf of Suez and in the Western Desert. Egypt is a member of OAPEC, although its crude oil exports account for less than 10 percent of its production.
With its relatively strong economy, immigrants relocate to this country, mainly from Sudan and Syrian refuges, in hunt of better life.
With a booming economy, the cost of life is generally cheap, even for middle class who own automobiles, as a litre of petrol goes for an average 0.45USD (KSh. 45).Compare this with Kenya where the average cost of the same community is Sh115.
Though an Islamic state under the iron-fist rule of the military, Egyptians are highly liberal people. Their women, as opposed to others in the Middle East countries such as Syria and Saudi Arabia hardly wear veils and buibui, at least going by the observation I made in Cairo. In fact you’ll spot them wearing figure-hugging jeans.
A majority of them drive too.(Lest I forget they are strikingly beautiful too), a large chunk of them. It perhaps points the milestones they have made as a country.
Love for the cigarette stick.
In the many trips I have made around Africa in my stint as a Sports Journalist, nowhere have I met souls who are so much in love with the cigarette stick than in Egypt. At every public place there is an ash tray. From the hotel lobby, stadiums, restaurants …having an ash tray is the norm. Put differently, it is a sin not to have one so much so that the air is ever polluted by the smell of cigar.
This, in a way for me, was rudely nostalgic as it evoked the memories of my stint in Germany as a 19-year-old teenager, bubbling with energy and with lofty ambitions. The difference being that in Europe the love for the cigar is treated as ‘normal’ thing.
–The author is a two-time winner of the MCK Print Sports Journalist of the Year Award. Besides Sports Journalism, Swila is passionate about Features and Human Interest stories.