LOOKING BACK ON CAIRO’S STRANGE SUMMER
As countries around the world adapt to post-lockdown life, SAT-7 Egypt journalist Mary Joseph reflects on an unusual summer in Cairo, where the usually bustling streets went still. While many Egyptians flocked to beaches, those who stayed in Cairo faced a strange new reality – and for Mary, the only comfort to be found was in the Church.
Four months on since the coronavirus made its official appearance in Egypt, the summer heat still soars, while the relentless virus-related WhatsApp messages have cooled off. Summer, a season I look forward to with longing, has been lonelier than ever in Cairo.
Even as Egypt continues to grapple with the coronavirus, we now also grieve the sad news of the explosion in Lebanon. A two-word sentence blinks in my head… “Skip summer.” Just as a click of a mouse skips ads and intros to online videos, so this year’s summer seems to have been skipped over – or at least for me. No beach, no outings, and no family gatherings. I couldn’t even attend a wake held for my late uncle, for fear of infection through gatherings.
Some others in 10-million-populated Cairo have also spent the summer this way, preferring to stay within the safety of their own walls.
But a contrasting reality has been visible, too. Thousands of Egyptians flocked to the shores of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean after the government opened public and private beaches. Suffocated by their prolonged enforced isolation, coronavirus infection hazard, and their children’s lockdown irritations, many parents took to the beaches to let out months of bottled-up frustration.
This left Cairo’s streets quieter than normal. Instead of the unnecessary car honking over parking spots, the congestion of one-way streets, and traffic, there has been a new hush. The months of summer have always been quiet in the capital because of school and university holidays, but this year has been even quieter.
A city of contrasts
Staying in the city, while possibly sensible, has been trying. Social distancing seemed to meet its match in Cairo’s popular café culture. Even at the start of the pandemic lockdown, when the streets were otherwise completely empty, I saw a woman and a man walking together in our area, trying to find an open café, seemingly oblivious to what the whole world was going through. When venues began to reopen, youths were quickly seen out and about in cafés and restaurants, while I looked down at them from my balcony.
Meanwhile, the “home safety” summer package came with daily sad news on social media of people still becoming infected or dying of COVID-19. A pastor at our church was among those to pass away after struggling with the virus for a month, and many elderly people are not able to survive despite being hospitalised. One example is the famous Egyptian actress, Ragaa el-Gedawy, who made the news on the New York Times after dying at 85 of Coronavirus.
From where I sat, it has sometimes felt like I was the only one who was still taking precautions. My trips to the supermarket, which were once enjoyable, became agonising as I tried not to touch my dampening mask sticking to my face and dodged people as they walked close by.
Looking back over this unusual summer has me wondering at how people of one nation can have such varying, and seemingly contrasting, reactions to a world catastrophe harvesting lives.
But God in His great kindness sent consolation my way in the form of the Church. At one point, I heard a famous Egyptian preacher tell the presenter on a SAT-7 program that he also wasn’t ready to go out yet and still preferred the quiet of his home.
It was a great consolation to hear that a Christian leader shared my sentiments. I continue to use my time at home to learn from his informative Christian teaching. I have also maintained social media contact with the few I know are still at home, to stay connected digitally during social distancing.
As this strange summer enters its homeward stretch, I start to feel less like an alien species in my city. I am about to return to the office – and face with deepened faith the challenges of the next season to come.
*Banner photo by Alejandro Garcia for Unsplash
SAT-7 Communications Officer | Mary Joseph is based in Cairo, Egypt. She has also lived in Australia and worked as a journalist in secular and religious media. Her passions are reading, writing, traveling and photography.