The Boys are Back in Town…الولاد راجعين القرية
At mid-afternoon when descending onto the Sidi Gaber platform from the sixth car of the Spanish train from Cairo to Alexandria, the first feeling registered is that of the wind. Instead the hot, stifling Cairene air laden with pollutants and dust, a cool southbound breeze bearing wisps of salt brushes threw hair, down the back necks and vanishes in an instant leaving behind tears glistening at the corners of the eye’s of a normally stoic student as he embarks on a trip down memory lane.
Moments later after weaving through the comparatively light traffic composed of the same black and yellow Soviet designed taxis, our protagonist stands at the Sidi Gaber tram stop awaiting the same three car blue and white tram whose rickety cars used to transport him to the wonders of `Asiyr Mekka after class. Squeezing through the narrow doors as the tram rattles eastwards towards Muhata Raml, his mouth waters in anticipation of a return to the juice mecca and a long awaited boreo bi-sudani (Oreo and peanut drink).
Moments after tenderly savoring every last drop of mecca a long forgotten sight appears on the horizon: the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
For the past year, I stated that my nine months abroad in Alexandria were both the best and most difficult nine months of my life. To be truthful, I was not sure what to expect coming back to the city. I claimed I was going back to see friends while escaping the hustle and bustle of Cairo, and that I did – talking politics with Mohammed Wahbah until 2:30am, sharing a meal with Ahmed Sabry and Ahmed Nagib, and surprising my former bosses in the Translation Unit.
I failed to anticipate, however, that old haunts would produce an emotional impact. The Bibliotheca is still the best place to watch the world pass by. Silsa is still the finest place to decompress and watch the sea’s rolling waves with a cup of tea (and a shisha for those who think the Cairene air has not done enough damage to their lungs). The Sidi Gaber train station is still under renovation – as it has been for nearly two years. Muhammad Ahmed is still as delicious and cheap as ever – albeit with new red awnings sporting Coca-cola advertisements. Abu-Rubia` (and its fool bi-su`gu`) is gone, however, replaced by a new, larger chain restaurant.
I can tolerate Cairo and even grow to love uncovering the unique treasures hidden by its crowds and noise. It cannot, however, ever replace Alexandria. It’s like your first real crush – the one whose memory always lingers in the back of your mind providing a comparison for every subsequent romance.