Op-Ed: Shifting Sands, When A Nasr City Kid Goes To The 5th Settlement
Moving to a different place is often daunting, and getting acclimated can take some time, but it happens.
Transitioning from one thing to another is often hard for your garden variety human, especially if it's a change of locale; my innate inertia was pretty heavy when I made the windy leap from my hometown to the suburban wasteland, and although it wasn't much of a culture shock, it was a shock all the same. So here's my brief experience with the move, I hope you can try to relate.
I was born in Nasr City, a place that most people just drive by on their way to and from work, a place that most (even its denizens) refer to as a brutalist hell-hole (they use more colourful language than that), a place you would actively try to avoid at all costs. It is, however, where my (hopelessly romantic) heart is; it is a busy, noisy, filthy, cramped little stain on Cairo that's heavily reminiscent of Soviet-era Chernobyl after the meltdown. And in it, I find warmth, solace and a warped form of beauty that is challenging to explain to others.
That's enough foreplay with my hometown. At the tender (and terrifying) age of 18, our family decided to pick up sticks and haul ass over to the 5th Settlement after our "villa" had finally become livable, so off we went to the then "New Capital" of Cairo, and what a......place...it was.
It was a time when basic phone lines weren't available, the water was (and still kinda is) full of nutritious sand and the concept of "taking a walk" was about as applicable as stapling water to a tree to my fat ass back in the day. But that's not all, oh no friendos, that's not what happens when you make the transition.
Getting Used To It
Though not always the case with most who make the dusty leap over to the suburban desert, I had a peculiar problem back when I first went there; I couldn't sleep well at all for the first couple of years. Why, you ask? Because when you grow up in a place punctuated by the sounds of traffic jams, loud petty arguments in the street, donkeys singing the songs of their people, random neighbours bickering and roughly 5 overlapping calls to prayer (two of which by children), that becomes your lullaby.
Believe me when I say it was too quiet; we live in a residential area where there's no such thing as street noises or people saying anything, it was just the wind and the occasional dog howling or the odd construction noises, it wasn't conducive of even a quick nap. Feel like I'm exaggerating? Well get this; whenever I went to a city to see friends or do whatever, the sounds would make me doze off in relatively no time, right in the middle of traffic. Although this changed over time, I still manage to get better sleep in a car parked on a main road or in an apartment overlooking a busy intersection. Fuck me, right?
I nearly forgot about the weather. You see, friendos, I was always an utter failure at geography, so I could never explain why winter way out in the desert was cold enough to force your sperm into wearing knee socks (try getting that image out now loser), and summer was just an exercise in enduring god's wrath, which you could say for most of Egypt in general, but in Tagammo3, the sun might as well have been pissing directly on the back of your neck.
Kiss Convenience Goodbye
You know how you could just take a walk to the nearest Koshk and browse their selection of fine whatevers and whathaveyous whenever you needed something? Maybe swing by the barber for a nice shave? Run into some friends and figuratively shoot the shit? Well go fuck yourself, Tagammo3 isn't about that life.
Around the time we went, there was barely anything at all save for a few "malls" and the odd gas station here and there, with your typical gas station "convenience" store to cover most of your quick essentials (read: gummy bears, L&M Blue, a razor), but think with me here for a few seconds; I went from literally going down a few flights of stairs, crossing the street (sometimes not even having to cross) and getting everything I wanted and coming back in under 5 minutes, and now I have to drive to the nearest gas station (which was 10 minutes at the time) to get shit. Needless to say, that was kind of a paradigm shift for me and other, similar city boys.
"Well what about delivery? It's Egypt, everything delivers blurrblurburrrr." Of course everything delivers, provided they know your address. Back when we started out, trying to explain where we lived to the nearest supermarket or take-out was like trying to explain applied thermodynamics to a goldfish with gender identity issues. Of course, now it's a little bit easier, but you'll still get the odd occasions where you'll have to specifically guide the guy to get your McMuffin.
Not Exactly A Lively Place
Any populous city can offer a colourful array of things to do; going for a walk in the street, having a meal at your favourite little eatery and just watching all sorts and varieties of people go back and forth about their business, watching the (I am full of shit) human experience take its course.
Not so much in Tagammo3; if you don't have access to any form of wheels, you're fucked, and although public transportation as well as the existence of Uber and Careem have made people's lives easier as of relatively late, that wasn't the case back then, and it still isn't the case in some areas of the sandy suburb. Yes, there's downtown (the mall) and it has "venues" you and your basic bitch friends can go to and pretend to like each other but that's not something a straight-up city boy does. Lately however, access to Ahwas and similar easy locales has been on the rise, so there's that. But it still doesn't feel the same without the exhaust and the hustle.
It Doesn't Wash Out Easily
"You can take the boy out of El 7ai El Tamen , but you can never take El 7ai El Tamen out of the boy." El 7ai El Tamen, for those who don't frequent the squalour I call home, is a region in Nasr City right across from El Serag Mall (that's the actual hell-hole), and it is basically a clusterfuck of convenience because wherever you look, you'll find three of the five things you'll usually want at any given time (the other two being slightly to the left), with everything usually being less than a stone's throw away.
One of the first problems I remember having in Tagammo3 was finding a barber. I began experimenting with what they had to offer, but often the cuts weren't right, the shaves weren't close enough and you definitely didn't get enough bang for precious buck. So ever since coming to that conclusion, I've been driving to Nasr every time I wanted a haircut, to the same barber I used to go to, he'd always ask "Why would you come all this way?" To which I answered "Because it feels good being here." Although using a barber as an example feels like cheating (nobody just gives up their barber), you can try to get a sense of what I'm saying here.
But it Does Get Easier
People tend to make do with what they have after the initial bitch fit (my fits are supremely bitchy), and it wasn't like I was exiled for my sins, we ultimately went to a quieter place that's mostly central to a lot of places I frequent, like Maadi, Obour, Nasr City and Heliopolis (would you believe I hate downtown more than Tagammo3?), I was of course blessed with my own car so I can't say the same for those that don't have four spinny wheels, but that's not the point.
You find your groove there; you find friends that, although farther away than you're used to, make life that much more enjoyable. You find special places that remind you of "home," like that time I found Mini Nasr City; The only koshk in Tagammo3, in a parking lot, next to an ahwa that shares the same sidewalk as a Me2la, a pharmacy, a mobile accessories store and a shitty little mall, and there is no way in Japanese hell am I telling any of you where it is (think of it as a challenge). That's just an example of what you'd do when you go there, or anywhere that's "foreign" to your comfort zone.
Ultimately, friendos, I learned that home is where you set your two feet on while keeping an open mind, not everywhere in the universe is going to be the same as where you came from, and not everywhere is going to offer the same benefits, but one thing stays the same; you're there, and you can make even the dingiest of locales your happy little home.