Sunday, 8 June 2014


This morning I was driven through a sleeping Amman to the airport. The driver and his sleek, clean car obeyed all the traffic lights. The streets were scrupulously clean - and empty. We talked about the high cost of living in Jordan and he pointed out the string of bright modern universities lining the main highway to the airport. Every town has its own university, Shawky said proudly. Amman's Queen Allia airport has a W.H Smith and a number of overpriced designer stores. No one hassles you, everyone is polite. A painless airport experience. A bottle of water had leaked in my bag and an airport employee had noticed the pools of water following me around. My passport and ticket were soaked. He escorted me to the ladies and told me to hold them under the hand dryer. 

Ninety minutes latter I arrived in Cairo. No one seemed to know if I needed another entry visa. The person who did know was grumpy and surly. (They are all no doubt, overworked and underpaid). Outside Arrivals I was shoved around by a flock of taxi drivers but managed to  jump a bus to Terminal 1 where I was told I would get a bus to Cairo, but no one knew where in Cairo. Finally, agreed a price with a taxi driver and jumped into his skeleton car.

As I juddered into a weirdly quiet Cairo, I fielded the usual questions - Where you from? Married? Children? Age? Husband wiz you? (I always lie, and say 'Yes') Do you live together in same flat? He Egyptian?   Today was the wedding of the new president, he told me. Was Sisi taking a second wife? (Muslim men can marry up to four) Could be a smart move. Another wife might up the support of the more religious sectors of his country...especially if he beat her. We passed the Marriott hotel in Heliopolis. The taxi driver gave the gate a regal wave as he passed. His wheels wobbled, and the clutch clunked at each gear change. 'Big wedding today. We have new president,' he said, waving both hands in the air and accelerating.

I asked him if he liked Sisi. 'He's strong man. We need strong man. He is like Mubarak. Mubarak was a strong man. We must wait a month and see what he does.  People want to see homes first, and jobs.'

He told me he had five children aged from 19 to five months. 'I earn 300LE a month (£30). It's impossible to live on this. The people are watching Sisi, and if he doesnt show us anything after three months......' he moved a hand across his throat and chuckles, 'Like Morsy.'

Against all odds, I arrived home and he doubled the agreed price. Too tired to argue, I handed him the money. I watched him as he drove away, his car groaning  slowly round the midan ... outdated, rusty, parts stolen and not replaced, speed dial broken, petrol gauge useless, beyond retro - like the behemoth his country is. 

Today, a former soldier  finally 'married' his monster bride at a time  when Egyptian marriages are shorter and  increasingly end in divorce. Memories and honeymoons  are short, and sooner or later, everyone gets to know if the groom is firing blanks or not. 


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