My as-of-late snarky mood toward Egypt has changed considerably. All it took was to get in a cab last night, the young driver smoking and his forearm flexing as he shifted gears and talked on his mobile. To leave the roundabouts of Maadi and get out on the corniche and watch the part of Cairo that couldn’t afford to go to Sharm El Sheikh for the Eid moseying arm-in-arm in the streets, perching precariously on the bridge to Zamalek. To inch closer to downtown, take the curve that exposes a little park where the headscarved youth of Cairo are said to live some kind of hypocrisy by making out in the grass. To visit our old apartment building, where a friend still lives, and eat koshary, and look out on the skyline and notice that the World Trade Center has a new purple sign and that the bawaab-in-training got glasses and no longer has to squint so painfully to see us.
On the way home, to grab an already-occupied cab and hear the gentle conversation of the driver and his front-seat passenger. To see people leave the Ahly arena and watch fireworks bloom on the sky and listen to the driver and his front-seat passenger say, “Gameel.” Beautiful. To see people smiling, pushing into the street. To see people, rather than just desert and the suspicious scaffolding of “development.” To see the middle class, out and about, and the poor, celebrating. To be in the center. Back on the corniche, almost to Maadi, we got a flat tire just as a mini-bus – crammed so full that a teenage girl’s back, butt, and left arm were hanging from the window – passed us. The driver wouldn’t admit it was a flat until he had pulled over in the middle of the devil-may-care traffic three times. “Five minutes,” he said that third time. “Only five minutes,” said the front-seat passenger, lighting a cigarette. To know that it wouldn’t be five minutes. To pay the guy anyway and tell him to have a good holiday and get into a different cab with its own personal rattling and leaking tires. To feel it all again. And then to return to the new street, so quiet, and to like it, too.