Finding Respite in the Quieter Corners of Cairo

I fall asleep to the sounds of a dog monotonously protesting his lost youth, complaining of neglect, followed by a chorus of dogs howling in agreement; trucks startling my senses with deafening honks directed to no one in particular, screeching tyres of a car racing through the street—as though punctuality is a number one priority in a city as laid back as Cairo—the murmurs of a neighbour’s television set seeping through the ceiling, and sometimes even the loud chants of protesters echoing the darkly-lit streets.

I awake early to the sounds of children at play in the local nursery’s garden next door; builders drilling incessantly at the newly built apartment block nearby; the doorman and his wife below yelling at their children, and the maid upstairs beating her anger and frustrations into the carpet she’s hung over the windowsill.

I need caffeine as I wipe my cloudy eyes and I trudge my way to the kitchen, yawning as though it were bedtime and not the start of a new day. With the kettle reaching its boiling point, I watch the white puffs of steam gently roll underneath the cabinets, calming my mind slightly, taking it to where I knew I must go to escape the commotion.

Offering the senses reprieve from hustle and bustle of the city and its sandy terrain, I feel the noise, chaos, and panic of the city that never sleeps fade behind me as I enter a retreat in the form of a country club. I close my eyes for a moment and smell the cleaner air; the only sounds that reach my ears are of the gentle fountains cascading onto the curved lake, birds chirping melodiously, and the trees rustling softly in the wind.

As I walk through the manicured paths, I think of how grateful I am to be a member of a club, just to be able to find peace and quiet in the weekdays when children are at school. I walk around, admiring the wonders of Egypt’s nature, its birds, plants, and flowers; its warm spring climate and generous sun. The spring breeze tickles the flowers I stop to touch, blushing under the sun’s warmth, blooming at the tender love it receives.

But it’s not just my nature walks which I find so appealing, re-charging my battery for when I leave the club’s gates and return to the commotion. What is also appealing is that I can do so much at the club without the fear of being harassed, or overwhelmed by the chaotic rush of the city where many seem to be playing the role of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, with the words, “I’m late! I’m late!” plastered across their frantic actions.

I have my morning breakfast or late lunch, running on the track without the fear of harassers attempting to prevent me from my workout and without the fear of being run over by inattentive drivers as I try to cross the street to get to the block I walk around when I’m not at the club.

I catch up on my reading in the shade, play tennis, pretending the ball to be all the nuisances I find in the world outside. I can run on the gym’s treadmill, relax in the steam room and plunge in the refreshing women’s only pool. I can invite friends over with a friend pass and enjoy a time spent eating at the club’s restaurant, or just lounging in the cafe, taking advantage of the free WIFI on our mobile phones and laptops.

But it’s the meditation walks I love the most. Just taking my camera with me and walking around the club, noticing beauty in the simplest of things, like a bud that has yet to open up to the world, or a rustic-looking lampshade. A smile often plays on my lips like shiny reflections on a lake as I unwind and think about this alternative side to Cairo, and how I now understand why everyone I know is a club member at the hundreds of clubs scattered across the city.

A club is where my seventy-five-year-old uncle, obeying the doctor’s order, studiously goes every evening to walk around the track. He wouldn’t be able to walk around his apartment block, for the lack of pavements and uneven surfaces would hinder him from doing so.

A sports club is also where my aunts take their children, encouraging them to have extracurricular activities such as swimming, tennis, basketball, or football. The activities are endless, with some clubs even offering trips to places around Egypt, and even countries abroad.

Being a member of a club doesn’t mean one has to be an active member of a sport, however. One can simply go to spend quality time with family and friends, or have a well-deserved ‘me’ time, be reading an enjoyable novel, walking along the beautified paths, and worshipping God through one’s senses by marveling at His creation.

After I return from the peaceful prayer room, I sit in the shade and sigh, wishing I didn’t have to leave my oasis. I watch a bird perch on a chair in front of me, with a twig balanced in its beak, the erratic movements of its head calculating which direction it should go to build its nest.

And I think, I too feel like a bird who chose to build her nest in a land as enchanting as Cairo (with my head moving around as erratically as the bird’s as I try to calculate the quickest escape route to a quieter haven); a land that has many hidden delights, a land where I can find a place like a country club to cleanse my mental, emotional, and spiritual palette, essentially re-charging before re-entering the busy, bustling, magical city of Cairo.

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