Bensons and Broomsticks

We have some beautiful photographs of the Nile, and even if I say so myself, they are very arty, with a soft focus lens depicting a shimmering mist gently lapping it’s banks, taken at what appears to be day break on a crisp winter morning, black and white stills, very atmospheric and hiding a multitude of sins.

This is Cairo and Well……… we don’t get crisp winter mornings and certainly not moisture saturated mist that wraps you in a blanket of cool……oh no what we have is smog so thick you can chew on it leaving your mouth with the aftertaste of Marlboro and diesel. It is just as well I smoke Marlboro for if it was Bensons and Hedges flavor I would not be a happy camper, and I’m not too keen on the diesel after burn.

Even buildings a few months old take on the veneer of grime usually associated with listed historical beauties in need of a little sandblasting. Cairo is filthy there is simply no other way to put it. From the piles of rubbish along the pavements, surrounded with street cats and dogs sorting through the pickings, to the dead animals along the roadside, builders rubble everywhere it’s not a very pretty place to be, and architecturally it’s a disaster, all in all it’s a fairly ugly city.

You have to give them full marks for trying but there are a couple of government initiatives that just take me to the fair.  Take the road sweepers for one. Now dont be picturing mechanized machines no……..we are talking people here. They are out every morning, big squads of them, they are easy to identify with their ” Euro 2000 ” high-vis vests that obviously came in a job lot after the tournament was over, or maybe they were ordered from Egypt and just weren’t  ready in time?……………a distinct possibility.

Anyway,  I watch them every day sweep the same stretch of road with their hand made broomsticks  that look like Quidditch  rejects from “Harry Potter”  collecting the sand into little piles along the roadside. But therein lies the problem, you see they are road sweepers when really they should enlarge their job title to sweepers. Maybe then they would tackle the pavements and lift the rubbish that they studiously ignore 6 inches away from their nose, as it doesn’t fall within their job description. If it’s not on the road then it’s not their department, and not a union in sight.

After the revolution there was a clean up Cairo campaign organized by the youth and various community associations. You could see the difference within days, but this campaign evolved into a painting initiative and now the cleaning has stopped we are left with very poorly painted kerb stones in various combinations of red white and black. Fortunately the grime should reclaim the streets soon and cover the wobbly lines and paint splattered roads that have resulted.

On the subject of painting you have to see them paint the lamp-posts. This involves a ladder of approximately the same quality as the broomsticks, homemade again,  and a man in silver overalls (i am unsure of the original colour but suffice to say the ” tin man” from the wizard of Oz springs to mind ) with a bucket attached to his waist with an odd bit of wire or something similar. The bucket is filled with silver paint, and the said man climbs to the top of the lamp-post via the ladder which is held in place by his mates as a concession to health and safety.

At the top of the ladder he dismounts onto the lamp post wrapping his legs around it in a monkey like fashion while his assistants remove the ladder. Both hands are then dipped in the bucket of paint and he slides down the lamppost in stages, alternatively dipping his hands in the bucket and wrapping them around the lamppost until with great skill and control he has slid to the bottom revealing the freshly painted lamppost.

It takes all of about 5 minutes for each one, they are obviously being paid by the number they paint otherwise it would take all day.  No cherry pickers, paintbrushes, harnesses or safety gear required, I could just picture this happening in the UK it would make front page news and probably prompt a public inquiry at an estimated cost of £300m to keep the lawyers and consultants in work.

Cairos citizens don’t take pride in their city, and I can’t really blame them as the government certainly did nothing to help, but where I do draw the line is with the roadside piddlers. I have never seen so many men having a pee in full daylight as can be witnessed here. It’s not like they have been on the beer and have a viable excuse, maybe it has something to do with the amount of tea they drink for they all have very small tanks,

It’s the audacity of them that gets me even on the main roads they just stop, nip out of the car and stand at the rear bumper. Why do they not at least go to the side and use the car as a screen, it’s almost like they view this as an opportunity to display their wares and seek out an audience. The other morning on the school run a youngish guy standing in the middle of a roundabout, yip right in the middle, well why not!  almost had a very nasty accident with his zipper as I rounded the corner. What a way to start the day….now where’s my Marlboro, hell even Bensons would do at this stage !!!


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