I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post by author Herbert L. Smith. His travel narrative, Cairo: The Mother of the World, was published in 2008. In 2010, I had the good fortune to travel to Egypt, and Smith’s words have reminded me of that amazing experience. I hope you enjoy!
When someone asks me about my ‘muse,’ my writing inspiration, I can only tell them that my love of Cairo, all of Egypt in fact, is all I need to set my descriptive and poetic responses going. Sometimes, people who have visited or lived in Egypt question my reasoning. They found the place to be less than ideal – far, far less, and can’t understand my reasons for loving the city and the country. I confess that I don’t understand fully, but am happily oblivious to many of the problems that confound everyone who visits, as well as a large portion of the population that lives in the country. I am not unaware or insensible to these difficulties, it’s just they aren’t sufficient to cause for me to flee from the place and never go back. Quite the opposite, I am magnetically drawn to Egypt and to Cairo, especially.
Cairo is a dirty, noisy, hot, distressed city. It has been called the noisiest place in the world and may well be. It has also been called the dirtiest, but I think that distinction best lies in Indian, or perhaps Chinese cities. (Unquestionably, Cairo is also very dirty.) The city is fraught with traffic nightmares and pollution, sand, relentless heat, an immense population scrunched together in a very small area, and a myriad of other things that create chaos, but it also has a vibrancy of spirit, colorful people, a wonderful sense of humor, and an attitude of survival against all the odds, that makes it scintillating in my eyes. I became attuned to Cairo from the very first evening as I arrived amid the sprawl of traffic on what might have been a freeway in most countries, but had every kind of traffic – even camels in a long line – and pedestrians, along its lanes. Cars and mule-carts went every direction, including the wrong way (obviously by choice), and I gaped in amazement at the staggering tableau that spread out around the Nile in all directions. I had never seen anything like it, and haven’t found such a tumult anywhere since.
Native food is not exceptional, but is decent. Hospitality, however, is beyond any reproach. When you are a guest in an Egyptian home you are Honored. There is an incredible display of concern for a guest’s comfort – genuine concern – and an interest in whatever information about your world you can bring to the conversation. Egyptian people are delightful – almost always – and full of laughter despite the situation many are in. They are indomitable. As I watched the 2011 revolution through videos taken live at the scene, my heart was in my mouth, and I fell into the scenario as much as was possible from where I was at the time. I empathized with the people and with the revolution and with the need they now have of securing a government that will serve the needs of the citizens rather than the desires and greed of men in power. It is almost too much to comprehend, but the Egyptians handle it uniquely and heart-rendingly well. They make me proud to have been among them, and one of my greatest desires is to return to Cairo for a lengthy visit.
Cairo: The Mother Of The World explores the heart of a city that most tourists never see – an affectionate, humorous close-up of the aggregation that is Cairo, as well as an adventure among the streets, tombs, houses, and monuments that are the city yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Many have said that Cairo doesn’t change, but it does; sometimes very slowly, with a foot in the past and the other stepping toward the future. At another time, it may explode with a sudden transformation that boggles the mind, as in the revolution of 2011-2012. Among all the confusion and noise and sand, it is still the same Cairo that many expatriates have come to love.
For anyone who has longed to visit Cairo, but has not had opportunity or felt a tour was risky at this time, this little book provides an intimate glimpse into the city that is largely unchanged, even after the revolution, and is moving forward, bit by bit, into a better tomorrow.
Love it with us as we walk among the people of Cairo and share the joy and tumult of the life that only the true Cairene is capable of appreciating in the midst of the gigantic jumble we call home. It will be an unexpected treat.
It has been my good fortune to live and work in schools and universities around the world. I
started teaching in the California State University system more than thirty years ago, after a time
working in secondary schools, went on to Egypt and the Middle East, and finally to Argentina. It
has been a fascinating series of events, from one adventure to another, and I loved nearly every
minute of it. (A few of the minutes were not quite so lovable for various reasons.)
Life as an expat lecturer and instructor led me into some unique and sometimes difficult
situations, but my appraisal of the whole was one of amazement that I was able to get to so
many wonderful places and enjoy the life of the people there. I taught English courses to
students who had already developed skills in the language and was always happy to tell them
about life in the U.S., as well as my appreciation of the life I led in their home countries. I would
gladly do it all again with only slight changes here and there.
A sustaining hobby throughout my life is music. I am a pianist, organist and composer with
many years of experience in church music. I found that wherever I went in the world, with the
exception of Argentina, I was almost immediately working with a church, playing the services
(usually on Fridays in the Middle East) regularly. Music is one of my fondest dreams as well as
a ‘forever’ joy.
I now live in Oregon with my wife of fifty years, Glenda, and we love the beauties that surround
us here. I will never tire of reliving the past, of course, either in writing or actually traveling, and
any time I have an opportunity to return to Cairo or Doha or La Rioja, I am excited to go again.
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