Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter Weather

I should perhaps start by saying that I have no particular love for the Egyptian summer: it is hot, humid and dusty; the lack of any particular air movement causes the pollution to hang around like an unwanted guest who keeps bringing friends. And then, of course, Ramadan currently falls in the summer, causing some minor inconvenience to any non-Muslim who happens to be resident. The weather of the winter is by and large preferable. On some days, especially in the autumn and the spring (which, given their length here, might better be described as the beginning and the end of winter), one gets balmy blue-skied days in which (assuming one is not working) one can sit in one of the cafes along the corniche and pretend one is anywhere other than Egypt. This does require some skill in the suspension of disbelief, given the ever present sulphury haze, the rubbish that mysteriously never finds its way into a bin, the mangy cats, and the roar of traffic (and blare of car horns) immediately behind. However, as cheap opportunities for escape in Alex go, it's one of the best on offer. Even on days less ideal than these, it's much easier to wrap up warm than to try to escape the blistering heat of the summer.

There is, however, one huge inconvenience of the winter. I was reminded of it by my journeys to and from school yesterday. It's the rain. This may seem petty. After all, I'm English. I should welcome the rain as a taste of home. Anyway, given most of the year it's dry as a bone, I should be grateful that it rains at all: I'm sure the people of Jordan or Yemen would welcome the volume and regularity of the yearly rain that comes here. Well it isn't the rain as such that's the problem - in fact, so long as I can stay at home, I quite enjoy the occasional hour-long thunderstorms that presage the closure of the autumn - it's what happens when it rains.

The core problem is that the infrastructure can't cope with it. To a certain extent this is inevitable: when the ground is so dry, it isn't going to absorb terribly much, and so the water runs off everywhere. Fair enough. But I'm certain that if the drains were not absolutely clogged with rubbish (where does it come from...?) then the water would have somewhere to go. A minor second problem is the volume of the stuff. The rain here doesn't have English nuance. Don't bother trying to explain drizzle... Here we generally have heavy, dollopy rain, or no rain. And the heavy stuff isn't usually a short sharp shower - one can expect it to continue for hours.

The rain day starts perfectly pleasantly. One wakes up to the sound of the pitter-patter that is always quite calming (and of course car horns, but they form the background music to every form of Egyptian life). Then one realises that the all-pervasive smell of old cars with inefficient engines is still there, like a prominent food stain on a shirt that one has now washed three times in a row, but stubbornly refuses to budge. The morning routine is the same as ever, except that one makes oneself late for school by sitting looking out of the window in the hope, which you know to be false, that the rain will miraculously stop and it will be a lovely day. Having resigned oneself to the fact that this isn't going to happen, one makes ones way outside, having managed to persuade oneself that a raincoat isn't necessary - it isn't going to be that wet. One decides one is going to get a taxi, as one is late already, and anyway one doesn't want to walk all the way from the bus stop in the rain - unfortunately everyone has had this idea, so one waits for a while, getting increasingly damp, but too stubborn to go back into the house and get that rain coat. Finally a taxi pulls up, but around a metre away from the curb; that is, on the other side of a small, but as it turns out surprisingly deep lake. (It's important to remember, for later, that taxis here are not the personalised transport of the west. Where one gets out is the result of a negotiation between the driver, the first passenger, and any other passengers who get in subsequently. The driver has the upper hand. And one is expected to pay pretty much wherever he drops you, so long as one is closer to the destination than one was at the start.) As the journey progresses, one observes one's surroundings. The road is now a shallow, scummy river, though that hasn't deterred any of the drivers. Potholes become something of a surprise - especially as many are new thanks to the water combined with the state of the tarmac. Not that this encourages the drivers to be more careful. Stopping distances? What are they? That question could equally be applied to tire tread, wing mirrors, lights, and even windscreen wipers. It is not unusual to see a driver with his hand out of the window, holding a rag and wiping the rain away. Even where they do exist, they are used sparingly. One's taxi journey ends somewhere short of the intended destination; the driver wants to turn down to the corniche, as that is where the second passenger is headed. But he's disappointed only to be given the usual fare. It's raining, he indicates. Precisely, one replies, and proceeds to run through what may now be better described as a waterfall than 'weather' towards school. It's only five minutes away, but when one arrives one is greeted with gales of laughter from the receptionist. Fortunately, there is also a towel... Alas, one knows that this scenario is to be repeated many times over the next few months.

No comments:

Post a Comment