With unemployment currently reaching 12.4%, finding and seeking work and employment, officially and unofficially is a high priority for many Egyptians. But the general rhythms of life here tend to be totally different to what you may be used to! So, what does an “average” day look like in the cities of Egypt?
First wake up is, for most of the population who follow the Islamic faith, just before sun-rise. This will be like an unexpected alarm clock for all new visitors: the loud and clear call from the nearby Mosque, calling and encouraging the worshippers to wake up, wash, dress and come for morning prayers. Those who are able (men) will go down to the local mosque and repeat their morning prayers. Women usually pray at home. Those who are able, return home for another “nap” before they have to get up…. again!
This meal is usually around 10 in the morning, and as with most meals should be shared with fellow workers, family, friends…… meals are best when shared with someone! The fare is usually the local bread (shammy) or freshly baked small breadrolls, with beans (fuul) and falafel (taameia). If you are on the streets around this time, look for little huddles of people, sitting on a mat, or gathered around a make-shift table, all sharing this wonderful communion breakfast… and of course… it is all washed down with a good cup of black tea, in a glass!
Most shops, offices and malls will open at around 11 am! If you want anything before then, you will have to head to the local markets (souq) which tend to be open very early until very late… you can tell by the tiredness of the people working there! Give them a smile and a greeting, it livens up an incredibly long (and usually very hot) day! You will hear the shrieking sound of roll-up aluminium doors being opened to reveal tiny, packed stores. Then the quick sweep, dust and water of the pavement outside… in an attempt to keep the dirt at bay! Ready for the day’s trade…
AND ANOTHER CUP OF TEA….
At various times of the day, and sometimes in between, you will see a man with a silver tray with glasses of hot tea, dodging the cars to get to the various shop-owners, to sell them tea: it is the fuel of the people: it brings with it life, laughter, warmth, and a sense of belonging! It is quick to get, wherever you are, as there is always a tiny little “take-away” tea shop hiding somewhere, and in a few minutes you will have a steaming cup of strong sweet tea. If you express an interest, a chair (or what used to be a chair, and now has a missing leg or arm or half a seat) will be whisked out from the depths of the shop and ceremonially placed on the newly swept ribbon of pavement for your pleasure.
THE MAIN MEAL OF THE DAY….
Lunch is dinner in this country, and usually begins around 2 or 3 (depending on work and schooling). Some shops will close from 3 – 5 or so, in order to allow workers to return home for food. Many jobs end at 2 or 3, so that is the end of the official working day, or the end of the first job for the day (as many people will work 2 or 3 jobs a day). Lunch is usually a cooked meal: rice, meat or chicken and fresh salad. A nap after lunch is never considered a bad thing! Drinks (water, tea or sodas) are never eaten with the food, that is for after the meal. Desserts of a wide variety are mostly for guests or for special occasions.
AND THEN THE FUN BEGINS….
After the sunset prayers, the streets begin to really come alive with people. The busiest times for shops are usually after lunch (which ends at around 5). It is not uncommon to be invited to visit friends at 10pm, and most weddings or official parties usually only get going around 11pm and continue well into the morning hours. Movies are shown into the wee hours as well. Moms with toddlers will be seen awake and busy shopping even at midnight. For those of us used to shops closing around 5, it can be a very odd thing to get used to. But the streets at night look completely different: the tired buildings somehow raise their heads, their age being hidden by the darkness, and their foyers beckon you with their twinkling lights. There are very few places in the world where you can feel comfortable walking around at night, alone, even at mid-night.
This is one of them…..
Several doctors / dentists lecture in the universities during the mornings, go home for lunch, operate in the afternoons and then hold private clinics in the evenings. So it is not at all unusual to go for an operation at 5 pm, or even go for a consultation at 8 pm! This is the going out and making things happen time!!
AND FINALLY TO BED…
The normal bed time for most Egyptians is around mid-night. Anything before that is considered very odd indeed. The idea that children need 10 hours sleep a night is considered very foreign! Life is about people, being together, eating out, sharing meals and moving around in groups socializing: and where the parents go, the children go too. So after a snack type meal of cheese, bread and perhaps fruit, the tired families will head to their bedrooms, fall asleep…
to the continuing sounds of traffic and life on the streets…..