- I was born, and had lived my whole life in Zamalek, a lovely residential island in the middle of Cairo, Egypt. It has beautiful old somewhat narrow streets with large trees turning them into shaded havens in the scorching heat of summer, and into a heavenly passage of beautifully coloured flowers in spring and autumn.
The Western side of the island is more congested with residents and has the commercial part, full of shops and little boutiques. The eastern part has the old prestigious Gezira Sporting Club which covers acres of land and which is the breathing spot of the little island of Zamalek.
The island is accessed through five bridges and after a long and very vicious fight has succumbed to having the underground run through it. It houses many embassies and ambassador residences, some schools and higher education institutes. This makes it, and its narrow streets, a traffic nightmare at peak hours. But it has still retained its atmosphere of a village trying to emulate a city style.
On the west side of the island and along the Nile are several boats that have become some of the most prestigious and famous restaurants in Cairo. Every six months when my best friend comes for her bi-annual visits from Canada, we go for lunch at one of those restaurants every week during her stay. She too has been a Zamalek resident since childhood, and we both went to the same school … in Zamalek!
During her last visit, and on the way back from lunch, turning round one corner to get to her house, we were both surprised by an unprecedented sight! There, on the pavement, somewhat hidden behind the parked cars, and standing under the shade of a huge tree, stood a very large very dark water buffalo! It took us a couple of seconds to realise that it was a statue, then we both burst out laughing. I made a full circle around the block and returned to the same spot, double parked the car and went and took a few shots of it. It is a real traffic stopper!
Zamalek has changed a great deal since my childhood when the full clan of my cousins, my brother and I used to have lunch at my grandmother’s house then took our bicycles and played hide-and-seek all over Zamalek! Yet to me, it still evokes that feeling of nostalgia, a return to my childhood cocoon, where life was innocent, safe and happy.
Zamalek will always be synonymous with my childhood.