Ahi estás tú, by Chambao— what was playing in the café as I typed this
I am working on a health care consulting project for the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), and so I reside in the NBE House—a kind of hybrid between a guest house and a hotel for NBE employees in Nasr City, Cairo. (Wikipedia has more on the district here.) There is not much to do where I live except walk to the mall CityStars, which incidentally is the largest shopping center in Egypt. Sporting five stories, three international hotels, a luxury apartment complex, a 13-screen cinema, three food courts and swanky restaurants, and of course ample “boulevards” of high-end stores (those ones in which 70% off still means paying $100 for a skirt), CityStars is the affluent tourist’s paradise. It is the one place in Cairo that I can walk around and momentarily delude myself that I am back in America, lounging at Starbucks and H&M with an earthy palette of cosmopolitan cohorts. I patronize the mall’s restaurants and cafes nearly every day, choosing always those places that allow me to play on the internet uninhibitedly.
I am sitting at my favorite café, Café Supreme, right now as I type this entry, quaffing a slender glassful of freshly squeezed guava juice still lush and cool and viscous with fruit pieces. I make the same order every time because it is as delicious as drinking melted kulfi, and the waiters know to expect me. They call me “Miss Sunshine” here, maybe because I goofily smile whenever I try one of their desserts (at every sitting), I don’t know. My probing produces only grins in response. Usually, I remain at the cafe for up to four hours, ordering a drink when I arrive and a snack toward the end. But today, I am here only for an hour, because I have to do grocery shopping and then take a cab to a laundromat with a friend.
What strikes me about the mall is how both relentlessly busy and intensely private it is, such that I never feel alone but always independent when I frequent its stores. That is one of the best but often unanticipated benefits of crowded shopping malls: they can be some of the most private, public places one visits.
Update: When I was leaving the mall today, I realized I had forgotten my hat and my sunglasses in the hotel room. It was 2 p.m. and the sun scorched the sky from directly overhead. Because I was determined not to become sunburned, I removed my laptop from its sleeve inside my backpack and pulled the flexible flappy cover over my head. I looked absolutely ridiculous, with my mammoth black backpack—those of you who have seen it, know what I mean; black slacks; Yale t-shirt; and a big black flap over my head walking back from the most lavish mall in Egypt. Not a few people stared at me as I passed by them, but I told myself that despite my embarrassment, I would be happier in the long run. Please don’t call me silly. And Mommy, I will think ahead next time, I promise.