Egyptian relics, coffee drinking culture, and smoking

A view of Cairo in the evening time. / Julius Bizimungu

Recently, I argued that Egypt is the beacon of the great relics that Africa should be proud of. I highlighted a few things that proved that argument.

Definitely it shouldn’t have been an argument but I felt the world needed to be reminded that Africa has a lot to offer.

I have been in this country for more than three weeks travelling to different parts of the country and strolling streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and Hurghada – some of the popular and largest cities of Egypt.

From museums, religious facilities, shops, roads, open markets, libraries, public and private offices, as well as hotels, restaurants and cafes, you are likely to encounter something that dates back hundreds or thousands of years ago.

You will find ancient buildings, aged lamps on the streets, coins, jewelries and ornaments, and statues of kings, queens, pyramids, animals, just to mention but a few.

From all the conversations I had with different people I met, I came to understand that Egyptians hold their relics so dear that they want the world to know about it.

I visited the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, ancient religious complexes like Muhammad Ali Mosque at Saladin Citadel, the famous synagogues at Coptic Museum and one of the world’s oldest mosques next to the Coptic Museum.

The writer poses outside the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo.

I toured Bibliotheca Alexandrina where some of the medieval life of Muslims and Christians is documented, the great literary work of loyal members and other Egyptians, as well as Citadel of Qaitbay – the military fortress and the Royal Jewelry Museum.

Road to Alexandria

Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt, is an epicentre of tourism, both religious tourism and cultural tourism. The city is home to a sea that many people wish to see – the Mediterranean Sea. 

It would be a mistake to leave the country without taking a trip to the city.

I and a group of other colleagues from different African countries had a chance to visit the city.

On the road trip to the city, which took about 3 hours and half, you would tell that, like many other countries in Africa, agriculture is a big sector in Egypt. Fields of modern agriculture would be spotted on the way. Irrigation and other advanced farm techniques are visibly practiced.

Bridge in the mediterranean sea at the tea island of Montazah park and the Royal palace in Alexandria, Egypt. / Julius Bizimungu

Oranges are one of the biggest crops in this country. For every menu you are likely to stumble on oranges as part of the prepared meal.

At first I couldn’t believe it when I encountered oranges on every meal I was taking for the first seven days of my stay, until I figured out that it is actually a household fruit, and that Egyptian farmers grow it than anything else.

“The climate here is suitable for orange growing. In fact, we export more of them apart from being a popular fruit here,” Adel Aziz, one of the Egyptian friends told me.

Anyway, Alexandria is where you get to see Biblioteca Alexandrina – the largest library in the country, Citadel of Qaitbay – the military fortress and the Royal Jewelry Museum.

The Arab Academy of Science, Technology and Maritime Transport, also sits here. It is one of the advanced educational institutes in the Middle East, attracting thousands of students from Africa and the Arab world.

Egypt sees it as a great institution to shape the future of young Egyptians, and they got it right.

Nubia Aqua Beach Resort sits on the banks of Red Sea in Hurghada

There is a thing or two to learn from this way of doing things.

They have invested in fields that are aligned with the country’s economic priorities – logistics and transport, aquaculture, industry and engineering, archaeology and cultural heritage, and computing and information technology.

Alexandria also handles more than 70 per cent of Egypt’s commercial trade being home to some of the world’s largest ports and harbours.

This means that students from the academy get to experience hands-on work. This is supported by the institute through investments which have been channeled in adopting some of the advanced technologies.

They have established centres like that for industry services to link academics to communities, regional informatics centre, computer services centre, information and documentation centre and a planetarium that allows students to experience science concepts on big screens.

The academy has established partnerships and agreements with renowned universities and organisations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to facilitate learning and exchange programmes.

Egyptian Media Production City. This houses private television stations.

As I was there I pondered how having such a strategic institution would mean to a country like Rwanda in shaping the next generation of Rwandans who are problem solvers.

In short, Alexandria is home to a number of iconic establishments. It was once the capital of Egypt. Majority of buildings in the area are antique, a reflection that these people were grand architects.

Despite Egyptians being known as anciently great builders, the country’s real estate industry is currently booming.

As you travel from downtown Cairo heading outside the city, you see a number of new complexes coming up. This is especially true when you are heading from downtown to the Egyptian Media Production City and further to the Giza plateau where the Great Pyramids are found.

There are hundreds of complexes under construction and the streets are full of posters advertising affordable housing facilities both for accommodation and businesses.

“0 per cent DP [down payment] plans up to 6 years,” one poster on the street read.

There are tens of similar advertorial posters plastered across the streets of Cairo, up country roads and other areas.

The author poses outside the Royal Jewerly Museum. The museum houses some of the precious and priceless jewerlies and ornaments worn by kings and queens.

New Cairo is a huge representation of the booming real estate. It is a new suburb in Cairo capital currently under development. There are new business and home buildings.

On the road to Red Sea there are also many luxury hotels, resorts and other establishments coming up.

Food culture

Surprisingly, Egyptians are unique coffee drinkers despite not growing coffee. Everyone, in offices, at conferences and meetings, on streets, people drink coffee.

It is a culture.

Similarly, the people of this country still hold deartheir cultural and traditional dishes. It is easier to understand this when you leave the comfort of your hotel and go to the local food spots.

Kadaif (Kadayif), Tahin, Koshary, Kofta, and Gourassa are some of the famous dishes in Egypt. I tried them. Make sure to check them out too, if you happen to visit the country.

Mediterrannean Sea.

For some reason, most Egyptians are also smokers. That is part of the menu.Many cafes and street vending stalls sell shisha. Whether in the morning or evening you will find people smoking shisha and cigarettes.

Several people who I talked to told me that smoking is like a hobby in Egyptian culture, whether high profile or low class, all people enjoy it anytime, anywhere and any day.

In fact, it is like the way people are consumed with spending their precious time on television sets watching their favouriteprogrammes or that obsession to constantly watch movies.

A cup of coffee, especially Turkish coffee goes with cigarette or shisha.

In any way, their smoking culture defeats the popular idea that excessive smoking causes diseases like cancer.

Distant night view of Mediterannean Sea from Helnan Palestine Hotel. / Julius Bizimungu

There is no basis to argue that Egyptians have higher cases of respiratory complications as a result of this culture.

I wanted to know how much they smoke in absolute numbers relative to the cases of respiratory related diseases, but I couldn’t get them.

I however managed to find out that there are two cigarettes factories in the country with the rest imported from different parts of the world.

A different world they live in....

One thing though, many Egyptians do not consider themselves Africans. They have their own world – the Arab world. Probably it could be that they feel more comfortable here.

From the young people I met at Saladin Citadel who requested to take pictures with me to a cleaner at Nubia Aqua Beach Resort, the tour guide in Alexandria and a person selling sea trips in Hurghada, everyone asked me whether I was from Africa.

That narrative is common but there is a section of educated people trying to change it.

The Youth and Sports Minister who hosted us at his Ministry said: “Egypt was coming back to Africa”. That was a genuine confession that they previously belonged to the Arab world than they did in Africa.