A Sweet Filthy Echo
My laundry is not yet dry. I hung it up a couple of hours ago, but it’s overcast and cool. For the first time for as long as I can remember, I bask in this weather, wondering around aimlessly under an almost gloomy sky. It looks like rain. Maybe I’ll go for a walk. But not before I take my laundry in. Actually, you know what? I think I might just wonder around aimlessly near the washing line.
A week ago, walking around aimlessly was a recipe for drowning in my own sweat. Doing laundry consisted of putting it in a faulty washing machine that was as likely to flood the cats nearby litter tray as it was to clean my clothes. Drying was barely necessary. Once I’d finished pegging my sun bleached garments on the four parallel strings off the edge of the 5th floor balcony, I could almost start at the beginning again and unpeg them, dry and crisp like I’d put them under the grill. It sometimes gets up to 45 Celsius in Cairo. But like any chaotic city, once the dust and fumes and noise and superheated concrete is thrown into the deal you can add a few more degrees for good measure.
But apart from that heat that sticks to you along with the brown dust that blows in from the desert, I miss Cairo.
I miss it like you miss a good night out, after enough time has gone by to allow you to forget how you felt the following morning. Sometimes the noise was enough to make me want to rip my own ears off. The situation would always take a dive when call to prayer was the responsibility of a sheikh or individual that should have joined a religious order that necessitated a vow of silence. Occasionally, just very occasionally, a dangerously unforeseeable cloud of vocal disaster would descend on the nearby mosques and inflict the pious few announcing prayer time with the tonal dexterity of a drunk and characteristically vocal football hooligan. It can only be described as a perfect storm in the aural world of Islam.
Now though, to me that perfect storm sounds almost ethereal in my head. Here, in the high walled garden of my father’s house in the sleepy village of Oundle, England, I can hear a woodpigeon, and the reassuring tick tock of the wind-up clock we have had since I was a child. But I feel like if I strain my ears there is some foreign echo. Subtle melodic notes sung from the sky, drifting delicately into this little garden. Scientifically I have to attribute this to something, a cerebral echo similar to the way in which you still feel like you’re legs are skiing long after you’ve stopped. Its an oriental aftershock of Adhan broadcast over a handpicked selection of the world’s worst megaphones, and serenaded by obnoxious and tenacious car horns.
There was of course some extremely beautiful singing that arched high over the city from countless minarets. But now the good and the bad blend together in my head into one very magical memory, still almost tangible, but not quite. There is, I realize now after only 48 hours, a strange addictive quality to the noisy roads and filthy corners of that brown city. Much of the rest of Egypt is not hard to love, with its vast deserts and ancient mountains split serenely by a calm and powerful river. But Cairo? I didn’t think I would miss it.
So here is to you, Muezzin, yes you, the one with a voice that helps peel the hot asphalt from the streets for miles. Even your voice sounds sweet to me now.