Oasis Magazine Articles

An Expat in Cairo: Survival of the Fittest

By Laura Logan

I sipped my coffee from inside the comfort of one of several 24-hour cafés in Zamalek. It was 8:30am and the streets were almost completely empty of people. The day wouldn't start for another hour or so.

Across the street, a couple of tourist policemen slept soundly at their post, limp bodies slumped in their plastic chairs, and Kalashnikovs slung sloppily across their laps. Their pure white uniforms glistened in the sun— they are the only things in Cairo that seem to retain their whiteness despite the city's smog and the desert's dust.

Nearby, a group of emaciated street cats prowled around a pile of garbage. A bowab observed the cats' movement before disappearing inside his building. He returned a minute later with food scraps, which he placed on the curb. The cats immediately darted in his direction and a loud fight broke out amongst them.

It was survival of the fittest—let the toughest cat win.

Mrreowwwwwwwwwwww *hiss*

One of the tourist policemen woke up with a start. He looked around curiously. The other tourist policeman, apparently sensing that his partner was no longer asleep, opened his eyes lazily. They watched the cats fight for a minute or two before one of them began to doze off again.

Shortly thereafter, a group of Egyptian girls passed by, signaling that the day had more or less begun.

This is a snapshot from a typical morning in Egypt, if there is such thing. A cat lover myself (and as someone who wasn’t particularly well-traveled before coming to Cairo in 2008), one of the first things that struck me about the Egyptian capital was the sheer number of animals in the street. In San Diego, it was a special sight to see the neighbor’s cat outside, let alone dozens of homeless ones competing for food.

It struck me that in many ways the struggle of these felines is a real life example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” You see this behavior first among the street animals, but then you start to notice ways that it has seeped, perhaps more covertly, into the functions of everyday Cairo.

What does that mean for me?

Most importantly, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to be forceful in order to get things done. Here you can’t always sit back and expect everything to fall neatly in place according to your idealistic expectations of what’s right.  For now at least you have to play according to the rules of basic human psychology, within the context of the culture. Adapt and survive.

If a guy harasses you in the street, take his picture – don’t do anything with it, but perhaps he will at least feel ashamed. If a taxi tries to cheat you, simply curse the money and leave everything up to a greater power – perhaps they will blame future ill-fates on the cursed money and decide to make an honest living.

Either way, you’ve done what you can and to Darwin’s delight, you’ve conserved your valuable energy in the process.

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