Cairo – A Memory

Fifty years ago I lived in Cairo, enrolled as a student at the American University of Cairo and took these photographs.

The AUC campus was at that time situated in an old pasha’s palace in the downtown Bab al Louq area, just off the famous Tahrir Square.   I lived nearby on Shariah El Falaky in the AUC Dorm, a drab lemon-coloured building with high walls that from outside looked rather like a prison.

Outside, the city was a dazzling whirlpool of life, a frenzy of melon seed sellers, garbage pickers and juice dispensers, of young street boys in rags forever asking you the time; of dowdy office clerks staring at shop window displays of shoes.  The pungent smell of decaying citrus and human odour pervaded the air.  The cries of the street sellers harmonized with the honking of horns and the periodic bray of a street donkey.

Through these streets I prowled with an old Russian Zenit camera, at the time the most affordable SLR, packed with Tri X Film that I kept in the Dorm fridge.

The Khan el Khalili Bazaar is still there, where copper pots are still beaten; Felukas still ply the Nile, and the Boab still pick their noses in Bab el Louk.

But like these pictures, much of the charm I knew has faded.

Cairo2 Cairo3 Cairo4 Cairo

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Dr Michael Vatikiotis, Asia Regional Director of the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, is a private diplomat/peace negotiator who has worked in Southeast Asia for the past thirty-five years. Formerly a journalist with the BBC, he then became chief editor of the "Far Eastern Economic Review". His non-fiction books include Indonesian Politics under Suharto: The Rise and Fall of the New Order (Routledge) and Political Change in Southeast Asia: Trimming the Banyan Tree (Routledge). His latest, Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia, is published by W&N/Hachette and translated most recently into Chinese. He published "The Spice Garden" a novel set in Eastern Indonesia in 2004; "The Painter of Lost Souls" is a novel set in Central Java published in 2012. Fluent in Thai and the Indonesian languages, Vatikiotis lives in Singapore.

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