Friday, February 13, 2009

The Cave of Wonders

We're trying to avoid doing laundry for as long as we possibly can, as we still haven't figured out how to work our washing machine (circa 1893). So, yesterday Jess, Caitlin and I decided to leave our humble abode for the evening to expand our wardrobes. Instead of trying our luck at dear old Khan al-Khalidi (the horrible tourist market, where we were hassled to no end) again, we went to the only place in Egypt where prices are fixed and unaffordable.

A setting oddly reminiscent of that which saw Augustus Gloop's tragic downfall

Yes my friends, Cairo has its very own luxury mega-mall. It's located between districts on the outskirts of al-Qahira, called Heliopolis and Nasr City, where wealthy Cairenes move to get away from the grime, noise and lower classes of the inner city.
Now, to my shame, I have been to the third largest mall in America, but it looks like a village marketplace compared to City Stars.

The Egyptian elite on escalators

Raised by a mother bred in post-war Germany, I have been trained in thrift to the extreme. I am therefore generally keen to avoid paying high prices for anything and have rejoiced at the affordability of life in Cairo. Confronted with American price tags in City Stars, I backed out of any store I entered, horrified.
What struck me as extraordinary, however, was the mass of Egyptians clutching Prada bags and wearing Omega watches, who dished out thousands of pounds in an evening without blinking an eye.

Perhaps it is naive of me to wonder where Egyptian wealth comes from. Every country has its upper class. I suppose I simply didn't expect it to be so very rich in Egypt, where bread costs a few cents and many live on less than $50 a month. There is no real middle class, it seems, and the rich hardly mix with the poor.