x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Summertime and the living is easy for some

There was a moment while running errands in Cairo this week when my brain began to shut down.

There was a moment while running errands in Cairo this week when my brain began to shut down. As I walked with the sun turning everything my eyes saw a bright white colour, I could feel the sweat drops trickle down my back, down my neck and down the side of my nose like tears. The heat rose from the pavement with a dullness that could be heard, and people dodged each other hurrying to get out of the heat and finish their trip in one piece.

My brain kept telling me: "If I just faint right now, I might feel better." On this 45°C day, I knew if I didn't get to a shop to buy some water and some shade I would indeed be on the ground surrounded by panicking Egyptians flailing my limbs in all directions in an attempt to help. Summer arrived early in Cairo and with it the reminder that the only thing to do in this season is leave Cairo. And that's exactly what Egyptians are preparing to do. The type of vacation taken, like most other things in Egypt, is class-based - the better your social and economic status, the more exciting your holiday will be.

Many Cairenes are gearing up for the North Coast, a long strip of beach on the Mediterranean just past Alexandria and reaching to the far away city of Mars Matrouh, close to the Libyan border. The coast is crammed with compounds with chalets, villas and apartments for rent and families spend months at a time here, socialising, swimming and spending late nights with family and friends in the refreshing breezes coming off the sea.

Some wealthy Egyptian entrepreneurs, with a shrewd eye for business, revolutionised the scene a few years ago by building the fanciest of compounds called Marina. Now there are five branches to the compound, each one catering to a certain social class - all, of course, upper-middle class, but even amid this higher echelon there are delineations - and with different qualities of services. I had the rare opportunity to visit a friend's villa inside Marina 5 - the top-most compound - and what a scene. It's literally a small city inside the high walls circling the compound. All services available in Cairo can be found inside, from cafes and supermarkets to restaurants and shops. The villas are exquisitely built, some right on the beach with a private piece of water which the family can sit by during the evening and swim in at their leisure. Kids run around safely in the compound, and teenagers go for lattes in their bikinis. In the evenings, sponsored dance parties go late into the early hours with young people dancing away to performances by the latest DJs or Arabic pop stars. During the day, there is swimming, jet skiing, using one of the many pools available to members of the compound or just spending the day on the beach.

But what about those Egyptians who can't afford to go to the North Coast? Speaking to workers at my office, some of the men have told me that they try to take their families away for a weekend to Alexandria. Even though the humidity is high there, the weather is still much more bearable than in Cairo, and working-class families can enjoy a few days' respite, sitting in the sand, eating out and swimming at the public beaches before having to hurry back to their jobs in Cairo.

Unfortunately, one person I know at the office has been so plagued by medical bills for his ill child that this year's trip to Alexandria has had to be cancelled. And then, of course, there are those who will never be able to take a vacation and don't really know what that is. Many people in the working class have to keep working during the summer to make ends meet. Few have the luxury to complain about the heat, sun and pollution and just escape it all.

Hadeel al Shalchi is a writer for the Associated Press, based in Cairo,/i>