On The Road: A capital cacophony in Cairo

Jessica Lee
Saturday 20 June 2009 00:00 BST

I am slowly going deaf. There is a tell-tale ringing in my ears and a new-found tendency to shout: definite symptoms of graduating from tourist to local. Most foreigners last only a few days in the Egyptian capital, and leave with nerves rubbed raw by the never-ending noise. I have been in Cairo long enough to develop hearing loss. This city is adopting me.

My taxi has ground to a halt amid downtown's traffic gridlock. My driver lets out his frustration in the only way he knows how: he makes noise. Two million cars fight for space on Cairo's woefully inadequate roads every day, and all of their drivers have their hand firmly placed on their car's horn. The city's relentless soundtrack is a cacophonous symphony of bass honks and baritone beeps that ring out from the overcrowded streets. Ambient noise levels in Cairo were recently revealed to average 85 decibels: the same level that causes hearing loss with extended exposure. We are all sinking into deafness in this city.

Outside, a group of shopkeepers are laying down makeshift mats of cardboard on the street corner. It is nearing time to pray. The mosque's microphone clicks on with a hiss of static and a muffled cough before the muezzin begins the song of faith. The first notes reverberate in the air and in the distance another muezzin joins in, and then another, and another. Soon a hundred voices are duelling above the city streets; blending together into a distorted roar that drowns out the clamour of the cars below. Even in prayer Cairo is incredibly noisy.

As the call to prayer reaches its dizzying crescendo I realise that the unrelenting din of this brash city no longer jangles my nerves. Cairo broadcasts its frustrations, anger and even its faith at top volume, and I am learning to survive amid the surrounding uproar. Traffic is still gridlocked, and my driver slams his hand onto the steering wheel in frustration. "You need a louder horn," I say.

"Aywa," he nods in agreement. Yes.

I sit back in my seat and smile. I have begun to belong.

Footprint's Egypt Handbook is out now (£14.99)

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