Muslim Matrimonials and More's Egyptian Tales, by Youssuf El-Kalay

August 1, 2003

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

by Youssuf El-Kalay

Asalamu Aliakom Wa Rahmat Allah Wa Barakatu,

Ever since my last trip to Egypt, I have been dabbling in the art of photography. With the advent of low cost digital cameras I couldn’t help but purchase one. As well as the obvious picture taking of family and friends, I especially enjoy taking photographs of various landscapes, buildings and anything that falls under that category.

Recently I’ve realized that many of my fellow readers may be wondering what the places I go to in Egypt look like. I’ve decided to share a few of the photographs I took during my last trip to Egypt in the winter. Now don’t get me wrong, I am anything but a photojournalist. In fact as you will shortly find out, many of these pictures weren’t even taken by me.

It all started when my cousin Yahya and I were riding in the back of my aunt’s car on our way to see our great grandmother who lived in a section of Cairo called “Al Zamalek”. Driving through Al Zamalek it’s easy to notice the heavy European influence on the architecture of the buildings in the area. Many of the roads are very narrow, with buildings packed very close to each other. Even so, every time I go to Al Zamalek I get this feeling that I’m entering a very classy area.

Let us return to my cousin Yahya and I sitting in the backseat of my aunt’s car. Even though there is a quite a difference in age between the two of us (at the time of this story he was ten years old and I was twenty one), we still share the desire for adventure, the longing to blot out the clouds of boredom, the yearning to ignite the flames of the extraordinary. Ok well you get the idea. There we were with my aunt maneuvering through the insane Egyptian traffic while the two of us sat there is in total and utter silence. I had just happened to bring my camera along as I had wanted to take pictures of my great grandmother. A thought dawned on me that it would be interesting to practice taking pictures in a moving car (only as a passenger of course). I read somewhere that many of the well known photo journalists get the best shots right in the heat of the action. Meanwhile Yahya who was otherwise looking out the window for anything to cure our mutual boredom noticed me taking pictures.

“Hey what are you doing Youssuf?” he said.

“Taking pictures, I want to see if I can take any nice pictures while the car is moving,” I said while feverishly hitting the shutter button.

“Hey that’s a great idea Youssuf, can we take turns taking pictures?” Yahya said excitedly.

“Alright but be careful, and try to snap pictures of interesting buildings and stuff” I said, suspecting that most of the pictures would come out as pictures of his hand covering the lens.

“Sure, just tell me if you see anything interesting.” He was grinning with anticipation.

Meanwhile my aunt who was completely engrossed in avoiding a collision with cars zooming left, right and around us peered at us through the rear view mirror and said, “Are you two playing candid camera? This isn’t funny you know, it’s rude to take pictures of people without them knowing.”

“Auntie don’t worry," I said. "Yahya and I will only take pictures of buildings and cars insha Allah."

Soon enough Yahya and I were clicking away, taking pictures left and right of whatever piqued our interest.

Kobri Al Zamalek

This picture above (taken by yours truly) was shot after my aunt had decided to stop on the side of the road to answer a cell phone call. Here in the United States studies have shown that using a cell phone while driving increases the possibility of an accident occurring. Using a cell phone while driving in Egypt would be a death-wish. The bridge in this picture is called Kobri Al Zamalek. Kobri is Arabic for “bridge”. Technically Al Zamalek is an island surrounded by the Nile, hence the bridge connects cities on the mainland to Al Zamalek.

The Nile river, approaching Al Zamalek

Yahya took this beautiful shot of the Nile River beneath us as we approached Al Zamalek city limits.

The micro-bus is popular in Egypt

While passing through Al Zamalek bridge, I noticed one of the infamous ‘Micro-Busses’. The micro-bus as well the taxi is one of Egypt’s popular methods of transportation.

The ubiquitous Caltex gas station

No section of Cairo is ever complete without a Caltex gas station.

Cairo apartment buildings

I once met someone who had traveled to Cairo and he commented on the lack of complete building construction. He wondered why the owners wouldn’t get a loan to build a proper apartment building. I explained to him that in Cairo occasionally buildings are left uncompleted due to poverty, or perhaps the idea that a wealthy buyer may purchase the entire building and would want to complete the design in his own fashion.

Cairo traffic zooming along

Last but not least, here’s another picture that Yahya took. I especially love the ‘zoom zoom’ aftereffect of the picture.

I hope these pictures have given you a brief idea of what Cairo looks like. At the end of the day both Yahya and I were thrilled of the idea of taking pictures in a moving car. I highly recommend this to everyone who hasn’t tried this. Oh and please do make sure that if you’re going to embark on a moving car photography adventure that you’re not driving while taking pictures!

Jazakom Allahu Khairan for reading.

Till next time Insha'Allah.

- Youssuf

Youssuf El-Kalay has lived in Scotland, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United States, and currently resides in Southern California. It is his hope that through his stories, you the reader will be able to experience some of his adventures and the lessons he has learned from them.

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