Partners in Crime: The 5 am Cairo Gang

I wrote in details previously about running in Cairo, the challenges to overcome, the streets, dogs, lack of sidewalk, the puddles and much more. Yet there’s a whole other side of running in the early morning in Cairo. I call it “joining the gang.”

Egyptians, and in particular city people like Cairenes or Alexandrians, are all night people. Much of the Mediterranean seems to follow this phenomenon of late night life. It’s not only for young hippies, it’s actually the most usual thing! Going to bed at 10 or 11 is considered a crime in Egypt! Imagine the torture a marathon schedule imposes on a normal night-owl!

And now I belong to that host of criminals who keep a strict early nights schedule in order to be able to get up at and start running at 5 am.

No matter how hard I tried to get into afternoon runs, mornings are always cooler (somewhat) and less stressed. There are less cars and people, and when you hear about my partners in crime you’ll know what I mean.

My first partner in crime is the porter of the building at the end of the street. This chubby old guy is ALWAYS UP when I’m down walking the dog and then for running. He sits on a blue chair overlooking the intersection, so he can see in three directions and notices every single move around the street. He’s my first buddy. I know that if anything bad happens, he’s my go-to person early morning. We chatted on various occasions in relation to dogs, but never to running. I might be tempted to start this conversation sometime.

My second partner is the porter of the building at the exit to the main street. This guy acts like ‘the elder’ for all doormen in our block. Always involved in action, any event taking place in the street – stranger or a double-parked car – he’s there offering his wisdom. Early morning he’s always watering the few plants in front of his building and also the cars (that’s how they wash cars, causing the puddles I end up running into!)

The third partner is a guard who stands at the banks intersection on my usual route. This poor guy is glued to his spot probably the entire night. I nearly always notice him with eyes closed. He opens them as I’m passing by, closing them before I completely go out of sight. He knows I’m not dangerous.

The fourth partner or rather group of partners are the workers in the fuel station on one main streets I usually cross. They cheer for me 🙂 Since this is Egypt, I used to try hard to avoid crossing in front of this batch at the beginning, then I realized they were encouraging not harassing. These poor folks have to work standing up all night, entertained solely by the few cars coming to fuel.

There’s also the newspaper stand guy! He arrives on a motorbike with a large bundle of newspapers that he delivers to the stand. Sometimes together with the kiosk owner next to the stand, they sit and appear in the middle of significant chatter.

The largest batch of the gang is usually on my return route. This gang assembles at a very famous beans and falafel stand that specializes in serving 4am customers. By 8am, the stand is already closed and no more customers to serve. Depending on the length of my run, I could arrive at 6 when it’s super crowded with workers, security men, policemen, drivers and builders all eager for this sturdy morning meal at this unique spot, and sometimes I arrive at 7 when only few customers are still hanging around and there’s slower mood. I kept telling myself that I will buy my sandwiches here one day, but it’s a hassle to run 3kms holding the sandwiches! Besides, my sweat-soaked presence won’t be as welcomed among this nearly-exclusive men club!

The final member of the gang, and her presence largely depends on my timing, is the lady who works at the public library. At 7, they open for employees. She’s usually around before 7 waiting for the door to open. A full old woman, she sits on a flower bed along the road where I cross. First time I passed, I could see her jaw drop. From then on I saw a soft smile whenever we crossed.

Image result for cairo early morning

Due to the fact that streets are all equally inconvenient for running, I hardly ever meet other runners, and if I do, it’s maybe once or maximum twice, and we each take a turn from whatever street we’re on! A few seconds earlier or later would mean never seeing the same people even if I follow same route every day.

The gang for the long runs is a whole different thing. Since I run along the length of the Nile river, many runners and cyclists I see each week.

These partners of the early morning street make it safer and somewhat less lonely. Part of my mental exercises during running is about who I’m meeting next and in what mood they will be on, who’s missing and why etc. It’s fun to think of myself as part of this gang who can enjoy the first glimpses of the morning sun before the city turns wild with its 15 million inhabitants!

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