To an expat, life in Cairo can be a startling contrast between a confused, polluted, noisy, snarling mess and an experience characterised by kind people, colourful shops, stunning antiquities and natural beauty.
Fortunately, I miss the former most of the time as I live on the tree-lined island of Zamalek and walk one and a half blocks to work each morning under a sunny sky! Zamalek lies in the Nile River, nestled between the twin cities of Cairo and Giza which for all practical purposes function as one sprawling metropolis of 20 million inhabitants.
These combined cities together contain the Giza, Sakhara and Dashour pyramids along with some of the world’s greatest early Christian and Islamic antiquities. Cairo is also one of the safest big cities in the world.
I don’t own a car as I found that parking usually takes longer than the journey itself, so it’s easier to get around by foot or taxi. The subway makes for an interesting alternative and can cut a significant amount of time from an otherwise traffic-intensive journey – plus it only costs about seven pence!
Any commute in Cairo is filled with multiple exchanges of pleasantries with the local population, the sounds of honking cars and the smell of flowers, food and, occasionally, rubbish!
Taxis are far from luxurious but are inexpensive and provide a great opportunity for experiencing the thrill/terror of riding a de-railed train, as well as allowing for an amusing discussion or Arabic practice.
Dentons’ Cairo office is situated in a charming old villa, complete with a small private garden; a rarity in this city.
We have 22 Egyptian lawyers, 20 Egyptian support staff and three expatriates (France, US and UK/US nationality). The work environment is challenging because international transactions are more and more complex and one must try to fit them within the Egyptian legal and bureaucratic framework.
Professionally, the best part of the Cairo experience for me is finalizing an innovative or difficult transaction with our Egyptian lawyers, either internally or in a larger team with one or more of our other offices.
Generally, I go to the same places for socializing and for entertaining clients: the excellent La Bodega Restaurant/Bar, Sequoia Restaurant and Buddha Bar. For the more adventurous, there is horseback riding in the desert around the Pyramids or going to the old 50’s-era belly dancing clubs downtown where nothing has changed since that time. Not even the furniture!
While Cairo is a very challenging professional environment it is one of the most rewarding too. Of course one misses some of the daily conveniences of life in a Western country but that also has a bright side in that one appreciates those missing aspects much more.
Michael Lacey is managing partner of Denton Wilde Sapte’s Cairo office.