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The other side of Egypt

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Madagascar’s players react after winning the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group B football match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

This is not my first visit to Egypt. Thirteen years ago when the country hosted the 2006 edition of the African Nations Cup, I was one of the journalists who covered the event. The likes of Tony Ubani, Christian Okpara, Ben Memunletiwon, Ben Alaiya, George Aluo and the late Emeke Enechi were also on the coverage party. 
 
Then, the Super Eagles played their group matches in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, and throughout my stay, I did not set my eyes on any pussycat. Then in 2006, we traveled from Port Said to Alexandria on the day the Super Eagles played their semifinal match, which they lost 1-0 to Cote d’Ivoire. In anger, I left the city immediately for Cairo. 
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In my teenage days in Oghara, my home town in Delta State, the presence of a pussycat in a particular compound could stop my visit to that area. I prefer to face dogs, no matter how fearful-looking and size than sit close to a pussycat. Then in Oghara, I always had that feeling that pussycats were evil creatures and those who keep them are the devils every young child must stay away from. The sneaky nature of a pussycat still scares me till today.
 
But here in Alexandria, venue of Super Eagles group matches in the on-going Egypt 2019 Afcon, pussycats are the most common creatures on the streets, in the hotels, motor parks and even in some restaurants. I saw a driver moving around the town with a pussycat posing on the passenger seat in front of his car. I was forced to relocate from the first hotel I lodged here to another area because of the presence of a Pussy Cat close to the entrance of the hotel.

Madagascar’s forward Faneva Andriatsima (L) and Madagascar’s forward Tsilavina Njiva (R) pour water on Madagascar’s coach Nicolas Dupuis (C) as they celebrate winning the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group B football match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

 
The ways some restaurant operators care for pussycats is crazy. The creature likes meat a lot, and so, they are always battle ready to confront any customer who wants to ‘consume’ every piece of the meat or chicken. To play safe, you have to divide your piece of chicken or meat into two, one for the pussycat and one for your belly.

Even at that, you have to be careful because the cats here are smart. They swallow everything within a second and always seek for more. I lost a precious piece of chicken to one smart pussycat on my first day here, but since then, I am wiser.

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Lada ‘brothers’ at your service
In the early 1970s down to the mid 80s, a car known as Lada was common on the streets of Nigeria. Are you wondering where they are now? Then, you have to visit Alexandria, Egypt as a tourist.
 
Everywhere you turn, there is a Lada car beside you. They are painted in the old Bendel colour. Some of the drivers are overzealous and always want to capitalize on your inability to speak Arabic language in negotiating the fare. But trust your man. I always approach them in a Waffi man style with a deep pidgin English they don’t understand.

At times, I start the negotiation in Urhobo language. Mavor, I asked one of them. “I don’t speak English,” he responded. But you just spoke English, I fired back. It forced a little smile on his face. Then, our negotiation began. That is one of the tricks I use in dealing with the Lada ‘brothers’ here. The big different in exchange rate between the Naira, Egyptian Pounds and US dollar is affecting us here. By and large, majority of the people are hospitable to visitors, unlike the situation we encountered in 2006.

Tourists, tourists everywhere
The number of tourists trooping into the city of Alexandria on daily basis is alarming.

Unlike the situation in Lagos, where the famous bar beach in Victoria Island and others around the city have been converted to residential areas, the Mediterranean sea shore in Alexandria is a beehive of activities for thousands of tourists.
 
With small tents constructed on the sound around the beach, the tourists, who come from different parts of the world, find pleasure in the area on daily basis. Some Egyptians who spoke with The Guardian said the government of Alexandria generates more income from tourism every year than other sectors of its economy.
 
Apart from the government, the indigenes also smile to the bank every hour by selling foodstuff, souvenirs and photographing. The various airlines, particularly EgyptAir, cab drivers, hoteliers and restaurant owners are not left out.

 


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