I don’t really consider myself an unhealthy person and I usually treat sickness with the nonchalance that sleep and ibuprofen can cure almost anything. However, after unbearable abdominal pains, dizziness and fainting, and weakness and chills sent me home from Ana El-Masry early Wednesday, I decided a visit to the doctor may be in order. I called Professor Lo and Taylor, our site coordinator, and was whisked off to Anglo-American Hospital in Zamalek.
When we arrived, I expected to see a large building, lots of vehicles, sliding automatic doors, sterile tile halls and florescent lighting. However, we pulled up to the typical cast-iron fence which frames many of the prominent buildings in Cairo. An old metal sign above the gate, rusted around the edges, had the name of the hospital in both English and Arabic, and we walked past an old guard house towards a 3-story building with large windows and beautiful scroll work. The marble steps lead to an arched wooden doorway and inside the reception desk, instead of being the sterile plastic or stainless steel, was carved dark wood. We walked down a tiled floor to a wood door with a sign beside which says “Emergency Room.” Professor Lo knocks on the door and a nurse opened it and asked us to wait a moment. The waiting area was two wooden and cast-iron park benches in the hallway.
The entire hospital had a look of dilapidated glamour. The wooden trim, the fireplace in the corner of the examination/emergency room, the marble sink in the same room all hold the same lavish appeal of forgotten ages. As we walked in the doors, Professor Lo said, “yeah, this was the best hospital in Egypt in the 50’s,” but I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Professor, we aren’t in the 50’s.’ I’ve noticed that so many of the buildings here hold a beauty that has fallen in disrepair. The buildings are proud sentinels of a long forgotten past, rimmed with cast iron fences and intricate gates. Their cement walls are in varying shades of sand and greying white with carved balcony ledges and marble steps. They are so beautiful and so old and proud and decaying. Their decrepit state breaks my heart, but I love them all the same. They are like old men and women of a long-forgotten age full of finery and prosperity looking sadly over a changing world around them.
As I drive away from the hospital, clutching my receipt for the 137 Egyptian pounds (about 32 American Dollars) that I spent on the examination and medicine for an acute Urinary Tract Infection, I observe the city in a new light. The graffiti on the walls near the Cairo Opera House fill me with a mixture of hope and sadness, hope for the messages of change and revolution they display and sadness for the neglected beauty hidden underneath.