Walking in Zamalek

It’s usually a solitary affair walking the dog in Zamalek, but this morning there are four encounter with dogs and their owners along the way. Each time someone spots a dog, the owners hid behind parked cars so the dogs won’t see each other. Zamalek has a very territorial canine population and my dog, as a newcomer to the neighborhood is better off not meeting another one nose to nose. It’s apparently the way things are done in the dog walking culture here.

Sharia Baget Aly runs alongside a mosque next to a seedy pink-walled night club. I always wonder if Zorro is defiling the mosque by walking by it. Lots of Muslims consider dogs dirty. Does my dog defile this sacred space or does the night club do it for us? It’s on this street that I see the first unknown dog of the walk. Zorro is clueless as the owner and I lock eyes in understanding and I stop and wait until he passes us on the other side of a line of parked cars. The owner holds on to his yellow Labrador’s chain with two hands as they slip by, both dogs blissfully unaware of each other’s presence.

We turn left on Sharia Mansour Mohamed towards the Serbian Embassy whose sidewalks are wide though with few patches of dirt. Those little patches of dirt around the trees, framed by the sidewalk bricks, are the best places for any dog to investigate. The Serbians must know that Zamalek dog walkers instinctively gravitate towards such sidewalks as theirs are bereft of trees.

Across the street we go to the sidewalks surrounding the grounds of a lovely 1930s pre-revolution villa with wrought iron gates and an impressive coat of arms on each. A couple of security guards dressed in galabeyahs sit inside the locked gates. I suspect the villa may be an apartment building these days because there is a carport that holds several cars. The grounds are well maintained with lush green grass and many Royal Palms. I wonder if the Nasser government had at one time seized the villa during the nationalization campaign of the 1960s when many of Zamalek’s old villas were confiscated – some say stolen – by the government.

Ahead of us are two other dogs, their owners being pulled along in the street. This time, they stop behind a car and Zorro and I slip by. It appears they have just crossed over from the Chinese Embassy whose sidewalks are a favorite of the dog walkers. Though they’re dotted every 100 feet with a guard post, no one seems to care what dogs do on them. The Chinese Embassy takes up an entire block and its sidewalks are wide with lots of trees. The few times I’ve taken Zorro over there, I’ve always been conscious of the security cameras perched high on the red brick walls. Most people know to avoid the Chinese Embassy sidewalks in the evening when the shadows from the embassy walls and acacia trees cover the sins of the day’s canine visits.

We round the corner to Sharia Abu Feda and stroll along the street as it goes the length of the west side of our island of Geriza. To our left are villas and apartment buildings and to our right, across Abu Feda, is the Nile River. It’s my favorite part of the walk because I can peek in the yards of the boathouses that line the riverbank. I look past spiky metal fences and onto the docks of the boathouses and watch the rowers getting ready to go out.

Our walk down Abu Feda also takes us past the Zamalek Cosmetic Surgery Center that’s located in another elegant old villa. The grounds are filled with tropical flowering foliage and a few tall palms. Beautiful sprawling magenta bougainvillea covers the stone walls that separate the sidewalks from the Center’s grounds. Sometimes I fantasize about checking in for some sort of procedure and then spending my recovery resting in one of those white wicker lounge chairs I’ve seen on the lawn. I’d be tucked in a fluffy white Egyptian pima cotton blanket with a glass of red wine and a small tray of mezzas nearby. The lovely scent of Egyptian jasmine would be floating in the air as I look across the Nile, towards Midan Kit Kat and imagine what went on in those houseboats of Naguib Mahfous fame. Though I’ve never seen anyone sitting out on the Center’s lawn during our walks, I like my fantasy.

The last turn down a small alleyway takes us to the front of the Flamenco Hotel. Before we pass by, there is a short stop and peek into the stinky cat yard filled with young and old felines eating from plastic dishes left out by a cat-loving woman. All of the cats look related and not one of them shows the least bit of interest in Zorro. Once I saw the cat lady standing at her kitchen window with several big cats eating on the ledge beside her. She smiled at me while the cats buried their heads in the food.

Back at our building, two feral skinny mother cats and their six kittens occupy the front of the building. The mothers have been aggressive toward Zorro who always tries to sniff out the kittens. Today, the skinny black mother actually leaps from somewhere behind us to land right in front of Zorro as she trots up the stairs. They engage in a minor dog – cat fight and in the end, I just pick up the dog and beat a retreat to the elevator. Another day’s walk in Zamalek finished.

Kathleen Saville