Sunset over the Nile tonight, Cairo. Photo: Belle Jackson

It looks
like the khamaseen has come early to Cairo this year. The fifty days of dust
storms that scour North Africa usually cover the city’s windows and put the grit in your teeth each
February and March, but a strange cloud hangs over the city and it’s still just
October.
Looking out
from the balcony, airplanes slip quietly through the early morning mist. Their
passing doesn’t seem to happen that often: Cairo’s international airport was pretty
low-key when we came through three days ago, with Singapore Airlines the only
international I spotted: the rest were Egyptair planes, codesharing where the
other big names don’t want to go.
The duty
free shop was bereft of customers, I saw a boarded-up Thomas Cook counter and
the tourism touts could barely raise an eyebrow when I walked past: they know
that most passengers are locals returning for Eid al-Adha, the great feast,
this week. Any tourists are well and truly on organised packages and I didn’t
spot a single backpack.
Our three
flights from Melbourne to Cairo (via Singapore and Dubai) were shared with a
woman in her late 50s or early 60s. We were both worried by the brief, 55-minute
transit time in Singapore, as our incoming flight was late.
“No
matter,” I said. “There are worse places to have a forced stopover than
Singapore.”

“Well I
wouldn’t like to be doing it on my own!” said the intrepid lady, with some
concern. Woman, I thought to myself, you’re going to Cairo…