“This is a song to take you homewards, This is a song to break your heart to” sing the Manic Street Preachers in my IPod, as I head down from Alexandria to Cairo on the 08.00 am 904 express train.
And this is my trip homewards, earlier than originally planned, but later than now hoped for, and so each mile feels long, and each hour too long, and I want this song to take me homewards through Cairo, Istanbul, Manchester and Sheffield to home.
But for these miles I look out of the window of this drafty, rickety, clanking, barely functioning train at a song to break your heart to.
All seems to be dirt, rubbish, and poverty along the tracks. How do we produce so much dirt, so much rubbish, so much poverty? In the midst of fields, plastic everywhere, going nowhere, just accumulating, digging its way into the ground together with rusting metal, decaying concrete, crumbling brick, mixed with rags, gathered rotting wood, cardboard and even more plastic. A landscape of brown with hints of plastic colour. But there seems to be some pickings for the egrets in amongst it all.
We run alongside a seemingly makeshift highway, lumps taken out, with a million cars and buses, and trucks, and lorries, and motorcycles; all pumping out more brown as they speed down to Cairo, together on the highway of course with donkeys dragging carts, all burdened with too much, overfull, packed, carrying more plastic, and bricks, and concrete, and wood, and chickens, and a thousand thousand Pepsi’s on the road who together shout ‘live for now!’ in bold English. Yes, that’s the answer…..
And out of the grimy window of the 904 people clinging on the edge in poorly built houses, often huts really, pushing out in small shallow blue boats onto another tributary of a sewer like Nile, eking out another caught meal of 2 small fish and a few loaves. Aged before their time, with deep lines, looking like dirt themselves today. All brown after the rain, which has turned dust into cloying paste clinging to shoes and clothes. They barely look up as we clank by, too busy pushing and pulling and carrying and cutting. Although the children play in the newly formed pools and sometimes wave. The dirt poor. Rubbish of the world. Going nowhere. Just accumulating. Digging in. Living off the pickings. Living for now. Is there any other way to live in this brown?