Mostafa Arafa (@mostafa22) shares his unique perspective of his home city of Cairo, Egypt in this week’s City Perspectives.
How long have you lived in your city? What is your profession?
I’ve lived in Cairo for 7 years. I’m mechanical engineer working as turbocharger specialist. I have my own import and export company and repairing workshop with my brothers.
If you could capture the essence of your city in one word, what would it be? Why?
Mosques. Cairo is known as the city of 1000 minarets and there are more than 1000 mosques from all periods of Islamic history. They really make you feel like you’re traveling through time. Stand on any roof and the first thing you’ll notice is the large amount of minarets and the sound of Adhan, the call for prayer, which rings out 5 times a day.
How would you describe the locals in your city?
Egyptian people are very friendly and caring. They love socializing and give love and attention to anyone they care about, or anyone who asks anything of them. Egyptians will smile when they begin a conversation with you.
And, they are willing to live in extremely cramped quarters together.
Describe the first place you’d bring an out-of-town guest. Why would you take them there before anywhere else?
The first place I’d bring an out of town guest would be Elmoez Street, one of the oldest streets in Cairo. It dates back to the Fatimid Era and has almost all types of Islamic architecture decorated with Arabic calligraphy and Antika shops.
What’s the best season to visit your city in? Why?
In my opinion, winter is the best season to visit. We are an African country, so summer is not really an ideal time; in winter, the weather is fair. Early mornings in Cairo are often foggy in this season, so you can wonderful photographs of city then too.
Describe the most underrated place to visit in your city.
The Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun. I went there twice and on both occasions, not many other people were there. It has the oldest minaret in Cairo with the twisted stairs that lead to the very top; from there, you can see all of the mosque’s beauty and its grandeur from above.
Which coffee shop(s) are your favorite to spend an afternoon catching up on work or people watching?
Cafes in Cairo are always full of people who are there to meet friends, study, smoke hookah, and drink tea. My favorite is Elshams Cafe in the downtown area, but I also love the coffee shops in Old Cairo.
What’s a signature dish in your city and where’s the best spot to find it?
A signature dish is barbecue meat; it’s actually my favorite. The best place to find it is at Mohamed Elrefae restaurant, located in the Elsaida Zainab area. It’s a very small place that starts serving at 6 pm. The walls of the restaurant are full of pictures of the restaurant owner with tons of Egyptian celebrities.
Where’s the best spot to see your city from above?
Alazhar Park; this hilly site is surrounded by the most significant historic districts of Islamic Cairo. It is one of the primary destinations for many visitors to the city, located right in the heart of Cairo. From there, you can see far off in the distance to places all around the city.
How do you think that the beat or style of the city has informed your style as a photographer?
I never really cared about photography until I bought an iPhone in 2011 and discovered Instagram shortly thereafter. I became inspired by a Turkish street photographer who instilled a passion for street photography in me as well, and now my photos always tend to focus on people. With more than 17 million people living in Cairo, you can find all kinds of people; all kinds of faces and expressions. It keeps me inspired.