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How to win a fight in Egypt


Egypt is an exciting place. Even tasks as simple as crossing the street turn into a dangerous game of Frogger. A short taxi ride can become a long detour and end being chased by an angry taxi driver who didn’t get paid for the hour’s drive that should have taken 20 minutes. One casual night in a cafe turned from backgammon and tea to a police-monitored scene. At this back-alley cafe on a warm Egyptian night, I witnessed the most simple and effective fight I’ve ever seen.

Anything goes in Cairo – even welding without a mask

Egyptians are friendly people. True, you’ll get your bad guy here and there, but overall, they’re nice (just like in most places in the world). They are also very considerate. As we saw from the recent protests, they did their business, peacefully accomplished what they set out to do and once they were done, they went back to clean up. The worst thing that happened was getting stares and a few catcalls, but when you have blonde hair and blue eyes in Egypt, it’s inevitable. Outside the tourist areas, I never felt unsafe, which made my cafe fight experience even more memorable.

Shisha for sale

One night, I decided to head to a back-alley cafe with two friends. We had our usual tea or juice, shisha (flavored tobacco water pipe) and got a table and backgammon board. Everything was as usual. The alley was flanked with tables and men playing backgammon or other games, drinking tea and smoking shisha. It was a warm night and the boys were running fresh coals to shishas. Completely normal.

Since we were three people, we were rotating who sat out of the backgammon game. I remember it was my turn. My friends were sitting on the wall side and I was on the aisle side. Since it was an alley, people were passing by me regularly. Suddenly, I heard a commotion behind me. As I turned around, I saw a man coming up from the ground, covering his eyes with both hands and yelling at another man. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I knew it wasn’t good. Some punches were thrown between the two men and I moved my chair closer to my friends.

From what I could see, I assumed the man had collided with one of the fast-walking coal boys and somehow hot coals had found their way into the man’s eyes. At the moment there was no other explanation. A mistake that didn’t deserve that much yelling, in my opinion. I still wasn’t sure what the other man’s role was, but I figured he was just the scapegoat.

Two people and groceries on a scooter in Cairo traffic

Eventually, other people came in to ease the tension and take both men outside the cafe. Everything returned back to normal and we began surveying the scene, trying to play detective in a country where we didn’t speak the language. Between the three of us and our vantage points, we came to the conclusion that this was the most intelligent fight any of us had ever seen.

We realized that one man had come walking toward me and met the other man just to my back. When they approached, the man took his fist and threw a punch. But it wasn’t just a punch. The Einstein of Egyptian fighters had cleverly taken a handful of chili powder and thrown it in the guy’s face. While the man was stunned by the punch, he was also momentarily blinded by the stinging effects of the chili powder. Literally brought to his knees. How do you say ‘smart’ in Egyptian Arabic?

This is the single most effective punch I’ve ever seen thrown. Besides in the movies, how often is an opponent crippled with just one punch?

Huge, crazy Cairo from the Citadel

We later found out that the men had a quarrel earlier that day and this was a surprise revenge punch. The police were called and patrolled the cafe the rest of the night.

Some people carry mace for protection. Some have a small knife in their pocket. Others have a horn or whistle. But I strongly believe chili powder works better than them all. It’s cheaper, easier to find, easier to carry and so easy to use. If I were to fight someone, this would be my weapon of choice!

Don’t mess with me, man! I have chili powder!

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