Two years ago I visited Alexandria for the first time. It wasn’t the most opportune time to visit as it was shortly after the arab spring and we appeared to be the only Europeans walking the streets but the levels of harassment were the worst that I have ever experienced and it did leave a sour taste. I had come prepared to give generously and to support local businesses but-after we had been ripped off by a taxi driver and been tugged and pulled to ridiculous levels my tolerance levels were seriously diminished. It was a thoroughly disappointing day because I had been really looking forward to seeing a city that had once been a centre of enlightenment-the city with the first great library, the astonishing Pharos lighthouse, spectacular art and culture.
After the visit I found myself reflecting on how extreme poverty erodes self esteem and leads to the kind of begging that has no dignity and demeans both the beggar and the person being asked to help-and then i wrote this poem.
On foot in Alexandria
I took my imagination for a walk
Unwisely from the port, the teeming streets
Were like my head, a restless cacophony.
Poverty screamed like a coyote
Trash gathered flies where babies crawled
To play in gutters, does anybody care
For children, in this wreckage of a city?
Torn awnings flapped for five minutes of repair.
I struggled to make a connection.
The first city of civilization
Where the Pharos dipped its light to show
All the wonders of the age, its library
A golden beacon of enlightenment?
An Arab guy was tugging at my sleeve
Urgently, clearly frustrated with me
‘This is Alex’ he said, ‘you need a taxi’