How Does The Rhythm of a City Feel at 5AM?


This post was contributed by  Malak Alawy.

Forty-eight hours after arriving in Rome to embark on my journey of a summer semester abroad, Reem, my friend and roommate and I are cautiously up at 5am, trying to find our way to the Termini for a train that leaves to Bari at 7am. The sun was up at 5am but breathing and living structures – namely humans and animals – were not. Back in Cairo, the call for prayer at 4:30am is the official trademark that a new day has begun. I look at Reem and remind her of how at 5am you’ll find 24/7 pharmacies, McDonalds and Pizza Hut, a small local café or two, a few people on the street and a sense of calmness and beauty that Egyptians enjoy while they can because they experience this moment a handful of times a year, given the fact that Egyptians, and I mean all of them, are not early risers.


Does every city have a different aspect at 5am or does the whole world unite in similar behaviors at that time of the day?

I spent some time day-dreaming (or maybe just half dreaming  since I wasn’t fully awake yet), wondering about how cities look at 5am. The calmness that infects every single one is similar, yet each city’s personality is shown in a different way during that time of the day. It almost feels like you can talk to the city. If you listen enough, you might find a response in its beauty, ruins, sophistication – you name it. Or maybe you just listen to yourself better as the level of melatonin rises in your brain and your aching body longs for your bed. As my journey in Italy extended to Barcelona, later in France and then Berlin, coincidentally I got to encounter 5am in every single one of them and feel it. Truth be told, there’s nothing like 5am in Cairo. There’s almost rhythm to the behavior in spite of the different reasons as to why someone would be awake at 5am.

When I think of 5am in Cairo, I see downtown, somewhere that is far away from where I live but I have a lot of admiration for. I see the contrast between streets that are almost as bright and as busy as Times Square completely shut down, allowing one to see better the old French architecture of buildings that stand above them. I see the regulars who wake up every day to go to the mosque for prayer. I see the wanders and overthinkers who decided to hit the streets looking for answers or taking a break. I see those who are coming back from a party so drunk and tired looking for some fast food to eat. At the end of that thought, I dozed off on the train before being able to fully answer this question: does every city have a different aspect at 5am or does the whole world unite in similar behaviors at that time of the day?

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