9.04.2008

Terrifying Taxis

I'm used to taking public transportation because of going to school in DC. Metro, Metrobus, I've got that down. No problem. On a few occasions I have had to call for taxis, which was never a huge problem.

Here in Cairo my only transportation option is taking a taxi to wherever I need to go. Taxis in Egypt come in two types: City Cabs, which are expensive, air-conditioned, and need to be called at least twenty minutes in advance, and black and white taxis, which are cheap. Of course, as a college student trying to stretch every piaster possible for travel money, I take the black and white taxis

Black and white taxis are everywhere in Cairo. My guess would be that the majority are vintage 50s, 60s, and 70s vehicles. There are always a few taxis broken down on the side of the road with the drivers fiddling with the engine, and there is usually always a taxi around waiting to be hailed. The taxi drivers only speak Arabic, so taking one is always an adventure.

The first time I took a black and white cab was with my survival Arabic teacher Mr. Youssef and fellow classmate. We were on our way to an Egyptian restaurant to practice our am’iya skills and eat falafel (known in am’iya as ta’amiya).

Mr. Youssef hailed our taxis while we were standing in the street on the side of the busiest square in all of Cairo, Midan Tahrir. We got into the taxi and off we went, careening through traffic. We ended up getting lost somewhere in a neighborhood on the right of Ramses Square, with Mr. Youssef and the taxi driver shouting out the cab doors to people on the street, asking for directions.

We ended up in tiny crowded alley ways, trying to get back to a main street. The taxi driver jammed our taxi into impossibly tiny spaces, reversed erratically, and at one point, we hit a boy. He was crossing the street that we were turning into, and he kind of just bounced off the hood, cursed at us, and walked away. It was at this point that I started panicking just a little bit.

I realized that I absorbed more of the survival Arabic lessons than I thought I did when the taxi reversed around a corner at what felt like a rapid rate of speed but was probably 5 mph. I actually (without realizing it) started shrieking stop! stop! in am’iya. Of course he didn’t listen to me and we actually didn’t hit the parked car behind us, but…hey. I know the word for stop quite well!

We made our way back onto a busy street. In order to drive in Cairo I would have to forget everything I learned in driver’s ed and think about traffic in this way: the best analogy that works is that driving in Cairo is like bumper cars, with the object being not to collide, exactly. People shove their vehicles every which way, use every possible inch of space in the road, and generally terrify me every time I’m in a moving vehicle.

My taxi then proceeded to slam into a scooter that was forcing its way into the flow of traffic from a side street that was merging (for lack of a better term) onto the main street.

The scooter driver was furious. He raised his fist and shouted and then proceeded to maneuver his scooter behind the taxi, where he kicked my passenger door as hard as he could while screaming obscenities in Arabic, while traffic was still moving. It was an amazing feat. My classmate and I spent the entirety of this ride drop jawed, while Mr. Youssef kept repeating “Maalish! Maalish! This happen every day in Cairo! Maalish!”

Maalish is the Egyptian equivalent of “Its okay, don’t worry about it.” I hear (and use) Maalish quite a bit. We finally arrived at our destination, twenty minutes after everyone else. The food was good.

Luckily the craziness of my first taxi ride has not been equaled by any of the other taxi rides I’ve taken. Unfortunately though, the hotel where the girls are staying doesn’t seem to be well known by the taxi drivers. Our taxis have gotten lost any number of times. We lean in the window, tell them where we’re going, and they say they know where it is…but no one does. Yesterday we ended up in Northern Heliopolis when we live in Southern Heliopolis, and the cabby just rode around and around in circles until he finally stopped to ask for directions. We made five u-turns. It was absolutely ridiculous!

In other news: they installed air conditioning in our study lounges today, boys are now apparently allowed through the gates of our hotel (they were previously turned away by our guards), and supposedly the internet will be faster by the time I get back from Alexandria. Unfortunately, there was an orientation held today on the new campus and it is so far from being finished that the first couple of weeks of classes are really going to be interesting. I’ll have to see it for myself, but it doesn’t sound good.

1 comment:

John A. Ellis said...

Holla! Just found out about this "Egypt" blog today. Sounds like quite an adventure! And yes, it's 3:50 AM here.... just got back from an evening / morning run. Pictures, please?