Ok, I hope I can remember with the vivid detail needed to get you back in the car with Mohammad Saheed, I believe I left you as we arrived at the car and he had to get warmed up to the outrageous idea of my sitting in the front seat. It wasn’t as though he was offended, it is as though he couldn’t imagine why I would want to do that, but you know, I wanted to see everything and talk to him about what I saw. I sort of forgot we can’t communicate.
Once that was settled and he loaded my baggage he wanted to take a selfie, I smiled, he snapped and showed me the result. Two smiling faces – one brown, one gussuk white. He grinned and said, God is Good, yes? I agreed God IS Good. That seemed to break some barrier and after that we were buds.
Getting out of the airport could have been anywhere in the world, including Anchorage airport on a warm dark night (if we had any of those) But then, we entered traffic. I don’t remember the first few minutes as we were trying to find out communication style since language was not a big winner, however it didn’t stop us from talking. He told me, “I am English” I smiled and nodded but inside I thought, we, maybe but six generations back on your father’s side, cause dude, I’m not buying that.
He did had a vast vocabulary of English words compared to my 2 and he asked if I wanted coffee or tea. I looked around in the cab and wondered if he had it stowed under the seat, sort of like the airplane snacks on a twin otter heading to Kenai. But, as I looked around he pointed and said No,no, here and pointed to some sort of cafe along the road. That was a new experience for me, to have a cabbie want to stop for tea. Then we passed a McDonalds, I just shook my head which caused him to ask, “no like?” to which I gave my firm response. So, he was certainly up on his interactive polite English, this gave me the ridiculous sense of security to ask a question way outside those perimeters. So, what is the main industry in Cairo? It took 4x as long to convince him it didn’t matter if he answered my question than it took to ask that dumbo question, but he was never really convinced.
He cogitated a while and then said with a bright smile, My sister is English. I thought, hmmmm, same great,does great, great, great grandfather or she lives in England maybe? I smiled and nodded, and he was off. You know that text and drive thing we worry about, yeah, not so much here. While driving, though not too fast, because there was million cars around us honking and weaving in and out. He simply picked up his phone and with both hands made contact with his sister. They had a stimulating conversation in Egyptian or Arabic while I watched out the window at the battling matchbox cars, three wheeled mini trucks, and motorbikes of every description vying for a better position in crawling traffic. Then he hands me his phone. My Sister! Uh, not so much, his BROTHER, who did speak English quite well. He explained his brother’s English was not so good, I told him is personality was brilliant. He asked if I wanted to stop for tea or coffee, I confirmed my negative (I really wanted to sleep very very soon.) He wanted to know if there was anything else I needed and we signed off. Mohammed’s concern for my comfort seemed to know no bounds.
As we crawled through the typical neighborhoods surrounding an airport in a major city I got a view of Egyptian poverty….it is measured on a scale I have not seen before. I was stunned by the number of billboards and business name in English, even the Arabic signs had English translations. Not at all what I expected.
I would be lying if I said I had no apprehension before my trip, not a lot, but some. The last President was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and they still line up and shoot Coptic Christians on a regular basis here, even though you don’t read about it on FB. SO, seeing so much English began a new thought process for me.
Signage was a passive observation, traffic was much more of a visual imperative. Cars passes so close to us on either side I thought we would certainly have a collision, the use of directional signals was random and not really predictive of future behavior. They cut in front, ran alongside, just barely not crunching your fender, changed lanes continuously, honked endlessly, all while motor bikes darted around in and out, tooting intermittently, or as one fellow did, simply tooted continuously. I guess he may have been driving more aggressively than most.
This was, of course, on the freeway, a 3 lane super highway. Their genius concept for increasing roadways has nothing to do concrete, asphalt, road closures or construction. By simply having the two innermost vehicles at any moment, simply each staddle a broken white line they instantly created 2 additional lanes, one on on either side of them. Bingo, a four lane highway made from a three. Of course, staying in your newly created lane was obviously not adequate to speed up traffic so that is where the jockeying comes into play. I did notice there was zero smack talk, road rage or instructive hand gestures used during this madness on the highway. Apparently, a polite society.
When we finally left the superhighway we began our journey though the streets of Cairo to Garden City where Mona lives. This is where the madness began. There were people EVERYWHERE! They were walking in and out of traffic with perfect calm, no hesitation, not even eye contact with the drivers. Crossing the street where EVER they wanted, crossing several rows of cars, I hesitate to say lanes because none of that applied here in downtown, Children walked into traffic, teenagers in groups, single men, a couple of hajib-ed women, old men….dogs seemed to hover near the edges.
Cars kept driving, or rather creeping along, people kept walking, I guess you could say that the pedestrians had the right of way, but it had a unique look. No one got hit, or bumped and no pedestrian seemed upset though the closeness of the calls was hair raising. All this amidst the honking, weaving, and jocking. We came so close to hitting a man once the headlight was illuminating the weave of his galabaya, I froze like the deer in the headlights and the pedestrian seeing my face gave me a smile. I nearly fainted.
I think that the best I can give you is for you to imagine that you have 1,000 mini matchbox cars in a box. You shake them up and throw them into your bathtub, then sprinkle in 350 mini people, 42 toy soldiers and add honking sounds in the background, then sift a pound of flour into the air that somehow hovers. That is a pretty close substitute.