The Cairo Commute
Everyone suffers at the mercy of Cairo's chaotic and inexplicable traffic problems, but Sally Sampson's observations might help it go just a little smoother...
Like most of you, I spend what feels like half my life stuck in Cairo traffic or Cairo-fucking-traffic, as I often lovingly refer to it. And even though, I try to find rhyme and/or reason as to why the traffic in this city is the way it is (i.e. hopeless), more often than not, I just resign myself to the status quo of the situation and sing any Lana Del Ray song in my head, because, at least that way, my blatant and unabashed misery has a suitable soundtrack to accompany it.
I’m not alone in this misery, I’m certain! I’m sure you too, if you have the slightest hint of brainwaves, have realised that traffic in the lovely city of Cairo can only be likened to either a very big (and super unfunny) practical joke or a real-life video game and, in either case, it’s not a consolation! In fact, I think every resident of Cairo should be given a medal of bravery and honour for daring to step out of their doors in the first place, when they know that every time they do so, they will face an unofficial warzone, jam-packed with cars, taxis, microbuses, big-ass public buses, trucks, lorries, tuk-tuks, random pedestrians and donkey carts, being steered by young boys waiting for puberty to hit them before any of the listed vehicles do.
Yes, indeed, the congested roads of Cairo can really mess with you if you don’t have a sense of humour. Oh, and if you desperately have to pee. Being of the female sex, this can be a particularly challenging part of journeying through traffic, if I do say so myself, since pissing on the side of the road or in a bottle isn’t really an option when you’re, for example, stuck on the Mehwar!
Luckily though, I do have a sense of humour (or at least I like to think so) and I’ve spent this last week on the roads productively compiling a list of some of the distinguishing characteristics of Cairo traffic which constantly and without fail both amaze and baffle me. And naturally, I thought I’d share my findings with you:
No one gives a rats-ass about Emergency Services vehicles being stuck in traffic.
Egyptian drivers adopt a very simple philosophy when it comes to this particular dilemma. The philosophy is known as ‘fuck it’! You know you’re in Cairo when an ambulance has its sirens on, deafening everyone within a one hundred metre radius and practically begging people to get out of the way, and not a single car fucking budges. I mean it’s pretty awful if you think about it…but what I find fairly amusing is the plethora and variation of excuses used by drivers to justify their actions, or inaction should I say…
(Looking into the rear-view mirror and shouting inexplicably loudly, deafening the passengers in their own car) “Where do you want me to go? You want me to jump on top of the car in front of me. You’re not the only one that needs to get somewhere you know!”
And my favourite of all time:
“There’s probably no one sick in there! They’re just using the siren to get through traffic quicker!”
That particular justification is often uttered and backed with mind-boggling confidence, even though it’s such an obvious assumption! I wouldn’t suggest you try to explain that to whoever is driving the car though; that sort of reasoning requires a level of brainpower that many drivers often can’t really spare because they’re expending far too much energy as it is moving two inches, every five minutes in traffic so it’s probably best not to stress them out. So yeah, fuck it!
There are always at any time a group of guys, sitting huddled together on the back of a truck staring directly into your car.
These guys genuinely look like convicts that have just been rescued from a prison in Siberia. There are usually about six of them, and they tend to be wearing most of what they own, like they have no wardrobes to store their shit in. The majority of these convicts also have never come into contact with neither hairbrush nor razor and tend to creepily stare at you! It’s almost like they’re playing a game to see who will blink first. I always blink first to try to deter them, but I’ve found that doesn’t really work. In fact, it tends to encourage them! Not blinking also encourages them, so, ultimately, it’s a lose-lose situation.
On the subject of staring…if a police or army truck is driving past and in the car, there happens to be a female either driving or in the passenger’s seat…well it can get ‘interesting’.
It’s truly another very interesting (and when I say interesting, I mean fucking weird!) aspect of being a female on the roads of Cairo, because you might as well have Bigfoot or a Unicorn riding in the car with you, judging by all the wide-eyed gaping faces!
To be on the receiving end of these guys’ staring problem is nothing short of seriously creepy! I mean, imagine you’re driving through the streets, just praying that you’ll be able to get through the traffic to reach your destination, when all of a sudden, a group of at least 20 men, stop unanimously to gawk at you as if on command or under a spell! Or as if you’re being displayed in a window in the red-light district with your tits out!!
And there is the always the occasional nasty officer/soldier that tries to wink slyly in your direction (this is the smooth one of the lot), but for the most part, the rest of the dudes tend to give up their lower jaws to the pulls of gravity as all the blood rushes from their brains and into their lower halves. Their eyeballs also tend to bulge ever so slightly out of their sockets...possibly as a result of an invisible foot kicking them in the testicles. Or at least that’s what I tell myself in an attempt to maintain my sanity.
There is always a bumper sticker technically written in English, but which means something else entirely or absolutely nothing at all!!
This is a genuine phenomenon and it is often the best killer of time! Fuck Sudoku, because if you sit there and try to work out what some of the bizarre nonsensical shit that is pasted on the back of some of the vehicles on the road means, you will be laughing so hard that you won’t worry about traffic not having budged for the last four and a half hours. And you can do everything, including translate the text, word for word, into Arabic to try and understand what the intended meaning is, and still be completely stumped!
I mean what exactly does ‘No Job, No Money, No Love, No Rules’ boast? Because I know (and you know) that whoever posted it thought it was some seriously cool anarchist motto that was going to shake shit up! But what it actually says is: I have no life and I’m fucking oblivious to that!
Similarly, the ‘Fuck women, Fuck rules, Fuck this, Fuck that…Just live’ or whatever that seems to be circulating these days…it just screams mental illness, doesn’t t? I hope that a ‘Get Therapy’ pamphlet is given out for free with every one of those that is sold.
And there are more than enough meaningless bumper stickers to go round…try it some time! It’ll make your commute a far more pleasurable feat.
Every microbus seems to have at least two ‘Baby on Board’ signs stuck on the windows while every big truck/lorry sports the sign ‘King of the Road’/’King of the Roud’/ ‘King of the rood’.
I’ll never understand why this is….maybe they’re in a union, or there’s microbus/truck driver secret fight club thing going on and they’ve adopted those stickers as their logos! Still…’Baby On Board’ doesn’t exactly scream ‘hardcore’ does it?
Drivers on the roads do what I call the ‘talking hand puppet’ gesture to signal that there is speed detection radar on the roads.
To accurately do this gesture, you need to put your hand up as if you are going to prepare a puppet show for the cars coming in the opposite direction. You then go on to stick your hand out the window and open your hand and close it several times to signify that people driving too fast in the other lane are about to miss out on the spectacle if they don’t slow down.
Similarly, beeping is its own language. I think the rule is you can beep as much as you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, unless you’re about crash because no one is going to take you seriously and will think that you’re just taking the piss.
“Where do you want me to go? You want me to jump on top of the car in front of me? You’re not the only one that needs to get somewhere you know! There’s probably nothing wrong; he just wants to get through the traffic quicker!”
I believe that we, as Cairo commuters, are every sociologist’s (and zoologist’s, I suppose) dream come true because we truly are the manifestation of the urban-jungle! And when it comes to driving and getting to our destinations, we are just as primal as the first cavemen who beat each other to death with clubs, picked their noses and unabashedly scratched their genitals till they bled!
There are countless other semi-optimistic observations I’ve made, of course, (in fact, I could probably fill an encyclopaedia) but I won’t go there…I’ll just leave you to make some of your own. Author Ambrose Bierce said it well when he defined optimism as “the doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly.”
The traffic in Cairo is nothing short of chaotic, but it is a chaotic comedy, so you can get fucked off about it or you can try to see the silver lining.
After all, where else in the world can you witness a truck driver speeding manically down the road whilst simultaneously fervently rinsing the cup he’d been drinking his tea in out the window?
I rest my case.