The Middle East @ Work

It’s just exhaust–ing

Meaw Mar 3, 2008

Cairo is such a bittersweet city. When the call to prayer echoes through the city five times a day, it’s like a siren’s song. You have to stop what you’re doing and listen. Strolling the banks of the Nile at night or taking a felucca out on the water is a sublime experience. Watching the sun set over the mosques is truly breathtaking.

Which brings me to the traffic. The gasoline fumes will take your breath away for sure. You might as well walk around inhaling a portable exhaust pipe. And riding in a car (FORGET driving) is like being on a rollercoaster you can’t wait to get off. “Please keep your hands inside the car at all times. You might lose one.”

Cars whip by you with inches to spare. People are constantly knocking each other’s side mirrors. There are no lanes. There are no rules. U-turn in the middle of a pedestrian cross-walk? No problem. Squeeze into a space the size of a matchbox car? Better get there quick or someone else will.

Our driver is a great driver…. in Cairo. In the US, he’d be thrown in jail. I’ve surmised that the key is to be as aggressive as possible and apologize later. In fact, don’t even apologize. Just ram forward into the next glob of traffic and slam on the brakes. Someone else will cut you off and even things out. Use the horn like it’s your gas pedal. Meep meep-meep. Meep-meep-meep!

If you’re on foot – pray first. Then, be aggressive, stick out your hand and move swiftly. Don’t get caught like a deer in the headlights. Chances are, the driver isn’t using them.

And after a harrowing day on the roads, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll get stuck in a mash-up of cars, buses and trucks where five “lanes” converge onto a side street the size of a bowling lane….

And a donkey will trot right past you.

Yes, a donkey. What are you supposed to do? Give him an obscene gesture?

Scott Jagow

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