Now that we've left Egypt, I feel a need to record what we did there so when we look back on our time we'll remember it wasn't all homeschool and sleeping. I'll continue to post to this blog until I catch up to the time we left Cairo in June 2010. Our new blog will pick up from that time forward.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Taxi Ride in Cairo

I have written several times about riding a taxi in Cairo, but can not share enough about what a unique experience it is. Last night I had the opportunity to travel from my office here in Heliopolis through downtown Cairo over to Maadi. I went to spend the evening with the House family where we would have supper and a Family Home Evening. While that was the highlight, truly it was newsworthy to report on the trip itself.
There are several different type of taxis available to take in Cairo. There are newer taxis colored yellow that run off of a meter. These taxis tend to be owned by a company and a a little higher priced. Then there are white taxis with a sign on top indicating they are ready for business. These taxis are usually independently owned, but they are also metered, but not as high of a price as the yellows. Finally, there is the bottom end taxi that most of the folks use on a regular basis. These are a checkered black and white taxi and are usually about 20 years old. The cars have been built and rebuilt over the years, yet are still on the street running. Typically they are driven by old men hunched over the steering wheel with a cigarette hanging on their lower lip and the interior of the car shrouded in smoke and reverberating with the Quran being read from the radio. Yet, despite their differences, they share a common heritage of how they drive. Despite the age, color or car type, the taxi drivers in Cairo share a common personality trait: fearless.
My drive last night started under typical conditions. Dusk was approaching and so the light was decreasing. Traffic began to pick up because I left the office at the close of normal business operations. In discussing with the driver the best route, we decided to take the more picturesque route of Salah Salem. This street works it’s way from Heliopolis to Maadi fairly directly, and passes by some of the more notable sites found in Cairo.
It was a beautiful drive in terms of sites. I enjoyed the sites of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider directly across from the grandstands where Anwar Sadat was assassinated by members of the Islamic Brotherhood some thirty years ago. The Baron Palace was also a beautiful site, despite being closed down several years ago because of young teenagers participating in pagan rituals. Further down the road was the beautiful profile of the Citadel with the Mosque of Mohammed Ali lit up with the purples and whites of reflective lighting. An overlook of the City of the Dead is also one of the highlights of the drive. The avenue itself is also lined with large trees standing as modern pharonic sentinels over the bustling traffic, and provide a sense of peace and decorum amidst the automotive chaos on the streets below them.
All of these things are taken into account as I’m belted in securely and holding onto the crash handle above the door. My driver is smoking his cigarette from his left hand, while fiddling with the radio from his right hand. Meanwhile his eyes are darting back and forth between mirrors, cigarette, radio and me like a hawk soaring above its prey, waiting for the right moment to pounce. The taxi itself must be the prey, because it the right lane or track is always open. He uses his feet to dance a jig between the brake and gas, at times accelerating or braking based on what he sees in front of him. He squeezes between cars like a warm knife through butter, finding holes that weren’t there a moment before. He usesthe resources at hand to indicate his passage: horns, lights, yells, hand gestures, it’s all there. To further complicate or perhaps enhance the pleasure of the ride, I find that we are driving without the lights on. Typically this is considered to save the battery (or perhaps gas). So we only turn them on when finding a utilitious reason – such as signaling to clear the way.
To try and express the utter fear and anxiety associated with driving dark at high rates of speed in heavy traffic is utterly impossible. Perhaps it should be categorized as an extreme sport since the adrenaline rises precipitously whenever one takes a taxi in Cairo. However, at the end of the day, despite all the misgivings, I found myself leaving the House family apartment wondering what my next taxi ride would have in store.