There are certain things that I'll simply never get used to no matter how long I stay in Egypt: the inefficiency; the poor customer service; and, especially, the [anything that has to do with four wheels and a motor].
When I was in college, some of my Southern friends would occasionally comment on how crazy the drivers in New York City are (me included, I assumed). “Silly country boys with your 'hospitality' and dirt roads,” I would think to myself, “learn to drive in a real city!” It wasn't long after moving to Egypt that my urban arrogance came back to bite me.
“Did he just do that?!?”
Driving in Egypt is not “safe.” The modus operandi on the road, so far as I can tell, is to try and out-crazy the drivers on either side of you. It's as if the whole nation learned how to drive from New York cabbies (I know what you're thinking, and shame on you – stop perpetuating the stereotype, people).
As dangerous as the regular drivers are, there's a special level of obscenity reserved for the taxis and dollar cabs (minibuses) here. Since each of these vehicles is seemingly equipped to run on only two speeds – fast and ridiculous – you can imagine the maneuvers that take place…oohhh the maneuvers.
It's not uncommon to see my man in the far right lane cutting across three cars to make a left turn. Nor is it surprising when el hajj going the wrong way down a one-way street makes a u-turn to go the wrong way up the other side. 3aadi ya3ni.
Were that these indiscretions left only the drivers at risk.
Look both ways (and make tawba) before crossing the street
Walking in Egypt is not “safe.” The perils of Egyptian driving, unfortunately, touch pedestrians as well – often, literally. Between the tight roadways and virtually non-existent walkways (sidewalks are for sissy Americans), it's best to, as my high school football coach advised, always keep your head on a swivel. You never know when a car, minibus, big bus, linebacker, or donkey is going to blindside you.
As much as possible, too, one should just pick a side of the street and stay on it. It's either that or engage in a high stakes game of live action Frogger. Here, the notion of pedestrian “right of way” is replaced with “(get) right (the heck out) of (my) way (you #&@!%).”
Despite all these hazards, Egyptians seem to manage just fine. For you non-Egyptians planning to visit Masr, however, here are a few more things to keep in mind for the sake of your safety (and sanity):
- Smoke monsters are not exclusive to “The Island” – they emerge regularly from the 70s and 80s model cars that fill Egypt's roads (emission controls are for sissy Americans).
- Traffic lights and stop signs are more suggestive than anything – a guideline, really. Sort of like “parley.”
- At night, don't assume that just because you don't see any headlights there aren't any cars on the road. What Egyptians lack in driving etiquette, they more than make up for in cat-like night vision. They'll actually flash their brights at you if you have your lights on. (…seriously)
If you have to ask, you're not from around here
“Why do Egyptians honk the horn when there's no one in front of them? And why don't they stay in their lane?!? And for that matter, why do two-lane roadways fit three cars across?!?!?”
These are some of the perplexing questions I often pose to my Egyptian friends and family. To which they shrug and reply, “Because this is Egypt.”
“Silly American with your 'regulations' and efficient highway system,” I imagine they think to themselves when I bring up these grievances, “learn to drive in a real city!”
Fair enough. For my part though, I wonder whether everyone wouldn't be better off if we just gave in to the stereotype and reverted to camel-based transportation. I do hear they get great mileage.
For some more tips on how to get around Egypt (that are a bit less tongue-in-cheek), check out this brief guide.