Monday, June 05, 2006

Driving in the heat

The first thing I noticed as I got out of the airport was the heat. It caused fear. At 8 p.m., as I got into the taxi, I began to sweat. Pulling away from the airport, I discovered that having the window down made little difference. There seemed to be two choices: hot still air with the windows up, or hot moving air with the windows down. I thought it was a universal law that the windows down ensured some measure of comfort. The laws of physics (or is it chemistry? biology? In college, I was not one for science) were apparently different in Cairo than on the left side of the Atlantic. More than anything, the heat at 8 pm made me fear what the heat would be like at 2 pm. I tried to convey this to my taxi driver. Apparently my Arabic needs work.

Quickly, my mind wondered to a different topic - death. As in, the likelihood of death on every drive in Cairo. The 50 mile an hour speed limit is more a point of reference (kind of like the zero year in the Christian calendar) than a law here. The white lines dividing lanes are even less important. At night, headlights are turned off so that they can be flashed at intersections to warn other drivers. Horns blare constantly. Whether or not the cars have turn signals is unclear, but they certainly are never used. According to the woman sitting next to me on my flight - a project manager for USAID - 40,000 people die a year in car accidents in Cairo alone. The notion of slowing down before a blind ally is foreign here. So is seatbelt use. As my taxi driver careened along the highway, cutting in and out of traffic, using his horn with abandon, he was fatalistic about his profession. "Driving is crazy here," he said. I told him how people say the same thing about New York, but that those people needed to travel to Cairo to learn what crazy really was.


At 7:26 AM, Blogger Jacob said...

I know exactly what you mean about insane drivers.

When I was in Morroco I went on a trip into the mountains with a group of foreigners. Our driver was like something out of Clockwork Orange. He kept crossing the double yellow line on these completely blind hairpin turn. He seemed oblivious to the steep cliff six inches to our right. We spent the entire trip asking him to slow down and debating whether to force him to let one of us (non-Arabic speakers) drive. We should have.

At 7:46 AM, Blogger Jacob said...

Did they not drive like this in Syria?

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Nora said...

Just read this post.
When driving in Egypt there are 2 things you should always remember:
1. Traffic laws are just suggestions
2. It is never too late to change your mind.

Other than that.. driving is crazy but there is some underlying system. you get used to it after a while. I used to hate it.. now it is just a big game to me.
I once heard that Egypt brought in a group of Japanese experts to try to help regulate the traffic system and to try to create a more efficient system. The Japanese stayed herre for 6 months and then reported that there is a system. That they could not figure it out, and that changing anything in this system will cause more harm than good. I am not sure if it is true.. but I believe it could be.
Hey, did you know a lot of Egyptians at Swartmore? My cousin goes there....


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