Thursday, September 25, 2008

Like a bird flying into a clean window

Andrew and I babysat for Sara and Kevan while they went up to Alexandria to pick up their car. They came back this afternoon and offered to take us anywhere we wanted. Andrew suggested we go to Lybia, but instead we settled for a trip to Carrefour. We still have a number of things we need to live comfortably—like more than 2 forks and enough towels to have company over. It was nice to get out there and do some one-stop shopping. Carrefour is like a French Wal-Mart; they have everything there.

While technically still in Maadi, Carrefour is really out in the boonies, involving a wild car ride. The traffic here terrifies me—it’s much like Jordan, only worse because there are so many more people here. There are few traffic lights (I’ve seen two so far) and it doesn’t matter because people don’t follow the ones they have. They use a lot of traffic circles and just push their way through.

Their rules seem to be summed up in one simple maxim: There are no rules.

Basically every intersection is an unmarked all-ways yield.

That said, they do have a few unwritten rules:
1) The first person to honk at an intersection goes first –or– the first person to stick their front end out in the intersection goes first.
2) Stop or slow down frequently for no apparent reason.
3) There are no “lanes,” just “directions” (to quote Sasha, my Russian host-father).

Other places enforce rules, but here they seem to be able to fudge whatever rules they like, even the direction of traffic on a divided highway. In the guide that AUC published for its international students it states,

“Traffic is crazy! Be extremely careful when crossing the road. It is not because a street circulates in one way, that a car will not come the other way!” [sic]

And Andrew has actually been on an AUC bus that dared to leave AUC by getting on the Autostrad via the exit, honking angrily at the rightfully oncoming traffic while it careened on down the wrong side of a major highway until it could use [what in America would be] an “emergency vehicles only” turn around place and switch back to the right side of the road.

Suffice it to say, the traffic here terrifies me. On our ride out to Carrefour, Kevan mentioned that he wouldn’t be surprised if a little delivery guy on a moped crashed into the side of his car one day *ping!* like a bird flying into a clean window.

We all laughed about it because the delivery guys are rather crazy. They zoom around, half of them without helmets, dodging trucks and buses and zipping around cars and trying to cut them off so that they can pull ahead.

I’m not laughing about it now. Instead I find myself sick to my stomach at the thought of it.

We were out walking during the Call to Prayer signaling the start of Iftar. We currently were laughing at the muezzin. Seriously, the muezzin at the police station mosque needs to go back to Call to Prayer 101. Instead of a mystical, ghostly sound, his Call to Prayer comes out a yelping mess. He’s completely tone deaf and when he tried to put some vibrato in his voice cracked, big time. It sounds awful.

His is the only call that Rachel is afraid of. She clings to me whenever she hears him starting up.

We were on our way to Metro to pick up some oatmeal (we forgot that at Carrefour and for some reason felt that we needed it) and were just coming out from behind the police station, heading up Road 81 towards Road 10.

There was a big gathering of people in the middle of the intersection, but we figured it was just some Iftar gathering since we’d passed a few places where people were gathered already, sharing juice and things. I’m not even sure why we thought that or when we realized it wasn’t a happy gathering, but things slowly started to sink in.

The black SUV with the side all smashed in.

The moped mangled and discarded off to the side.

The mob of people surrounding the victim, lying on the ground, writhing in pain, wailing for help, blood oozing from his fractured skull…like a bird flying *ping!* into a clean window.

I just about fainted, or threw up, or both.

Somehow we managed to keep walking. There was nothing we could do. I know first aid, but seriously…what was I going to do? I couldn’t think of anything to do, so I did nothing. Mob mentality had completely taken over and I rationalized that someone would have done something by now…

Solemnly we went inside the store to purchase our oatmeal. All the while I was wondering if anyone really had done anything and what I could or would do if they hadn’t.

Two minutes later we were back outside again. The crowd had dispersed some and an ambulance was just pulling away. Thank goodness someone in that thronging mob had escaped the “mob mentality” enough to make a phone call. It was probably the lady that he hit—she was in Metro on the phone with the police and talking frantically with the security guards. Poor lady…even poorer delivery guy.

I’m not sure how this is going to affect my street-crossing methods since I was too nervous about crossing the street before. I’ll have to look right and left and right again, and then left and right and left again. It was traumatizing and I didn’t even see it happen…

I think I can now add to my list of future campaigns. Already I mentioned the need for anti-smoking and anti-sodium campaigns. Now we need a stop-sign campaign. Really, if we could get Egyptian drivers to adopt a four-way stop mentality or even to install a few more traffic lights in place of their unmarked yields, I think we’d all be better off.


  1. Yuck. That makes me feel sick just thinking about it. I have a hard, hard time with illness and death and pain and injuries ever since, well, yeah. Ever since.

  2. I love Carrefour! That place was my salvation when I lived in China. I always find it funny that most people in the US have never heard of it but that outside of the US it's everywhere!