Thursday, May 14, 2009

A tale of three taxis

Ma'adi is a quiet little suburb of Cairo, built years ago by either Australians or New Zealanders, I think during World War II. Brigham Young could have laid out the city—the streets are numbered somewhat logically and form a nice grid. Interlocking tropical trees often grow directly out of the sidewalks and cover its narrow streets. Ordinarily, traffic in the inner grid flows smoothly. The only cars that travel through are residents leaving or returning home. Ma'adi really is quite calm and relatively well organized.

Nice and calm, that is, until you get to the main roads around the perimeter of the grid, which are hardly wider than the inner roads. Two of the primary streets in Ma'adi, Roads 9 and 87, are barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic, yet they carry tons of cars daily. To make matters worse, one of the main, um, bus "stations" is at the beginning of Road 87 and is nothing more than a wide area of asphalt, probably formerly used as an open air market, now surrounded by a snack food kiosk, a small grocery store, a produce stand, and a butcher. Dilapidated microbuses and large private coaches compete for parking spaces while swarms of black and white taxis dart through. The larger vehicles often attempt wide 7-point turns, even when the little square is packed with 8–10 busses.

It is here, at the makeshift bus station, that I take the bus to and from AUC every day. And it is here that I've been hit by speeding taxis three times in the past week.

Taxi #1—Thursday, May 7: The AUC minibus pulled up to the square at around 9:00 PM, having left the distant campus 45 minutes earlier. I got off the bus in the dark, but the streetlights illuminated the bus station square. It was empty—the grocery store and butcher had already closed. The bus had parked ten feet away from the sidewalk in front of the snack kiosk. As I started walking up Road 87 towards the mosque near our house, a headlight-less taxi roared through the square. Instead of driving straight through the middle of the square, which was empty of all traffic, the taxi decided to drive through the 10 foot corridor between the AUC bus and the sidewalk—right where I was walking. The taxi clipped my right arm and shoulder and would have knocked me to the ground had some elderly pedestrian not have been following me. I fell into him as the perpetrator slammed on his brakes. I got up and walked over to the car, and shaking with shock and rage, I debated what to say; do I whip out the few Arabic profanities I know? insult him? find the police?

When I was within a few yards of the taxi the driver noticed that I was walking. He waved his hand dismissively out his rolled-down window and declared loudly in broken English, "No worry. No problem." He sped away into the night.

Taxi #2—Wednesday, May 13: I left our apartment at 9:21 AM and rushed to the square to catch the 9:25 bus to AUC. I carefully crossed Road 87, since a particularly busy morning in the bus square had forced my bus out on to the road; there were something like 12 busses mired in the chaotic traffic of the square. I dismissed the usual beggar woman as I walked along the sidewalk that had until only recently been a trash heap. A few weeks ago the Ma'adi sanitation workers cleaned it up and installed public garbage cans, creating one of the wider sidewalks in the neighborhood.

As I stepped off the sidewalk at a perpendicular road, a mere fifteen feet from the door of the bus, a taxi barreled towards me out of nowhere and, once again, clipped my right side as he turned on to the side street. It threw me off balance, but fortunately I didn't fall. The offending taxi slowed down, looked back, waved dismissively, and sped off, leaving me, once again, in shock. I was infuriated with taxi drivers whose apparent goal in life was to kill me, and promptly tweeted about it.

By the time I got to school I had calmed down and felt more forgiving towards taxi drivers and Cairo traffic in general. That evening, Nancy, Rachel, and I went out to buy some yogurt for Rachel (who has been suffering yogurt withdrawals since we ran out two days ago) and stopped at Baskin Robbins for ice cream on our way home. Traffic was calm, there were no near misses, and life was good; birds were singing, the grass was green, and the sky was blue—all was well with the world.

Taxi #3—Thursday, May 14: Even though Rachel woke up at 5 AM and we had all finished breakfast by 9:00, I still managed to leave the apartment late—9:22 this time. Once again I hurried down to Road 87 and the bus square. This time, because of some chaotic bus maneuvering, traffic was backed up for three or four blocks—a jam so bad that the police got involved. The AUC bus had once again been pushed outside of the actual square and was parked along the side of Road 87, contributing to the blocked traffic. While traffic leading in to the bus square was blocked, the stream of traffic leading away was nonexistent, creating an open lane.

I crossed through the one lane of paralyzed traffic and as I began to cross the empty lane, a taxi, apparently sick of waiting in the standstill, pulled out of the traffic and headed down the opposite lane of traffic at full speed, looking backwards as he drove. I screamed at the oncoming car and tried to move out of the way as fast as possible. Fortunately my yelling worked—he turned around to look where he was driving and slammed on his brakes.

Because he wasn't able to come to a complete stop in time and I couldn't get out of the way fast enough, he ended up hitting me head on at 5 MPH. He then started to yell at me, waving his arms furiously, as if it was my fault I was in his way when he wasn't looking and breaking the law. Before I could respond, the AUC bus started to pull out, probably at the behest of the policeman who saw my accident. I ran towards the bus, shaking with shock again, and got on.

Ironically, because of the taxi driver's cretinous idea to drive at full speed in the opposite lane, he ended up face to face with my departing bus. We couldn't go until he merged back into the immobile lane of traffic, so after a few more minutes of traffic wrangling, the police directed him back into his lane and we headed out. The taxi probably moved ahead 5 places in line, hitting a pedestrian in the process. Good for him.

Thus, in the span of a week, I was hit by three different taxis in the calm tropical paradise of Ma'adi. Like I mentioned yesterday, I feel like I have a target on my chest that says "Hit me!"

Dear taxi drivers—there is no sign. Please stop hitting me. Thank you.


  1. Traffic here is usually pretty efficient--we rarely see traffic jams, except at bus stops or when an accident is involved--but it is certainly not very safe, what with how they enforce no rules and have like 2 traffic lights in all of Cairo. :)

    Andrew's lucky to have been hit so few times. I hope he stops, though. It's a nasty habit!

  2. PS, Maadi was designed in 1905 by Canadian Captain Alexander J. Adams.

    New Zealand trained some troops around Wadi Degla during WWII.

  3. Brigham Young couldn't have designed these streets, because they aren't wide enough to turn your carriage around in without backing up. You should see the size of the streets in Kevan's parents' neighborhood. I think 4 Maadi streets could fit in one. But hooray for the grid system! Too bad they screwed it up in every other way :)

    Maybe you could just change your "Go Ahead and Ask Me" shirt to "Go Ahead and Hit Me." Seems more practical these days.

    P.S. Good job not dying or anything!

  4. Andrew, your near misses are making me very nervous. Please, please be careful. Having said that, I realize that you ARE being careful. So I extend my plea to taxi drivers! But they probably aren't listening...

  5. Hurrah for Middle Eastern taxis!!!! Turkey wasn't nearly so bad though. They were just annoying, but they weren't constantly hitting pedestrians...