As the daughter of a doctor, I would venture to say that I feel like 20 percent of our lives are spent commuting. Sometimes mortals like to enrich this transit time by reading, listening to music, or bothering other commuters with forced conversation. In Cairo, however, this is not possible since chance of death or severe injury during transit jumps from 80 percent to 100 percent should one lose focus on self-preservation. Transportation in Cairo will never, ever, be relaxing.
Today I had the pleasure of using three different kinds of transportation, most of which have already been discussed here and yet not exhausted due to the layers and layers of stress and discomfort found in all of them, layers that continue to be peeled back like the proverbial modern Egyptian woman who wears tons of…layers.
Act one: Rebirth on the Metro
Always in a class of its own, my Metro experience today was particularly moving. Switching trains at Sadat in order to head south, I felt my personal will fade away as I was sucked onto the woman’s car in a mass of bodies. While on the train, I was held firmly in place by the bubbly behinds of the ladies in front of and behind me. It was an intimate experience. Between me and the door was a group of perhaps 12 women, women I thought I would either need to squish through or shove aside in order to get out. Apparently there was a third option. As the train reached my stop, I was reborn as we, the mass of woman, formed one being and squeezed ourselves through the aperture of the metro car. To carry the metaphor further, all of us were also hot and sticky as we parted our separate ways. Too much?
Act two: If you can’t see the bones being crushed, do they still make a sound?
After partaking in the most delicious Mexican food this side of the Arab World (including Lebanon and Jordan), we were faced with the task of making it back home from Heliopolis, a faraway land filled with the richer segments of Egyptian society. We had arrived by a busy 8 lane highway and we were to leave by the same 8 lane highway, but in the opposite direction. This meant we had to cross the first 4 lanes (hell), make it to the grassy median (purgatory), and then cross the next four lanes (hell) to safety (paradise). It was nighttime, only 70 percent of the cars had their headlights on, and they were all going fast, about 70 miles an hour if my feelings are right. The speed, nighttime, and invisibility of the cars heightened the terror of the what could have been a normal highway-crossing experience. We made it to the median safely, and as we finally breached the last stretch like little black ants, I watched the lights rush towards me and imagined hearing my bones crunched against cold steel as the truck behind the headlights made contact with my unprotected, human, body. But we made it to the other side and hailed a cab, only to experience near death again all too soon.
Act three: Misfortune and self-interest
We were speeding along back to Doqqi on one of the many Cairene overpasses that look eerily similar to the skeletons of concrete giants when all of the sudden, we heard a screech, glass shattering, metal impacting, and more screeching. And then we saw the car wreck in front of us as our taxi driver skillfully slowed us down just in time to avoid hitting anyone. He stopped the car, got out to help yell at people, and then got back in and nosed his way into traffic that had been further bottlenecked into one lane, down from three. No one was hurt in the wreck, which made me feel better about the fact that my first thoughts upon seeing it were a) I’m glad that wasn’t us b) I’m glad we’re close to the wreck so we’ll be able to get through faster and c) I hope the meter wasn’t messed up when he stopped the car. Cairo does something to your priorities.
I have yet to ride any animals in Cairo, the most prevalent of which are donkeys and horses, as opposed to camels. I have also not ridden any form of bus except for the yachts rented by AUC, so there is still ground to break in the depths of Cairo transportation.