Category Archives: The Cairo Metro

Aladdin Dreams

Not nearly enough zippers on those pants

Meanwhile, a young man named Aladdin saunters down the street in Shubra, past rows of fruit hawkers, underwear kiosks, and junk food stands. Unemployed and illiterate, Aladdin does not even have enough money to cover his chest that bursts with man muscles, and he is forced to wear embarrassingly low cut shirts. He tries to compensate with an extra shellac of hair gel and tight jeans covered in zippers, but alas, he is still unmistakably “lower class.”

An orphan without brothers or sisters, Aladdin’s one real friend is a street ferret named Abu, who he only sees for about 15 minutes at 4 am on weekdays. Needless to say, the young man’s social skills are quite poor, his concept of the outside world limited to what gossip he catches on the metro as he walks up and down selling teaspoons or packets of gum.

Occasionally he gets into trouble with the local authorities, due in large part to his suspiciously unwholesome appearance and Abu’s reputation for stealing the mangoes and pomegranates piled outside of juice stores. But he avoids any serious beatings. Scraping by on wafer cookies and bean sandwiches, he dreams of one day moving out to New Cairo, away from all the chaos and unbridled humanity of Shubra, getting married, and living in a villa with the woman of his dreams, or any woman at all.

Despite his rough upbringing and lack of parents, a home, education, or any real hope of a future, Aladdin is a good soul. He has never knocked an old man down while boarding the metro and can always spare an extra guinea or two for the invalid in need. Somehow he understands that it is the little kindnesses that matter, and that even though the entire world and everyone suffering in it is eventually going to burn, we can make the time we have more pleasant by being civil with one another.

He walks to the metro on this day, like every other day, loaded down with the day’s merchandise. Yet unbeknownst to him, an unadvisedly hopeful product of the Egyptian elite is stuck in traffic on the way to Shubra at this very moment, and the stars have fated that they cross paths……

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I Am the Shwarma

200 people fit in here

I thought I had beaten the topic of the Cairo metro to death, that all the humidity, sweat, inexplicable haze, and involuntary contact with strangers had been discussed to its furthest extent. But I was wrong, pathetically wrong, and today I touched, tasted, smelled, and saw the depth of my ignorance.

Though I did not think it was physically possible, metro use has increased due to strikes on other forms of public transportation. Practically, this means the metro cars turn into a more treacherous, sweaty, place than they have been. People and children under 4 feet tall stand a good chance of suffocating should they dare to ride.

This morning, the women’s metro car rolls up, and it is already stuffed to the gills. I can almost see a puff of steam emerge as the doors open and a few fight their way off the train, leaving just under enough space for me. I and a few others shove our way on, our body masses absorbed into a greater entity created out of metro riders like a giant shwarma leg. A woman had to suck in her stomach in order for the door to close, and I thought to myself, “the fate of this entire train just depended upon the extra 3 inches of that woman’s newly concave stomach. Lord help us.”

For the next 6 minutes, I was tossed about like a baby at a potluck. Though I wasn’t holding onto anything, it didn’t matter since it was impossible to move independently of the nest of people I was firmly snuggled into. As a result, I was pushed against my will several times into a woman standing next to the door. I thought she realized I was powerless in the matter, but finally, at the stop where we and 80 percent of the train were exiting, she said, “Why are you pushing me?! I swear I’m getting off!”

Had I the language skills, I wish I could have cooed, “Yes, friend. I am pushing you because I alone out of the countless women here in the car can move of my own free will and I have decided to use this power to pester you, oh chosen one. I am glad you are ignoring the kinetic thread of female bodies behind me that might transfer energy and placed blame directly on me for your discomfort because I am, in fact, completely responsible. I am also malicious and worthy of your hatred.”

The metro doors open at Sadat and “plop!” a mass of women is spurted out onto the platform. Someone hits me in the back, and I’m not sure whether it was on purpose or whether they had temporarily lost control of their arm because of metro fever. As I was ascending the escalator  I thought to myself, “I’ve got to blog about this.”

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Love Is as Strong as Death

Bad news for you guys

Last week I went through a regrettable period when I was obsessed with discussing love, its meaning, and its ostensible relationship to marriage with anyone and everyone. Unfortunately for the people around me, I was especially interested in muddling myself in others’ affairs by collecting their personal stories and opinions.  Much to the relief of my friends, I am slowly recovering from this bizarre phase. But just as I thought the subject was closed and I had heard everything possible, the other day I spotted a purse on the metro that discussed the subject in a new way.

It’s not unusual to see all kinds of nonsensical, semi-sensical, obscene, hilarious, and otherwise egregious English splattered all across this city on billboards, t-shirts, walls, etc. Not a day goes by that I don’t see something ridiculous like a shirt that says “who’s baby is this?” or “living in the lap of subset luxury.” But this bag was a different case: it was a beacon of knowledge that stated, matter-of-fact like and without sequins, that “love is as strong as death.” When I read this as I entered the metro car, I was first startled, then amused, and then pensive as I considered why the statement had made such an impression on me. There must be some kind of truth in it, I thought to myself, as I wrote it down and vowed to analyze it later. Upon completing said analysis, I decided to leave everything else I had learned behind and take this as the one source of truth on love.

Allow me to share what love means. By the way, I realize that the statement only compared the strength of love to death, but I go hard core in my analyses, meaning I ended up comparing love to death.

1. Love is unavoidable.

2. Love is damaging to your health.

3. Love’s grip is as icy cold as the embrace of the grave.

4. Love lasts forever.

5. Love ruins lives.

6. Love ends things.

7. Love brings family members together for occasions at which many of them would rather be apart.

8. Love requires accessories.

9. Love’s real damage comes after the fact.

10. From the moment we are born, we are meant to love.

11. Love does not require talent or skill.

12. Love is a bummer.

13. Love does not play favorites.

14. Love only happens once.

15. Though love is extremely common, it is a very personal experience.

16. The end result of love is always the same.

It’s a deep analysis, to be sure, and the odds I missed anything are slim. But if I did, please feel free to add your two cents and no more.

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I Am the Enemy

I’m the one wearing the country-style abaya

A normal scene at the Sadat metro stop.  The train pulls up. Humid air leaks through the windows. The crowd waiting on the platform agitates and swells against the side of the train even before it comes to a halt. Anxiety levels within the train also rise, the crowd knowing it must push through the thick membrane of commuters to safety.

Waiting for the people on the train to exit is out of the question. They cannot be trusted to move quickly enough before the doors clamp shut. They are suspicious people who are not nice to their mothers. Those leaving the train view the boarders with disgust, since they are clearly people with no resemblance of courtesy or decency.

What results from the rampant mistrust and inexplicable hurry is a quasi-brawl. Were the two groups of people large air masses, the result would be thunder and lighting, followed by a brief torrential downpour. Were the people silly putty and a LiveStrong bracelet, the two would be stuck together for eternity since silly putty, as it is made of silicon, sticks to the LiveStrong bracelets. I’m sure limbs and teeth have both been lost in the rapid exchange of bodies that takes place at each entry point once the doors open.

My preferred method of entry is a steady shove followed by small, quick steps, though sometimes I drift, like a professional biker, behind a larger woman ploughing through the mass. Usually I try to avoid shoving and elbowing too much because I find it distasteful to my delicate senses.

However, today was different. I was waiting in the blob of people about to board a train that had just arrived. The doors were open nary a second when a girl no older than 16, came barreling on my left side and knocked me out of the way, only to continue waiting one foot in front of me.

For a brief minute I lost all sense of reason.  I became the embodiment of Justice herself and thought there was no way this young hussy was going to board the train before I did. So I pushed back. And just as my elbow made contact with some other lady’s body I caught myself and became instantly ashamed.

What was I doing? Did it really matter if I got on three milliseconds before this tart? The obvious answer was no, and I walked a little slower after I boarded the train as if to make up for my guilt of being caught up in the heat of the moment. I felt exactly like a parent who just realized they were shaking their baby to make it stop crying. Who is this person I’ve become? Please send responses to lookingforanswers222@hotmail.com. Thanks!

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Escalator Anxiety: Why Does it Exist?

I thought I was like most people in that I have never suffered from escalator related anxiety. Indeed, in my humble opinion, escalators are almost a basic right. I find few things more offensive than seeing a broken escalator and being forced, against my personal, American will, to hike up the stairs like a health freak and/or plebian. What could I ever do to deserve such self-debasement in sight of my very salvation?

Though the ridged steel and rubber of escalators runs in my very blood, based on my daily observation in the Metro station, a significant percentage of Egypt’s female population is not nearly as confident in their escalator usage.

During the morning rush, an entire horde of people is bottlenecked at an escalator in the Sadat Metro station, efficiently being funneled upwards. The crowd shuffles on at a steady pace and then just as it’s almost my turn, the woman in front of me hesitates before boarding as if she’s considering, “Wait, do I really want to do this?” or “Did I put on deodorant today?” or “Whose kid am I holding?” Though this pause might only cause a slight hiccup in the flow of traffic, it makes me want to scream wildly and set everything on fire since there is simply no good reason for her to hesitate. The eighty people before her didn’t hesitate before they boarded, and that includes the blind guy. Even though she might have to lift up her floor length garment, that could be done one millisecond beforehand or even simultaneously while stepping onto the escalator. Older women are worse offenders since they are sometimes legitimately scared of riding the escalator and test it out in the worst way possible. They gingerly place a foot onto the first step only to realize seconds later that half their body is slowly pulling away from them at which point they are forced to hop on in order to avoid a hospital trip.

Indeed, it is becoming more and more apparent that all my life I’ve overestimated how easy it is to ride the escalator. If it were this simple, an old lady would not have fallen onto me today and almost taken me on a lengthy bowling-like escapade ending that could have ended in severe internal bleeding. From this remarkable woman I learned not only how to incorrectly ride an escalator, but also that it is, in fact, possible to ride an escalator incorrectly.

She went wrong immediately as she boarded, when she did not lean forward in order to make up for the difference in speed between her lower and upper halves. Though she may have noticed her increasing lack of equilibrium, she proceeded to not grab onto the side of the escalator for assistance, and instead slowly leaned farther and farther back until she lost her balance entirely and latched onto me as she continued falling. I felt like I was being dragged to my death by a big tub of pudding. At the same time, luckily, two men also grabbed onto her and supported her from the back and on her left side so we did not all go for a tumble. She looked at me with wild eyes as she sent some swift escalator-related prayers to the Big Guy Upstairs. I, for my part, tried laughing nervously in order to make light of the situation, but my chuckles were not returned and may have only gotten in the way of her fervent muttering. At any rate, we all made it to the top safely, I probably the one in need of the most counseling in order to understand how someone almost fell off an escalator. Read that sentence again. I still do not believe or understand how this is possible and I saw it happen. This is probably one of those questions we’ll only be able to answer when we reach the big metro station in the sky, but until then, I either need to start doing push ups or watching out for wobbly old women on the escalators.

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