Tag Archives: infrastructure

Look Right Into My Ocular Spheres

5 “lanes,” 40 mph traffic, no respect for crosswalk, hospital on the other side. Impossible? No. 

An update on my daily street-crossing life:

I see you. You’re sitting in your car. You’ve got your buddies with you, all lined up in a pretty little row like pretty little ducklings lurching around in giant metal cages made of steel and glass. I see you too, Mr. Motorbike Delivery Man. I know your kind; you’re the most lawless of all. You believe you can fit anywhere, especially the foot wide corridors between moving cars that young pedestrian lasses like me like to squeeze through.

But let’s all admit the hard truth: I need to cross this street and you’re going to let me do it. It’s something none of us want to think about, but it’s reality. What you all don’t know is that I’ve got a secret weapon, a hidden asset, an invisible advantage, a clandestine tool. And I mean invisible in the figurative sense, since it’s actually as plain as the nose on my face, the arms on my sides, or the goose on my head. I’m talking about my eyes, friends. That’s right: My peepers. My lookey-loos. My soul-windows. My ocular spheres. Too many synonyms? No apologies: the power that lies within my seeing globes deserves an inappropriate amount of description.

With this weapon in face, the crossing begins. My eyes are refrigerators, and the eyes of every driver in Cairo are magnets. My gaze sweeps across the expanse in front of me as I hop down from the curb. My vision pierces the car closest to me. Schlooop! We have made an avatar-like connection. The deepest desires of our hearts are now known to one another: you want me to get out of your way, and I want to live. Paralyzed by the power of ocular bond, you let me pass in front of you. I look to the next car and the connection is made again, equally powerful, and equally effective. Eventually, moving car by car, I reach the other side of the street no worse for the wear, though this cough isn’t getting better.

Discovering this power was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my entire life, aside from emergency delivering a litter of baby platupuses in a bathtub. After weeks of perfecting the stare, I feel more confident than ever when crossing the street, especially in the height of traffic. Furthermore, I have gained moral ground because the driver, should she hit me, will have my piercing gaze emblazoned on her mind for the rest of her commute home, and that’s gonna spoil dinner.

May I have continued success in this daily activity, because the only other alternative is injury or death.

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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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Transportation: A post in three acts

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.

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