Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Cairo Traffic

Ok, we have obviously been here too long. Traffic here is weird. There are no rules.. .even simple things like go one way and only one way, on a one way street... especially if that street is filled with cars speeding at you.. in the dark... with no lights on.... no rules.. we've gotten used to it! And that is also weird.
It is affecting the kids too. When Honor and I went back to DC, we had to travel everywhere by taxi. On one of our first rides, the driver stops at a red light and Honor asks, "Why are we just sitting here?". I tried to explain that he stopped because the traffic light was red. She wasn't buying it though, "But there is nobody in the way. Why can't we go?" Yea... I could see the driver eyeballing me strangely in the rearview mirror! I had to explain that we were from out of town... way out of town! There are traffic lights here, and they even light up and go through cycles, but, like the lines on the roads, street signs, etc. they are for decorative purposes only. You stop at a red light and you will get rear-ended.
I caught Brad talking like a native a while back as we were looking for a parking spot near the club... he points over to the side and said, "We could have gone up that curb and parked on that sidewalk if someone hadn't put all that trash there!" I cracked up, and actually had to remind him of what he said... where in the US do you find it acceptable to climb up curbs and park on sidewalks?? But, if you go around and check out the sidewalls of most SUV tires here, you will find that they are scraped up from people doing just that! (Yes, ours fit that description! Better scraped up tires, than someone driving by and scraping your mirror/paint off!) .
Random adherence to where one should park, and where to drive, is (sort of) officially endorsed too. We were driving down a major road one day, and came across a huge construction crane parked across the roadway... we just sort of stopped, and checked it out... There was a bit of room to the side, but it was very tight. The local guard came up, shrugged, apologized, pointed at the gap, and suggested, "Maximum left?". We got through... maximum left.
Of course, I have had the guards on my side as well. While driving down another very tight (ie. one narrow lane only, fold in the mirrors so they don't scrape) road, I had a guy walk out in front of my car - I had to stop or hit him! - and kneel down in the road, remove a manhole cover and start messing with things below... I was not happy with this, nor were any of the drivers in the growing line of cars behind me! This was actually a downtown road in the middle of the day. Fortunately, a cop looked up, saw that I was a foreigner - you could see the anger build! - and he ran up immediately and started giving the guy an incredible bawling out.. good thing I couldn't understand a word of the dialect or I am sure my eardrums would have been scarred. Some of the things drivers behind me were yelling out the window were quite spicy too. He pushed and shoved the guy as well... I was actually thinking there'd be a fight! But the guy was scared, and he cleared out of the way. I'm not 'for' police 'highhandedness' in general, but there are times when it really fits the situation!!
I've also learned that it is possible to parallel-park donkey and horse carts - who'd'a thunk it?. I have also learned that neutral is the 'parking' gear here so other drivers are able to push your car out of the way in order to get their car in or out if a spot... I have seen people parallel-park in a space that starts off no wider than 4 feet, but by bashing back and forth, moving the cars in front and to the rear, they make a spot!
I've learned other driving techniques... like how to face down a bus going the wrong way and make him back up by just turning off my truck and acting like I was going to sit there and read a book until he moved. That was another incident on a one-lane, one-way road - with a line of cars behind me. We 'pushed' that obnoxious bus driver all the way back to the main road - he had to have some of his passengers get out and guide him, but he was wrong, and everyone made sure he knew it!
What made me think of all this, was the drive to the commissary the other day. I found myself annoyed that they had paved part of the roads between our home and the store. When we first got here, I used to be thrilled with new pavement! But now I know better. New pavement is a problem because you have to re-learn where all the holes, bumps, ridges, or even open manholes are! (Actually putting manhole covers on the manholes is one of those 'rules optional' things I was telling you about above.) Old roads are good because you can memorize where most of the hazards are! New roads still have holes and bumps - but you no longer know where they are, nor are they very visible because all the new pavement blends together!
At least I am getting better at remembering 'US rules' when I go back home!

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