Leaping the driving hurdle

It’s done! Julia has driven in Cairo… sort of. Now, in fairness, I have not driven downtown in the height of traffic, nor at night on the outskirts where headlights are verbodden and camels have to be avoided, but I did drive out to the commissary last week with a friend. We had an appointment to meet with the “upholstery guy” in Facilities to show us fabric samples for embassy furniture (Dip Wife duties continue), and we could have taken a cab but I felt that I needed to face the fear and join the melee. Besides, other than Friday mornings where traffic is extremely light, I figured mid-day on Thursday should be about medium in terms of harriedness.

I tried to conjure up some video game skills from my teen years, however I found that my Ms. PacMan skills were of little use so I relied merely on basic driving and self-preservation skills. I got out of the compound without incident (merely had to wait for the guard to open the gate) and then waited a bit to merge onto the busy road from our side street, figuring it was my prerogative as a new Cairene driver. I will have to wait and see if I ever feel the urge to blindly drive into the fray of busy traffic without concern. A small opening appeared, so I announced my intention to go, Deborah braced herself and I floored the Jeep. I’d done it! I was in the flow. Then suddenly I was in the circle too, but I embraced my inner Egyptian and just drove without concern for those coming into the circle directly at me and continued on. Never let them see you hesitate – certainly not in a circle! I could almost hear the circus music playing as we spun around in a functioning frenzy. I got out of the circle, sometimes more difficult than getting in, and continued on to the commissary. Only had one incident of cars coming toward me on a one-way road, but we both figured it was a wide road, so no harm done. Type-A tendencies have apparently been replaced by a chuckle and acknowledgment of illogical/nonsensical sights.

We made it to the commissary, sat through the security checks (our badges are confirmed and cars are always checked over before we can enter any US-owned compound) and drove in for our meeting. Unbeknownst to us, we were also able to meet with the “wood-furniture guy” as well – our stars were aligned today! Deborah picked out the fabric she wanted to swap out for the couch she has now, we learned what other wood furniture is available (curio cabinets, couch tables, short bookcases, etc.), and I found out that the upholstery guys will also re-upholster non-embassy furniture essentially for the price of the fabric! What a find! So I’ll be pursuing that line after we move in, so I can re-cover the second-hand red-and-white striped reading chair we bought before we left (that’s wonderfully comfortable but reminds me of a circus tent).

Pleased with our successful finds, we braced ourselves for the ride home. I came upon my first encounter with an extracted speed-bump, which had become a rather treacherous and lumpy, muddy-water-filled ditch. I was immediately grateful for the Jeep as we trundled across it swaying wildly from side to side. I made use of the crazed shuttle busses at one point when we had to cross through traffic, and I just hugged the shuttle’s side and followed it through (much as I do when trying to cross Tahrir Square on foot – utilizing a bunch of older Egyptian women the last time as my buffer – they seemed equally unaware of my presence as they were of the traffic zooming around them).

My intention was to skip the last really busy circle on the way home by taking a shortcut that sometimes police are monitoring, sometimes not. However, at the second-to-last circle, I was slightly overcome by the traffic volume, at one point apparently muttering repeatedly, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me” as I tried to squeeze into the stream. Deborah had to remind me that I am an SUV! And apparently SUVs don’t say “Excuse me,” they say “Watch out,” or “Move over.” I guess I still have my Cabrio mind-set. I made it into and out of the circle, however completely forgetting my intention of the short-cut and had to then go through the bigger circle (which thankfully was extremely calm – stars aligning once again). We made it home, safe and sound and I was mighty pleased with my accomplishment.

I had to head to Zamalek a few days later to meet with the painters at our new apartment, and for a brief second I considered the option of driving there. Luckily I quashed that and took a taxi instead. Glad I did too, as the taxi driver who took me home was very nice, practiced Arabic with me and gave me his name and number in case we need a personal driver in the future. And his cab didn’t rattle or shake and even had non-rusty door handles. What a find!