Driving Tales

For the most part, we really only drive once a week to the commissary in Maadi. And after today’s trip, we’re going to try to make that every two weeks.

I have actually taken to bringing my camera with us because you just never know what you’re going to see along the way. Today included a GREAT bread seller, no bicycle, but he gets the award for highest stack. And for some reason he was walking along the highway, which I can’t imagine would produce much opportunity for sales (without a bit of traffic conflict).

There are always the lovely shuttle busses to avoid at ALL cost (they’re truly the craziest on the road). And this one was spouting a rather toxic smoke.

Veg sellers on the street always have what’s current and fresh, so apparently carrots are currently in season (I never really thought of a carrot season, comes from having them so readily available in nice little plastic bags, I guess).

We saw a typical motorbike, but this one was unusual in that the driver had a helmet. Of course, he wasn’t WEARING the helmet, but at least there would be something readily available to scoop him into if needed.

And apparently these gentlemen were trying to figure out either how to get these tires over the wall behind them, or across the 8-10 lanes of traffic on the Ring Road. Good luck, either way!

This morning we trundled down to Maadi around 10:00am and traffic was great – barely there at all. Depending on when you go, traffic can be lovely and light, or typical and exhausting. The issue today arose when we got to the commissary, which has recently changed its entrance. With the change has come a lot of headache, so much so that we waited for 20-30 minutes today just to get into the complex and the commissary. It’s supposed to be a safety thing, and while I respect their intentions, allowing a queue of cars to build and build, doesn’t promote safety, at all. I think after today there will be a lot of heated emails sent on Sunday (our Monday of the week). So despite the lack of traffic, our shopping trip still took 3 hours door to door. Of course, we did also buy a LOT more than we usually do, with the intention of not going again for two weeks. I may have to supplement our fresh fruit and veg with local options… we’ll see how things go.

One bit of excitement on the way home was the fact that we had to collectively figure out how to turn on and off the windshield wipers… because it was actually raining! Now, downpour it was not, but enough rain was falling that we did have to use the wipers for more than half the trip home. Ron was eager to get home and off the roads, as rain tends to muck up things even moreso than normal (not only with literal muck, but Egyptians don’t get much rain, so they don’t know how to drive on suddenly muddy and slick roads). We made it home without incident. But even later in the afternoon it rained again and was tapping on the overhang of our windows. Chuckles didn’t know what to make of it and approached the window as if the Boogeyman himself was tapping (we do enjoy our feline torments).

We have had two recent mid-week mini-drives, by me, at night. Yes folks, Julia has driven in downtown Cairo at night – and found herself laughing out loud as she did so (which is better than crying as it doesn’t blur the vision). Ron called one evening to say that our kitchen trashcan had finally arrived but it was obviously quite a big box. He asked if I’d feel comfortable driving the car to the embassy to get him, the box and our friend Ben. I said sure (never one to really think things through right away).

I got out of our compound just fine, through the gate at the end of the street (manned by the ever-present Cairo street guards), then slowly, ever so slowly, inched my way through a block of parked cars on either side, wishing I had a passenger who could snap in the side mirror to make things easier (yes, the extra few inches can make a world of difference). Then it was time to “merge” into the flow of traffic. Now, back in the states as the one who needs to merge, you tend to inch forward slowly knowing that someone will eventually let you in, or enough space will open up. Here, you just go for it, otherwise you will sit there and collect dust (until someone comes up behind you beeping incessantly). So, with a bit of a laugh, I just floored it and fell in line. Cairo traffic is like a flow of mercury, absorbing mercuric bits along the way as it releases bits elsewhere, but constantly in motion.

Relying on the “Care only about your front end” adage, I drove with confidence, only rarely glancing in my side mirrors to see who might be there and may try to speed up and swerve in front of me. Being able to read other drivers is key. All was good until we got to the Lion Bridge, when 4-6 lanes of traffic (lane being a very loose term as you make your own) merge down into 2-3, and as happened this night, there’s often a stalled car somewhere along the bridge, adding to the fun.

I made it to the embassy without a scratch (that I noticed) and gathered my husband, trashcan and friend. Surprisingly neither of them offered to take over the wheel, so I drove home. At first, I was quite pleased that they felt comfortable enough with me driving, but then I realized that they felt too comfortable and were discussing the possibilities of the Julia Taxi being on call for other nights. I nixed that one. Though a few days later I did do the journey one more time as another few large boxes had been delivered (cat food, bedding, etc.). But it is nice that with each foray, the confidence does grow – oh, and we finally got our taillight guards and front end heavy duty black metal guard grill installed, so anything remotely pliable, like a human, should just bounce off without hurting the car too much.