Cairo Traffic Will Bring Out the Worst In You (And You’ll Be Proud)

I have road rage. I openly admit to this. My road rage only ever appears when I’m driving in Cairo, though. And I’ve driven in many places in the world.

My father had road rage. Growing up, it made me proud to watch him get out of the car on a narrow road and block another car heading in the opposite direction and not letting him get by. You go get him, Baba! I’d think to myself. He’s a mouse, that man! An ant! He’s unworthy of this road upon which you treadeth! I wouldn’t even know why Baba was blocking his way. And I wouldn’t care. It was great entertainment. I loved every minute of it.

My Baba has a well-known story that I was not witness to but I can see it in my head as if I were. He was driving in front of our house in Cairo and a bus driver, upset with something related to his driving, yelled out an obscenity to my Baba insulting his beard. Wohohoho. That idiot had no idea what a big mistake he made.  My Baba maneuvered his car right in front of the huge, red bus and prevented it from moving further. He got out of the car in a rage, moved toward the trunk, opened it, pulled out the jack, and rushed towards the bus driver’s door with the intent of smashing his head in.  He opened the door and started pulling the driver out of his seat. But by that time people had gathered and started pulling my Baba away (as people here are accustomed to ruining the best Cairo street fights this way).

As you can see, nothing actually happened here. There was just the threat of something happening. Usually here in Cairo, that’s enough to calm us down. There are always enough bystanders willing to intervene to prevent anything from actually happening. Maybe that’s why we feel so secure in our road rage. We know nothing will really happen no matter how ugly we get.

Anyone who has been in a car with me, my children especially, knows that I am my father’s daughter. I can’t count the times I’ve gotten out of my car to attempt to engage in a fist fight with a driver who got on my bad side. And if you irritate me for any reason while we are on the same road, I will pursue you and make your life miserable for at least a few minutes. I do this either by honking your head off during the day, flashing my bright headlights in your mirror at night, or making mad dashes to frighten you by cutting you off as often as I can.

I am easily irritated. I firmly believe that no one in Cairo knows how to drive. Most other drivers in Cairo feel this same way about themselves. If I’m driving along an average street that isn’t moving very fast and the driver ahead of me has left a full car space in front of him empty, he will regret that he decided to leave the house that day. I detest the slow drivers, the safe drivers, the fast drivers, and the unsafe drivers. I hate the women drivers, the old people drivers, and the child drivers. And as I’m driving, I’ll be yelling out to most of my fellow drivers (in my head): “If you’re too sissy to drive on the streets of Cairo, you shoulda stayed home, you idiot!”

This morning I was driving, as I normally do, down Pyramids Street. The street was quite crowded with cars; five lanes of cars fitting into what is actually a two lane street. That’s all fine with me. I hate seeing extra space on the road. It makes me feel like it could be used to get just that much closer to my destination. I suddenly became aware of a pretty red car (I’ve never been able to tell the make of a car by sight) pushing itself forward on my left. The driver was scrunching me between him and the bus to my right. It seemed like he was fighting for that small bit of space ahead of me and I was not going to have it. He had come up from behind. That means – in my mind – that this area of road was mine. How dare he try to squeeze me to the side so that he could get ahead of me?? This was not going to happen. I slammed on the accelerator and would not allow him to inch ahead of me. He was that much bolder and slammed on his accelerator and did inch ahead of me. Wohohoho. This man did not know what he just got himself into. I started to pursue him, slamming on my accelerator and breaks intermittently to give the impression that I was just about to smash into his pretty red car. I was hoping this would last a bit. But he then made a left turn. He had to slow down to do this so I opened my window and yelled out, “What kind of dirty driving is that in the morning?? (أيه السواقة الوسخة دي على الصبح؟؟)”. He heard me because his window was open. He opened his door, got out of the car, and headed towards me. Again, I shouted, “What kind of dirty driving is that in the morning?” using my best truck driver voice. He retorted, “Hey! I can yell and insult very well but I choose not to because you are a woman!” I was not going to have any of that! So I say, “Oh! Please feel free to yell and insult all you want!” to which he seemed not to be able to think of much to say. (Side note: if he had used bad language and insults my response would have been, “How dare you speak that way to a woman?? Did your mother not raise you to respect the opposite sex??”) So he headed back to his car yelling, “Disgusting women!” To which I replied, “Disgusting women??” (Can you tell that I’m not very good at this banter stuff? I want to be. I really really want to be. But I can never think of a good reply fast enough). I then yelled back, “Disgusting men!!” thinking, “that will show him!” He then turned around and yelled, “I swear to divorce my wife three times if….” (علي الطلاق بالثلاثة…)  . I didn’t hear the rest of that sentence. I was sort of dumbfounded that the man was so disgusted with me that he felt his wife deserved to be divorced. So I yelled, “You just go ahead and divorce your wife! What do I care anyway??” And then I yelled, “What does your wife have to do with this situation anyways??” It was then that he got into his car and left me. And I left him.

It took me just about one minute driving forward in my car until I started laughing loudly. I thought, now that was a fellow Egyptian driver I could say I was proud to be driving the streets of Cairo with. This guy was my kind of driver. This guy was no sissy. He knows how to play the game. He knows how to express himself when he’s angered by another fellow driver. And he’ll pull out the sexist card so that I can pull out my sexist card. He wasn’t afraid of doing that. I nodded to myself with a smirk of pride on my face.

The rest of my drive was pretty eventless. But I’ll tell you. I walked into my office this morning feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. My morning started well, thank you very much!


    1. Kasey, which country is that? Tell me and I’ll come over and start organizing some workshops for you. 🙂

  1. hmmm…. I’m having mixed feelings. I’ve been in Cairo traffic, and I know the idiocy of which you speak. One has to get mentally ready when you drive in Cairo, to be prepared for anything – and it never takes long for that ‘anything’ to appear. Driving in Cairo is very much a physical and mental test. Road rage is just a symptom of anxiety and fatigue brought on by it. However, to view all the other drivers as adversaries, as combatants, as competitors in a test of wills is misplaced, and here’s why. It’s a fact, Cairo drivers are really bad drivers (not all – but most of them). However, we never know what that other person’s motivations are, what their day has been like, what their situation is. To assign competitive status to someone who cuts us off is to assume they intended to irritate us, intended to be impolite. That person, however, could be on his way to a funeral, or home from a hospital or could have just been fired from a job and is driving with a sense of urgency or apparent callousness that has nothing to do with you – and it most likely has nothing to do with you. It is easy to approach Cairo driving is a dangerous sport, but we add nothing and gain nothing for our own health and safety when we elevate our blood pressure and theirs. They drive like they are in the wild west because there are no enforced traffic laws, plain and simple. It’s a free-for-all. Detach, Nadia. That is my advice. As much as I empathize with you, and as much as I could easily see myself lured by the same juices if I had to drive in Cairo traffic every day, you need to detach. Traffic is an obstacle course, nothing more, nothing less. Let it be what it is. Actually, I have a little test I’d like you to try. The next time you’re driving, instead of looking for your next adversary, count how many times you can accommodate someone, look for ways you can ease a bottleneck by waiting and giving someone else the right of way. Smile and wave at a driver who gives you the right of way. Do this consciously till you reach your destination. Then tell me how you feel.

    1. I hate it when people take me too seriously. And I shouldn’t be. Relax, jsa12. I’m not like that ALL the time. 🙂

  2. Be carful of theses drivers. Sometimes they are dangerous. Second, I know the driving is herofic but Cairo is missing a lot of awarness signs, laws enforcement, cameras to monitor the ways; here in Toronto a new driver has to pay a monthly insurance average 200$ to 300$ and that price goes down every year by very little if there is clean record. Such as no accidents, no speeding tickets. Also, the fuel price is ridiculously expensive. A liter of fuel is 1.25$, which is almost 8 EGY. Not to mention the average parking downtown Toronto 15$. Although all these charges, driving is cool and the ways most of the time are moving well.

  3. Nadia, once again your message reminds me about my own life (except that I acted like you, in Rome’s chaotic traffic, when I was little more than a teen-ager, and then I moved to Milan to settle down and abruptly got much older 😉 —
    Here in Milan they always leave a lot of free space, but they don’t cultivate the theatrical art of street fights, so when I very recently had an episode of road rage there was nobody to stop us…

    I was on the scooter under the rain and a crazy guy who was totally distracted was almost killing me turning left without notice where it was forbidden despite my prolonged, desparete honks.

    I managed to accelerate and passed him anyway, and then managed not to fall despite his car touched my rear wheel, then I went back to hear his excuses, but he pretended to tell me that I was going too fast so it was MY FAULT.

    I yelled very violently at him, but was very *evidence-based* ( 😉 ) and listed all the infractions to the rules he had just made, and invited him to get out of his car so I could kick his ass to teach him.

    He moved out of his car as if he wanted to move to a *real* fight, so I realised I had to step down of the scooter to be able to defend myself, and since he was much bigger than me I kept my helmet on, and escalated to scream even louder (I must say that I just wanted his excuses since the beginning, so it was an unusual bout of a mix of road rage and post-traumatic stress).

    Well, finally I managed to keep it on the verbal fight (in which I am pleased to declare that I have excellent skills), since the helmet probably convinced his wife that she had to bring him back into the car and away from there, while I kept insulting him…

    But there was no crowd to separate us, as it happens in “Differently civilized” cities like Cairo (or Rome).

  4. Having now driven in the UK for so long, I would be helpless in Cairo. It was not always that way, I used to keep a didgeridoo in my little white mini in case I needed it. Those buses in Penang especially love to bully a little white mini. Your Baba could have taught them a lesson or two.

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