Things I learned from today’s bike ride in Cairo

I’ve cycled in Cairo a few times before but I’ve always limited my distance and my area of travel. Recently I came across a cycling group who do long distance training sessions, mainly on a couple of our out-of-town highways. I cycled with them last weekend for the first time and really enjoyed it. We cycled from Lebanon Square to Smart Village, 20 km away, and back. I never would have thought that possible by bike before. But it was a truly enjoyable experience. They weren’t cycling this weekend so I decided to do a long distance solo cycle.

Here is what I learned:

  • We have way more potholes on our streets in Cairo than I originally thought we had.
  • People on the street will think of you less as a woman if you wear loose clothing and you put a geeky bike helmet on your head (and thus you don’t get harassed as much).
  • You know those large families riding on a single motorcycle that we stare at as if they are aliens? Well, they all stare at you if you’re a woman in a geeky bike helmet cycling on the streets in Cairo.
  • Dogs like to chase people on bikes. I screamed like a little girl today when one dog growled at me while sticking close to my right leg. Apparently little girl screams frighten dogs away.
  • If we had bike lanes in Cairo, microbuses would use them as their private bus stops. We may as well not have them at all.
  • Note to self: next time wear a gas mask while cycling if you can’t handle breathing in extensive quantities of automobile exhaust.
  • Cycling among Cairo traffic is frickin scary. The only way to go about it is to pretend you’re a car, honk a lot, and give crazy hand gestures to idiots who don’t treat you like a car. Seriously, it isn’t the safest thing in the world to do. You need to be confident and careful at once. You do need to ring your bell a lot so that cars know you are coming. You need to make a lot of hand signals so that cars behind you know what you are doing. You need to anticipate the movement of cars/busses parked on the side of the road so they don’t start moving just as you reach their blind spot. You need to be extra careful when you reach side roads that open up onto a main street. Cars tend to swerve into the main street, not looking over their left shoulder, and expecting other cars to avoid them. They are an accident in the waiting. Be very vigilant.
  • Wearing cycling goggles might be a good idea for Cairo. Our streets constantly spit sand and pebbles into your eyes.
  • Cycling in Cairo may not be like cycling along the coast of Italy, but it’s all Cairenes have. If more of us just got out and did it, it will become more commonplace. It’s also a great way to keep fit.

Ramblings: Passwords, Farts, and Other Things

I have used this week for contemplation. Below are some of the deep questions I’ve been considering:

Which password did I use with what username??

I’ve been very stressed by how digitalized my life has become.

I’m a woman who does not remember her children’s dates of birth (I’m not kidding). Yet I’m required to remember various usernames and passwords for several social networking websites I belong to, the various email accounts I have, the online versions of my bank accounts, and almost any electronic gadget I own. I have to remember PIN numbers for my bank cards. When I’m traveling I need to remember what funky code I used for my in-room security safe. At work there are codes that need to be used to access the outside phone line and phone numbers that need to be remembered. I need to remember what logic I used when I saved a certain Word document on my computer in order to find it again. I recently bought an Apple computer and now I have to remember my Apple IDs: the one I created for the Egypt shop and the one I created for the U.S. shop. I also had to set up my various gadgets (the printer, the camera, the video camera, etc.) to my new computer, so I needed to remember where I put all the installation CDs. Heck, I needed to remember what gadgets I even had that needed to be set up on my new computer!  And then there are the cords. So many electrical cords! I need to remember where I put them all and which cord belongs to which gadget. I subscribe to a few online newspapers, research journals, and the likes. I have to remember usernames and passwords for those. Even the digital receiver I have at home has a code that you need to enter in order to access the menu. I have a diving computer (which is similar to a watch but it gives you information such as depth, time spent under water, water temperature, etc.) and I need to remember the sequence of buttons I need to press in order to input various variables according to the dive I’ll next be making.

Last month I went to an ATM machine to find out how much money I had in my bank account (I WILL name names. The bank is the CIB). Based on the amount the ATM machine said I had, I bought a computer with my debit card and left some 600 EGP remaining in the account. The purchase went through at the store. Two weeks later the bank calls me and tells me that I didn’t actually have that amount in my account. According to the bank, the ATM machine lied and the card machine made a mistake by taking money out of the account that wasn’t really there. And now I owe the bank a huge sum of money!

This is all driving me nuts!

Results of my deep thoughts on this issue: Severe anxiety. Solution: relieve my stress by meditating about the bigger questions in life (see below) and defame any fucking institution that pulls a low one on me by blogging the heck out of them.

Who is holding up the fucking traffic again?!…

Read the rest of this post where it was originally posted at CairoScene’s Scenario.

Banks and Traffic Are Ruining My Life

If you took all the anger in me right now and concentrated it, you could build a small nuclear bomb.

I need to let off some real steam.

First: traffic.

For awhile now, whenever I drive down Haram St. in Cairo in the morning the traffic is all blocked for a couple of kilometers back. Every single time it turns out to be due to a bottleneck caused by the traffic police themselves.

This morning I had a small errand to run. The traffic was horrible as usual. I kept telling myself that I bet it is the traffic police who were holding up the traffic. Luckily, my errand was in Haram St itself. I simply parked my car on the side of the road and walked to where I needed to get. The place I needed to go to was exactly where the bottleneck was. And what was causing it? THE FUCKING TRAFFIC POLICE!

This is what I saw:  (more…)

The Unspoken Rules of Cairo Traffic

I’ve always wondered how one would explain the unspoken rules of Cairo traffic to a non-Egyptian trying to learn how to drive on the roads of our everyday craziness. Egyptians drive for years in Cairo and eventually get a feel for what must be done in order to arrive safely at our destination in the shortest possible time with minimal scrapes and dents to our cars and minimal loss of life. It’s not an easy feat. But we eventually get there.

My British khawaga husband Colin is spending a full month in Cairo for the first time. We both decided it would be good for him to learn how to drive here. In the process, I’ve discovered that itis possible to put our unspoken rules into words that are inevitably shouted out. I thought it would be useful to share my all-encompassing wisdom on Cairo traffic with a larger audience so I jotted the rules down.

Colin has an odd tendency to drive in one lane and to stay in it. He’s a khawaga. What can I say? His natural inclination is to keep driving at the same speed as long as he believes he has the right of way. With my eyes rolling, I have had to teach him rules number 1 through 3.

RULE #1:

The concept of “right of way” is practically unknown in Egypt. If you drive on our roads using this concept you are likely to kill at least a dozen people before you reach your destination. We do have our own local version of right of way though. Larger vehicles have right of way over smaller vehicles. Pedestrians already walking across the street, despite the fact that they look like they are on a suicide mission, have the right of way. Cars that beat you by filling the gap in traffic you’re aiming for with the front of their car have the right of way.

RULE #2:

ALL LANES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. There is a reason why one lane is moving particularly slowly. Do not feel loyal to your lane. If you do, you are an idiot. Get yourself into the moving lane no matter what it takes.

This post was originally written for CairoScene’s The Scenario. Find out the rest of my unspoken rules of Cairo driving here


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. (more…)

Egypt’s Ministry of Transportation: FUCK YOU!

I am not going to beat around the bush in this blog post. Egypt’s Ministry of Transportation deserves to go to hell. And Egypt’s Ministry of Interior deserves to go to hell for too many reasons, but one of them is the appalling performance of its traffic police.

I am absolutely sick and tired of feeling I want to be shot in the head with a gun every single time I drive in Cairo’s streets. The problem is that so many of our traffic issues can be solved if there were people with heads on their shoulders who were actually working.

Let me give you a few examples from my daily drive out of and into my neighborhood of Al-Haram. (more…)