Cairo traffic

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

First I thought the Irish were bad drivers (sorry, Irish readers, but Amy has thirty-year-old co-workers still working on getting their licenses, whereas I was considered to be a slow learner because I got mine at age 18). Then we drove in Spain, and I realized the Spanish are much worse. But the worst by far are the Egyptians.

You would think the Egyptian drivers would be pretty good, considering the obstacles they have to learn to avoid. Since the sidewalks are non-existent, torn up, or being used as an extension of a shop, pedestrians have to walk in the streets most of the time in a city like Luxor. There are donkey carts, horse drawn carriages, bikes (with their riders balancing enormous piles of bread in baskets on their heads), and even sometimes horses all competing for space on the streets.

Maybe it helps not to be able to see what’s on the road. Drivers don’t use their headlights, even at night. They don’t use their turn signals either, preferring to use their horns, which can mean a variety of things: “I’m pulling in front of you,” “Don’t pull in front of me,” “Get out of the way,” “Want a taxi ride?” “Hey, look, I’m driving down the road,” or “It’s Tuesday!”

Most of the taxis are old and don’t have seatbelts, but even in newer vehicles the seatbelts might be disabled. In a fairly new bus we took to Abu Simbel, each seat had a seatbelt, nicely buckled behind the seat, making it impossible to use.

Lanes don’t mean a lot in Egypt. On the ride to the West Bank of Luxor, the driver drove as often in the left lane as in the right, even in the face of oncoming traffic, eventually drifting back over in time to narrowly avoid a collision. It isn’t just on country roads, though, where lanes are mostly theoretical. On our last taxi ride to the airport in Cairo, it didn’t matter whether the road showed three travel lanes in one direction. Sometimes four cars would compete for space, and sometimes our car would simply drift around the tarmac. There was one moment when we were actually in a lane, and the two cars on either side of us drifted about a foot each into our lane at the same time.

Not surprisingly, our taxi didn’t have side view mirrors anymore, but I don’t think the driver would have used them anyway, since he never looked back once to his blind spot. I don’t think he was unique in not looking for cars coming up behind him; it was the norm for drivers to start moving over and assume the car behind would get out of the way in time. With the high speeds, no real lanes, and cars drifting in and out of our path, it felt like we were on a racetrack.

When we arrived safely at the airport, the driver, who spoke no English, said, “Yaaayyy,” and clapped his hands, which got a laugh out of us. I think I now understand the Arabic saying “Insha’Allah,” or “God willing.” I can’t explain our survival without crediting divine intervention.