“Purely Egyptian Moments”: The Morning Commute لحظات مصرية محضة: الرحلة اليومية الصبحية

After nearly a month-long hiatus, it’s back to the blogosphere…

Despite minor cultural and linguistic differences, daily life in Cairo has become routine – albeit lacking in sleep – over the past month and devoted to fighting a losing battle against the accumulating articles in my GoogleReader, the acquisition of Arabic vocabulary – specifically learning eight different words for fear and five different verbs for “submitting to” – and releasing my frustrations on the dough of my latest baking experiment.

The being said, I have discovered – after some reflection – that however ordinary and routine daily life has become as an Arabic-obsessed, sleep-deprived, ex-patriot news junkie living in Egypt, it is now without its moments of pure Egyptian brilliance. As a result (and in an effort to make sure the blog is not neglect for another month), you are cordially yet coercively invited on a journey of my daily “purely Egyptian moments”.

The daily interaction with Egypt begins, as it would in any other country, with the daily commute. Although at first glance it is deceptively simple one as “all roads lead to Tahrir”, the commute marks the first round of Choose Your Own Adventure: Crazy & Chaotic Cairo.

Given the nearest Metro station is a five minute walk, you have four choices.

1. The Public Bus: While structures resembling bus stops exist, their true purpose is for advertisements written in English that call on Egyptians to return to work. Buses don’t actually stop at these stops. To be more precise, unless forced to do so by a very large traffic jam, buses don’t really stop at all. To board, dribble a pretend basketball while looking at the bus. When the bus begins to slow down, start jogging down the street. As the rear wheel of the bus passes you, jump onto the rear platform and proceed to pay the 50 qirsh faire. To exit, yell at the bus driver to slow down and merge right. Once both have been accomplished, jump off of the back platform being sure to bend your knees upon impact with the ground.

Note: If the bus is filled to capacity on the inside, people will be hanging off of the rear platform. While it appears that there is no room on the platform, do not hesitate, fear or wait for the next bus. Jump!! The passengers will catch you like flypaper catches flies and a few seconds later your left foot will occupy two inches of the platform and your left hands will be wrapped around the waist of a neighbor, while the rest of your body hangs off of the bus. Just as the tingling in your left foot has become overwhelmingly painful, the bus will be mired in Tahrir Square’s traffic allowing your to descend to your destination with ease.

2. The Microbus: Public bus drivers and ticked collectors have elected to strike in demand of increased wages (as they did this past September). Never fear the fifteen passenger van is here. To board, dribble the pretend basketball while staring at the microbus driver. (No crossover dribbles.) Once the sliding door opens, climb over dozens of people to reach the only free seat. (It is likely to be in the last row.) Fold body and bend head to fit into the seat before passing the faire up to the driver. (Small coins are preferred.) Just as you have lost all feeling in your knees and back, the microbus will have reached Tahrir Square. To exit, yell at the microbus driver to pull over to the side of the road. Ignoring the horns of angry drivers vexed by the growing traffic jam caused by your microbus, climb over dozens of people to reach the sliding door. Open the it and stagger out onto the pavement.

3. The Taxi: You have overslept and have five minutes to get to class. No need to unpack your invisible basketball, just nod your head at the first cab that honks at you while merging in your direction. (Ignore the fact that you really hate getting honked at every other morning while you wait for the bus.) After muttering a groggy greeting and making sure the meter is started anew, evaluate the cabbie on the crazy cabbie spectrum. At one end lies the elderly hag* sporting a faded galabiyya** and listening to tajwid (recordings of the Quran). While he is like reticent, he can be coaxed into conversation provided that such conversation revolves around the Egyptian revolution, religion, or why you are studying Arabic. At the other end of the spectrum lies the hip shab (teenager) and sports a pastel-colored t-shirt and faded jeans with far too many zippers and blast Egyptian pop music. Conversation will be imposed upon you and will likely be political in nature. Steer conversation towards the Egyptian Revolution and avoid discussing all things related to Israel – especially America’s misguided blank check of support. Regardless of where the cabbie falls on the spectrum, he will not have change when you have reached Tahrir Square. Arguing is not worth your time nor is finding a stranger with change, let the cabbie keep the extra pound or two as a tip.

4. Walking: It takes twenty minutes. You are never going to get up early enough to be able to do this. Hit the snooze button and keep dreaming.

*A Muslim man who has completed the pilgrimage to Mecca. Used in Egyptian Colloquial as a term of respect when talking to an elderly gentleman.
**A long robe worn by Muslim men.


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