Friday, November 30, 2012

Cairo Traffic is Ballet for Cars

Asalamu Alaykom,

This Thursday morning, I spent from 9:00 until 10:30 going from Al-Haram to Maadi.  On a normal day, the trip across the Nile would take 45 minutes at the most.  Yesterday?  An hour and a half.  Even a normal person would get a case of claustrophobia from such an experience.  There are no off-ramps.  You are stuck.  I truly relied on remembrance of Allah to get me through the ordeal.  

I have spent a lot of time here sitting in traffic---we all do in Egypt!  When I stare out my window I notice things.  I love to see the decorations on the cars and truck.

Do you see the carved back to the truck's cab?  It's maybe a little confusing to your depth perception with the truck behind it overloaded with cauliflower.  It's cauliflower season now.

This has the decoration in the vehicle.  Micro bus drivers live many hours behind the wheel and create a home away from home for themselves.

Many have small LCD screens playing a video right next to them as they drive (which is not the most comforting thing to see as a passenger).

I enjoy seeing the artistic choices an ordinary person makes which turns the mundane into something extraordinary.  No one forces the driver to personalize his or her vehicle but they do.  They want to stand out in the crowd.

Every truck driver wants the proclaim they've got a Mercedes or a Chevrolet.  They all want to label their truck as, "JUMBO"  but many mislabel it as "JUMPO".  One truck yesterday was writing a Swahili greeting with "JAMBA"

If the driver is a dad, you'll see ABU or ABO and then their child's name.  This is their honorary title.  I can imagine how proud they are the day they tell the detailer to paint it across the front of their truck.

I love the name of Allah on vehicles.  I love that I live in a country where that is respected; not hated or feared.  No matter how long I've been waiting in traffic, I smile when I see Allah's name.

I also smile when I see the Quran on the dashboards.

If I see Arabic then I spend time trying to read it.  This says, "Bismallah".

Mr. Boo and I have a game of spotting English.  It helps us pass the time and hopefully improves his reading abilities.
I'm forever seeing an outline of a cool dude with the word xmen on his T-shirt.  I can't find an image for it on the 'net.  I don't think it has anything to do with Wolverine.

There's  Bushee '01 which is all over the place but I can't find an example of that either. I might have to go take some more pictures.  I don't even know what or who Bushee is.  I can't figure it out!

"Cowboy Up!" is one of the most popular decals you'll see.  It's slang which means to toughen up.  What's kind of amazing is that it's appropriate for anyone trying to brave the streets.

Many of the decals are not appropriate.

You'll see many variations of Calvin peeing.  I always hate getting into a taxi with a man who thought this was a great image for his business car.

Fido Dido is another favorite.

For some reason, the Apple Computers logo is considered cool.  It's all over Egypt as if someone created an app called "the car".

There's also a hand imprint, with the pointer finger a dot of red,  I don't have the exact graphic.  It actually says in English, "Hurt Hand" underneath.  To place a bloody hand print from the blood of a slaughter is considered a blessing on the object.  Not sure if that has anything to do with it.

There are pictures of a thumbs up.  No blood on this hand!

There are footprints.

All of those are plentiful.

Every now and then I'll see a logo I recognize from my life before.  It always makes me chuckle to see some old friends.

 I've sat in taxis with "Mrs. Fields"

 and with "Lysol".

Really, a lot of the reason for a logo appearing doesn't have to do with meaning.  It has to do with the look of the writing.  Actually, the fonts are cool.

For those of you who want to laugh at those stupid Egyptians, let me remind you of all the Chinese and Japanese lettering we Americans find fascinating---yet we can't read it or make sense of it.  There is a way to appreciate lettering for the artistic value alone.  Islam teaches us to value the written word and to honor those who write.  Subhanallah, I never thought I'd look at American logos with this appreciation.

One of the amazing parts of traffic in Egypt is the variety.  It isn't just trucks laden down with produce (and a man sitting down next to it to guard it).

It's live animals zooming past you like these sheep...

or these cows.

When Mr. Boo and I would exit our former school's gates, sometimes we'd see these animals heading down the road.  I'd tell him it was a, "sheep taxi," or a, "cow taxi," and that we could catch a ride if we were able to baah or moo.  He didn't believe me (smart kid).

I need to get a picture of camels in a truck.  That's an amazing sight.  They are all sitting down and the only thing you see are their long necks rising out of the trucks as they look about with their inquisitive eyes.

Close your ears if you don't want to hear me but those camels are not going to be a tourist's ride at the Pyramids.  Just like the sheep and the cows, the camels are going to get slaughtered.  We eat camel meat at our house on average once a week.  It's a real mild flavor.

As an aside, the Prophet Muhamad (pbuh) told the Sahabi to make wudu again after eating camel meat.

In addition to animals, there are earth movers...

school buses...

and tour buses. 

When I see those tourists looking out their windows at the place I live, I feel sorry for them.  They don't seem to be enjoying their experience.  I rarely see anyone smile.  Mostly, they look scared or tired.  I tell Mr. Boo to wave to them.  I told my husband not to wave to them as I knew that would only worry them more.  When they snap pictures of me I have to laugh since I'm not a good example of an Egyptian.

This is what I wish the tourists could see. 

I wish they could see the smiling children of Egypt riding their horses.  It would be unheard of in America to allow these young boys to ride in the middle of traffic, yet somehow it's fine here.  It's carefree and fun.  It's a huge amount of independence.  Honestly?  Just for a moment, wouldn't you love to be one of these happy kids?

The roads are filled with these carts too.

Egypt has so many hard-working men and women who eek out a living by selling what they can.  I'm really proud of such people.  They aren't in Tahrir.  They don't have time to protest.  They simply make a life by doing what they can to earn halal risq; blessed earnings.

Here's a picture which needs some explaining.  

Do you see the donkey?  It's pulling a cart with two huge bags but they aren't heavy.  Those bags are filled with plastic bottles.  The boy on the cart is recycling and he will dig through the trash to find what he needs to help his family survive.  It's dirty work for sure yet I really respect him for saving Egypt from itself.  Without recyclers, I believe that our landfills would be double or triple in size.

There's another story in the picture as well.  Do you see the trucks waiting by the side of the road?  They are waiting in a wedding caravan.  The trucks are piled high with the goods that the fiance has been slowly stockpiling for months and even years.  It isn't easy to get married in Egypt.  The man must have purchased an apartment, the furniture, the appliances, and all the household goods.  This shows the women and children sitting amongst the goods ready to go.

Right after this picture, yelling erupted.  There was one woman who was very mad about something.  I think it was about which truck back she had to commandeer.  She wouldn't listen to anyone no matter how much they shouted at her.  Someone in the group called over the family elder and he quietly reasoned with her.  She got out of the truck and the caravan then started on its way to the new apartment.

Egypt!  Really, I find Egypt fascinating.  If people utter a sentiment like that, usually they mean Ancient Egypt.  For me, I find modern Egypt just as worthy of study.

Many visitors to Egypt lament the traffic.  It's a problem to be sure.  Yesterday, I had to deal with the traffic up close and personal.  However, I also found a way to find the beauty in the moment and to remember and praise Allah.  

There's a kind of Divine choreographing going on with so many people and plans coverging.  Thousands of people want to be in the same place at the same time.  To someone else it is a chaos.  To me, I see the artistry in the moment.  Cairo traffic is ballet for cars.  Everyone finds a way to make it work and to keep flowing through the crowded streets.  There's a kindness towards each other and an acceptance of fate because we're all in this together.    

Alhumdulillah for journeys and for returning home safely.  May all your journeys help you find your way.


dani abdel said...

I share the same feeling. My husband is an egyptain and I visited for the first time last April. I too saw the secret beauty.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Dani,

Glad to hear from a kindred spirit. Ya, so many people put it down that it seems normal to agree but I can't. I hate to wait but being on the road in Egypt has so much to offer for a visual learner.

I hope you come to Egypt again. The country needs more people like you :)

Love and Light to You and Your Family!

Arezu In Wonderland said...

Hihi very fun pictures sis,
I'm sure you didn`t get bored during the trip.

XO Arezu

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Arezu,

Thanks for stopping by :)

I should probably clarify that the pictures were from Al-Haram and not from the actual trip itself. I took these pics when I first moved here and had an apartment overlooking a busy road.

Alhumdulillah I'm on a quiet stretch of street now. This morning, as I collected my wash from the line, consisted of a camel and a donkey.

Hugs to you too!

Anonymous said...

Salamoh Alaikom,

Nice Post. I have to agree with you about tour buses and their inhabitants lol. I believe that you cannot experience Egypt, the real Egypt, unless you walk its streets. Get lost even.

So many people come to Egypt and they only see it behind glass windows. I would even say many upper class Egyptians fall into this category. They seem to be out of touch with the 'street'.

Egypt, the Egypt of the average struggling Egyptian, can only be seen and experienced by venturing out of the comfort zone.

Riding an old taxi or even a minibus. You get to sit in a old vehicle that is falling apart, but it has character. You get to feel the HOT air of summer whip your face as the driver goes down the road at full speed. With every wild bump your head almost touches the ceiling. You just get to see something different. Its incredible when one thinks about it really. Though I must say that on a nasty hot summer days when I was are stuck in traffic for 2 hours with another 15 people in the minibus..... I did seem to forget that lol.

Oh I do want to mention something about one of your pics. The wedding caravan. I have seen many myself. What I have understand though is that not all those things are bought by the man. In Egypt, among the working class. The man supplies the apartment and some of the furniture. And the girl brings the carpets, curtains, pots and pans, stove, fridge, and washing machines. YES. I always find the amount of things bought both practical and ridiculous. Seems families start to buy stuff for daughters as soon as they hit puberty. :)


egyptchick7 said...

This is a beautiful post...I never really looked at the means of expression drivers have on their cars, but the vibrancy and variety are representatives of a beautiful people....

I don't think there is a secret beauty- it is ever present whenever I go...I mean sure I hate the garbage ridden streets, but I LOVE the way my family makes me feel like I AM them and an extended part of their own bodies....the hospitality is insane and I love it so much...

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam R.,

Nice addition to what I've written. Thanks for taking the time to share.

I TOTALLY agree with your statement, "So many people come to Egypt and they only see it behind glass windows. I would even say many upper class Egyptians fall into this category. They seem to be out of touch with the 'street'."

Where I live is a nice enough place but (if you've read some previous posts) you'll know that snobby people in Egypt look down on this life I have. The FUNNY thing is that the most popular dramas on TV are about these people. So, the upper crust won't meet and mingle on a personal level with anybody like these people I live with BUT they will sit at home and watch them like an ant farm.

You might be right about the arosa (the bride) buying the miscellaneous. I'm not as sharp on the details surrounding marriage since we didn't go in for all that culture. We just put together what we had and made do. I'll ask and find out if I can get more info.

Love and Light!

Asalamu Alaykom EgyptChick,

You are these people, Girl. You have this creativity and love of life in your veins. So enjoy being all the things you admire in them---it's in YOU too :)

Much Love!

Anonymous said...

Wa Alaikom Salam,

Yep. That't true. I also noticed the most popular dramas here are about the people the upper crust look down on but enjoy to watch. I think that and having maids, bawabs, and the people who serve them on a daily basis is the only way they interact...

Egypt's class conscious mentality is very obvious, at least to me. When I was a newbie I did not know the extent of those divisions EVEN though I had read tons before moving here.

Once I lived and mingled with Egyptians of all different walks of life I started to see how they view and treat each other. It made me feel uncomfortable and sad. Uncomfortable because it was a new experience for me. In the States people don't immediately make up an opinion of someone based on that persons family social background (poor , low class , middle class, upper class etc). In Egypt it is like that. I have read several of your Egypt related topics. I think the first comment I made in your blog was a comment (dont know if it went through though lol)about your experience inviting an Egyptian lady to your home and her reaction to that. I was like 'ouch'. I can imagine what was going through her mind and I totally understand the frustration and hurt you must have felt at her reaction to your home. Sadly, in Egypt it seems to about the golden end result not about the journey to get there.

thank YOU for showing the other sides of Egypt.


Anonymous said...


I'd like to add one more thing...

Several years ago I was out walking with my spouse somewhere in Maadi. (It wasnt a leisure walk I was heading to an inteview lol). We were going to cross the street and my husband greeted an elderly uniformed street sweeper. You should have seen his face light up. It was as if it was the first time anyone in the street had ever addressed him or given him a second look.

Now that I think back at that moment I can't help but think of the Prophet's saying that even a smile is charity. Here it was a simple salamoh alaikom. An acknowledgment that he was there.


Yosra said...

And the award for most prolific commenter on this post goes to...


LOL :)

Asalamu Alaykom R.

I enjoy your comments---don't get me wrong. You have a very helpful and welcome insight.

Backtracking a bit...this most recent comment reminded me to ask my hub about the arosa; the bride, and her responsibility to the household. He said that it's typical within this economic group (lower middle class) for the bride's family to purchase the household goods---including refrigerator and washing machine. However, the actual money might have been given to her family by the groom. So, she gets to pick out her things but with his money. Nice! Like that :)

The Egyptian class issues...ya, they are there for sure. I've felt them the whole time. Yes, that moment when my first workmate came over was a bummer...a stinker for both me and her. She was shocked I lived in such conditions. Yet, there she sits alone most nights in her fancy apartment across town from her family and her husband's. If she wants to see either side, she has to travel long distances. Me? I'm in a village setting with family all around. During the Revolution, she had to leave her apartment for fear of attacking theives. Us? We simply "circled the wagons," and protected our area.

For Americans who think that Egyptians are less accepting of others than they themselves are---let's look at the African-American analogy. When a gospel show at a high-class theatre in my hometown became a sold-out, standing-room-only event, I had to smirk. Those rich white folks would not share the same sidewalk with any of those performers. They would actually cross the streets to avoid it! They would never invite them over for dinner. They would never want their child to intermarry with "those people."

It's basically the same thing over here with the street life dramas. The majority are enthralled by the vibrancy of the lower class but would do anything in their power NOT to join them in any equality. The lower classes here represent a lot of what African-Americans do in America.

The recent protests bring up some of this in that the lower classes are more religious. President Morsi is NOT from an upper class family. So, those who oppose him might be genuinely concerned (with reason) for his policies but the extra hate they have for him might be because of their classism and fear of the more religious lower classes.

Lastly, (yes, all good things come to an end) I liked what you had to say about the street sweepers. I LOVE THESE PEOPLE! They are the heart and soul of the country. They truly do sweep the street. They remove the daily dirt and refuse. They are literally dirt poor. Yet, they are a cheerful lot. I've never seen a grumpy street sweeper. I'm sure they exist. I'm sure they have bad days. My husband knows our street sweeper by name and greets him when he takes me to the bus stop. They shake hands and that's when my hub will slip him some cash. Many men do this. Maybe your hub did this too without you knowing. It's done VERY secretely in order to keep the man's dignity in tact. A pound. Five pounds. They do need this money more than you, for sure.

I will be posting more about the street sweepers another time. No joke, I am gladdened by their presence in my life.

I'm happy you're in it too, R. I think I'm going to have to give you a longer name. Rosey? You like it? It could be spelled Rosie. Mull it over.

Love and Light!

Anonymous said...

Salamoh Alaikom

I am glad you like my comments. :) I also like the perspective you give about life in Egypt. I think a part of that has to do with me living a similar life to the one you live here in Egypt. I mean the family life and neighborhood setting.

Regarding the classicism in Egypt. I guess what I was trying to say is that the classicist issue is more obvious to me here in Egypt. There is still racism in the USA, but I think that here it is just too obvious, maybe like it was in the US before the 50's. Maybe its also the perspective I am seeing it from. I am also a convert to Islam and before I came to live here I had a sort of idea of what I hoped it would be like and then I find these types of inequality issues alive and well here.

I have lived in the poor side of town here in Egypt and also due to circumstances I have also lived in the nicer part of town. A nice 'classy' neighborhood may be next to a slum or even just a less 'nice' neighborhood. You noticed that I am sure. And I do see a very different way of life even when people of different social backgrounds live so close together. And of course the one with the upper hand usually see nothing wrong with this. Its just the mentality.

There is a trend of rich egyptians moving out into the desert. No, not as Bedouins lol. I think you have passed by the often gawdy villas blooming in the desert. Not all of them, but many of them are actually gated communities, so it appears that the misunderstandings are only bound to grow. And the popularity of the tv soaps depicting the 'local' people are going to skyrocket too.

Rosie. I never thought of myself as a Rosie :)

I will think about it.

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam,

I'm thinking now of RoRo. This is acutally a popular nickname in Egypt ---though I can't remember for which formal name.

Yet another good comment! It's almost like a coffee chit-chat with you and me. Is anyone else listening? Others are totally free to get in on what we're saying. I don't mean to make it exclusive :)

The juxtaposition of the EXTREMELY wealthy and the EXTREMELY poor is sometimes too much for me. I wrote earlier about going around to schools looking for work. There are schools south from here in a village called Harraniya (many different spellings on this). One of Egypt's most elite schools, Al-Alsson, is buit up there. So much money! Yet, to get to their school, you have to pass little hovels. Doesn't anyone notice them? Doesn't that school feel some moral obligation to help those children just a bit? There are so many resources on one hand and almost none on the other. Al-Waha school, down the road, actually has a shack built directly facing it. So, you cannot miss it. A shack. A shanty. It's even worse than a hovel. Don't the parents at these schools feel the tug?, they don't. We do because we think that poverty is not eternal. Egypt gets into thinking that that social level is forever. I don't think that. I've seen how many people have climbed out of poverty or low education----including my grandfather who built businesses despite an 8th grade education (God bless him).

As for the villas, I pass them every day now. They are interesting from a far but I wouldn't want to live inside. I never want anything in Egypt which has others envying me. Simple. Classy. Low-profile. That is better for staying alive here. The funny thing about those villas in the desert is that they are heavily populated by WORKERS who take care of the rich. Sooooo....even if you are rich and moved to be away from the low-class, you end up importing them to take care of you. I'll see the shoeless tots in winter cavorting in the streets of these gated communities in more numbers than in my lower-middle class neighborhood. Kind of funny!

Love and Light!