Last Thursday Ruby and I got stuck in a traffic jam, on our way home from school.
There are no traffic rules in Cairo, – we just hold our space on the road within an inch of the cars around us. A roundabout isn’t necessarily a one way system, even I make the shortcut and go right some times. Maadi has the most intricate road system I’ve ever experience, not even seasoned taxi drivers can figure it out. We all just pile onto the road and hope for the best – especially in rush hour.
We got gridlocked on Digla Roundabout, with traffic coming from every direction. As we where crossing the train tracks the front seat passenger in a Suzuki micro bus started engaging me with hand signals. It took a while before Ruby and I noticed, as we where singing on top of our voices to the latest hit on 104.2 Nile FM. Turning down the radio and my window to try get what the hand language was all about, I soon figured out that he was trying to tell me I’ve scratched his bus.
There was not a space on that bus that was not already scratched – all cars are scratched and dinted in Cairo, including mine. Before getting our car, Shane asked me what kind of car I wanted. ‘Something old, big and sturdy that you won’t mind getting scratched and dinted’. And sure enough it is.
Sadly it’s well known that some thugs make it their business to intimidate drivers into handing over cash and accepting fault in an accidents that never happened. Insurance is practically unheard of. We have one . . . somewhere. I did not take the intimidation seriously and carried on, there was an opening in the traffic and we where moving. Then they cut me off, creating an even bigger gridlock.
Suddenly they all piled out of the micro bus, – big, angry, brutes. The thugs of Cairo, and let’s be honest, we all have thugs in out towns, they are f* intimidating. I rolled up the window and locked the doors, just in time for the leader of the pack to start screaming at me and slapping his fists into my window, again and again, – thank god it didn’t break. I thew up my has in the ‘WTF’ gesture but looking straight into the angry eyes of the pack leader I knew, – engagement would not get me out of this situation. I reversed and turned to go down Mustafa Kamel Street, only to find I was blocked in. The traffic was at complete standstill in all directions.
‘Well’ I said to Ruby getting my phone out of my handbag, ‘we are in trouble.’ ‘What kind of trouble?’ – she wanted to know how serious it was. ‘Nothing that your dad can’t fix’ I said, just as Shane picked up. Leaving him on loudspeaker on the dash, while I explained where we where and what was happening, I reached for my iPad and start to record.
This video is what happened next. At the end you will see the pack of thugs retreating – just like the street dogs of Cairo. They are intimidating, they can be scary, but they will back down when we stand our ground and growl back.
Tears featured when we finally got back on the road, so we talked. About being safe, about being scared. About keeping our cool and standing in our power. About trusting that we can cope and the situation will resolve. I encouraged her to talk about it in guidance class in school and she did. Some of her friends have seen the video and I cherish how she talks about it. She knew we where in a serious situation and she stayed calm. Good Girl Ruby!
But the whole experience really brought it home and made us wise to the volatile situation we live in. Egypt is in a State of Emergency. These men do not reflect the general male population of Cairo and these incidences, while they happen, are not the norm. Even so, we must stay vigilant. Keep our cool. Keep our mobiles close. Keep our emergency contacts on speed dial and a watchful eye out.
I belong in this country as much as every expat and I love living in Maadi. It will take me many blogs to talk to all the differences between the places I’ve lived, but this – Maadi – is a home for my heart.
Much Love & Light