Living Off the Nile

Rules of the Road

August 30th, 2010 by asmetana · 8 Comments

Roads in Egypt can be a mess. For those planning to drive in Egypt, here are some rules to follow. (1) If there is an opening, take it. (2) If you’re merging or trying to dodge around the car in front of you, honk. Honking is just a friendly reminder that you exist and expect to be given room. (3) Disregard the dashed white lines. A two lane road is really a three lane road, with an optional fourth lane that can be conjured at will. (4) Be prepared to brake, pedestrians can materialize from anywhere. And (5) Relax, no one else is concerned, so why should you be?

As we were told by a tour guide, “If you can drive in Egypt, you can drive anywhere in the world. Egyptians should be given an international driver’s license”. I’ve been thinking that perhaps they should also consider giving out pedestrian licenses; it takes just as much skill and experience as driving. While Egyptian pedestrians will nonchalantly enter the stream of traffic and casually cross the street in front of speeding cars, American’s have less faith that they’ll make it to the other side unscathed. Yesterday as I was waiting with a fellow student for an opening to cross a main street, at least three Egyptians crossed when I wouldn’t even have dared to sprint. When we did cross we were definitely an amusing sight with our legs pumping, hair flying, and eyes wide.  We couldn’t help but laugh in relief as we reached the opposite curb.

While being a pedestrian can be frightful, being a passenger is not always better. A few nights ago AUC students went on a relaxing felluca ride on the Nile. As we were taking a van back to the dorms, the vehicle suddenly started swerving rapidly in the middle of traffic. Moments later, I saw the driver’s door swing open. Unfazed, he leaned out, grabbed hold of it, and slammed it shut. A shocked silence fell over the bus, quickly interrupted by incredulous laughter. The girl seated next to the driver exclaimed, “I thought he was going to fall out! He doesn’t even have a seat belt on!”

Thankfully, situations like the ones I just illustrated do not happen all the time. The Zamalek neighborhood where I live is generally populated by one lane streets (since parked cars constrict their width), residential buildings, shops, and consulates/embassies. This means that the traffic is minimal for the most part, though it still seems slightly reckless to my Western senses. I have yet to get a good idea of the rest of Cairo’s traffic, but I have heard it is worse. Also, since it is Ramadan things are definitely toned down a few notches.

But why is traffic normally so crazy? It stems primarily from the lack of respect towards traffic laws. Road conditions, inadequate public transit, a massive population,  and faulty vehicles are also to blame. The Egyptian government is making plans towards alleviating its traffic problem.  It is supporting a project with Agence Française de Développement to “Promote an efficient, integrated, multimodal, tiered mass transport system.” Another plan is to make it’s downtown a pedestrian only zone, with the hope that with its success other areas of Cairo will follow its lead and rely less on cars and turn towards public transport or walking to get around. Hopefully Egypt can successfully implement a sustainable and efficient way to transport their large population. Until then, I’ll just have to be cautious.

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8 responses so far ↓

  • Justin Mattos // Aug 31st 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Wow!! I hear India is the same way. So, does this mean you don’t plan on driving while you are there? lol

  • asmetana // Aug 31st 2010 at 9:08 pm

    No way!

  • Leslie Martin // Sep 1st 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Amy – these pictures and posts are awesome – vivid, interesting, thoughtful. Have classes started yet? (The formal ones; learning is clearly already happening!)

  • asmetana // Sep 1st 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my blog so far. (Formal) Classes begin this Sunday.

  • Diane Russell // Sep 2nd 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I love your blog, Amy. When I was in the former USSR, being a passenger could be quite frightening, especially on the rural roads. Once a drunk driver drove on a rope-style narrow pedestrian bridge over a small river. I was quite surprised when I realized that I had survived that crossing!

  • asmetana // Sep 4th 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for the story! That sounds like a scary experience.

  • Bsmetana // Sep 30th 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Amy very scary not like in China were i did not see any accident or driving in USA were I thought people drive risky . Well we not be renting a car there during my visit. Love Dad

  • asmetana // Oct 2nd 2010 at 11:45 am

    No, we will not be renting a car. Public transport and taxis are good enough 🙂