Life around the world

Saturday, 6 October, 2012 - 21:39

The taxi drivers of Cairo

by Kate Wym

This summer, I’ve spent four months living in Cairo.  It’s a city unlike anywhere I have ever visited and it has its own unique character – unique, but I won’t say bad or good!

When I look back on my stay, a weird aspect of daily life stands out in my mind:  taxi rides.  Yes, one of the most mundane, every day activities, but taxi rides, in particular the taxi drivers themselves, have been one of the recurring factors of life in Cairo, along with the heat and cupcakes.  As with these two other things, they’ve been there through the ups and downs and have contributed to some of the best and worst moments.

Of course, the bad times are usually all along the same lines.  What begins with a few innocent questions about where I’m from and what I’m doing in Cairo often led to telling me I’m beautiful and giving me their business card, ‘to see the sights, go anywhere anytime!’.  I think I might almost miss the daily compliments I get here; a new one recently has been that I’m ‘cute’ – I really think they must misunderstand the word, because there’s no mistaking the scowl on my face…

There are also the drivers who accept to take you somewhere that they have absolutely no idea how to get to.  I really do appreciate their enthusiasm but honestly I’d rather they admitted they were lost.  Because when I have no idea where I’m going, I quite often rely on their ‘Knowledge’.  Then again there are other times, when you know exactly where you want to go and exactly how to get there and even about how much it should cost.  When these three factors do not fall in to place, I just know it’s going to be one of those days.

Sometimes drivers happily chat to you throughout the journey, not concerned if you really understand, but sometimes trying really hard to help you – gesticulating with both hands while turning round to talk to you face-to-face while speeding down the road…Thanks! Politics has naturally been the most popular topic while I’ve been here.  People don’t hesitate to tell you who they voted for or didn’t, and why. 

There is mild peril even for guys who sit in the front seat, because quite often the driver takes it personally if they put their seatbelt on.  Never mind that it is actually a legal requirement in Egypt, but it seems that putting your seatbelt on means you don’t trust their driving skills!  The last time I heard this exchange, we actually bumped into a motorcyclist (very lightly).  The driver did have the good grace to laugh at the irony of this.

I can’t finish without mentioning some of the incredible decoration and personalisation that goes into a taxi’s interior.  I’ve been in one with Mini Mouse headrest covers, one with a Barcelona FC flag pinned to its roof inside (there’s no accounting for taste!).  My favourites have to be those with disco lights and drivers who change the radio station several times to find music which seems to please us.  We’ve had some very fun and dangerous drives through Cairo, but you almost have to be immune to the driving style sometimes.

Basically, day-to-day life without the taxi drivers of Cairo would not be the same.  Some of the short conversations I’ve had have been my greatest achievements in Cairo.  These are real people trying to make a living and most of the time they provide an excellent service.  The prices are a tenth of British fares and, although this is because the natural gas they run on is much cheaper than petrol in Britain, it means you can definitely afford to forgive them for the odd detour or unsubtly rigged meter.  No journey is ever the same twice and sometimes quite literally, you don’t know where you’ll end up!

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