Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I had to learn the Egyptian way to cross the street, an art which requires timing, concentration, depth perception and guts.

Crossing the street seems like a pretty basic thing, but in Cairo, a city of 20-25 million people, where cars, buses, trucks, donkey carts and motorcycles all traveling as fast as they can pack the roads, it's a whole new experience. Stoplights, crosswalks and blinkers are optional (and often ignored), as are the lane markings on the road. Cars sometimes go the wrong way down the street. Drivers may slow down for people on foot or swerve within inches. They rarely seem to stop.

Like driving in Egypt, crossing the street takes a little aggression. Egyptian pedestrians generally just step into traffic and start walking across, stopping between "lanes" when cars are coming too quickly. Hopping, running, walking, weaving and holding a hand up to slow cars may all be involved. It's actually easier to cross when traffic is really heavy and cars are moving slowly. I have the most trouble when traffic is only moderate, because people drive too fast.

Tourists just confuse Egyptian motorists. They get confused if you don't just GO already, like all the other pedestrians. I am actually much better at it now, but I have spent many an afternoon working up the nerve to cross a busy street, only to have every taxi slow down in front of me to see if I need a ride. So I finally GO already but I chicken out halfway through and just run across, saying, "Please don't hit me, please don't hit me."

Of course drivers don't intend to hit anyone with their cars, traffic just moves quickly here, and if you drive too slow, someone will surely pull around you, pull out in front of you or use some other aggressive tactic.

Luckily crossing the street Egyptian-style does get easier.

1 comment:

Firuza said...

Hi Holly!

Reading your blogs make me feel like I'm back in Azerbaijan! Frogger-ing the streets...shwarma (yum!) and, especially dealing with men as a foreign woman.

I remember trying to hide and blend in...then acting like one of them...but I wasn't and I couldn't be and it was probably pretty entertaining when I did. : ) So finally I decided to be myself (minus the friendliness factor), still be respectful, and open some kind of helpful/educating dialogue spaces for cultural exchange. Asking questions... "I don't understand...Can you explain to me why...?" But everyone has to find what works for them.

I felt the most successful in situations where relationships were building. Go to the same coffee shop, go to the same market vendors, hire the same taxi driver to pick you up every day...yes, they may annoy you now...but this is the work of bridging cultures. You can create social networks and people that begin to experience you as a real person (not just a foreigner based on media stereotypes) and who, with time, begin to look out for your well-being because somehow, you become "their" foreigner and most likely, will look forward to your visits.

Found this browsing OSI today and thought it might be something of interest you you--scholarships for documenting social justice/human rights issues in Egypt.


Hang in there, keep discovering, struggling, negotiating meaning, and building bridges. You can do it! : )