I always thought that Los Angeles won hands-down in the category of traffic congestion. That is, until I went to Egypt a few months ago. Move over, Los Angeles. You’ve got competition.
It really doesn’t matter time of day or night, season of the year, weather, or any unexpected or catastrophic events. Without a doubt, Cairo’s vehicles manage to congest bar none. Cairo is a sprawling city without any clear-cut way to get anywhere without a vehicle of some kind – again reminiscent of LA. It’s almost like a symphony to hit Cairo’s thoroughfares. There’s the constant toot-toot of horns, whine of motorbikes and tuk-tuks, roar of semis, screech of brakes, coughs of elderly cars and vans, squeaks of bike tires, belching smoke from ancient buses, clip-clop of horse and cart, serenade of sirens as hapless ambulances scream for space – all the while turning three lane roadways into six or seven lanes as frantic pedestrians weave in and out trying to cross the street, taxis stop in the middle of the road letting out or taking in passengers, and voices are raised in Arabic curses. Let’s not forget hand and finger gestures out of almost every window in an international language that doesn’t need translation.
But somehow, traffic moves – as Shakespeare would phrase it, “…in its petty pace.” After an hour in sweltering heat trying to go from Point A to Point B, it occurred to me that there must be some unwritten rules that make it possible to finally arrive at any destination. Thus, I decided to discover the rule book for Egyptian drivers – and any foreigners who just happen to be looking for a quick route to madness.
- Might makes right. There is a distinct advantage being bigger than the guys around you. Size and muscle determine who wins the weaving game, and I would hate to be on one of those wobbly bikes, motorcycles, or Vespas in this competition.
- He who hesitates is lost. Unbridled nerve beats caution every time. The opening may only be six inches – but that’s six inches to your benefit. Grab it!
- There can only be one winner. If you want to be Number One, you’ve got to press every advantage. A sliver of sidewalk? An inch of shoulder? All are fair game for a true Type A competitor.
- Horns let others know that the driver is on the ball. Whether it’s making a turn, forging forward, changing lanes, or scattering pedestrians, horns are meant to let everyone know your intentions. Use them! Constantly.
- All those lines on the road are suggestions, not mandates. Don’t be fooled by painted stripes on the street. They are simply there to give the Department of Transportation employees jobs to do. Kind of like an art project. If you approve of them, you can try to keep your vehicle inside a pair. But if you’re in a hurry, it’s okay to ignore them.
- The same can be said of red lights, stop signs, and one-way signs. They’re useful if they don’t get in the way. On that note, it’s also okay to use both sides of the road if there’s stopped traffic on your side. Or at least to muscle yourself over a little if you need to. Don’t forget that MIGHT MAKES RIGHT.
- Speeding is acceptable if you happen to be lucky enough to find a road with open lanes. That would probably be way outside of any city/town/village. Just be careful that the road stays paved. You wouldn’t want to get dust on your car.
- Age is no limitation. Even though there are written laws about when Egyptians are allowed to drive, these are flexible. If the driver next to you looks about ten years old, he probably is. The only real limitation to driving is being too short to see out of the windshield or reach the pedals.
- Cell phones? These ubiquitous companions keep the driver informed and entertained. As such, it’s reasonable to keep them in your hand at all times.
- Time for you to do vehicle maintenance? There are really only two critical systems which must be in tip-top shape at all times – your brakes and your horn. The engine? Easily replaced by a donkey.
- Try to keep loads on top of your vehicle from exceeding three times the height of the vehicle and make sure that the rope is tight. Otherwise, that precious cargo might fall onto another vehicle and get damaged.
- What about those frequent daily calls to prayer? Try not to miss even one. You need all God’s help you can get to survive the Egyptian roads.
These are just a few of the important rules that everyone on Egyptian highways and byways knows and follows. But never forget the Golden Rule (“Might makes Right”). A little knowledge can make all the difference.