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Surviving Travel Inside Egypt – Part 1

A Traffic Jam in Cairo, Egypt

(Editor’s note: Please join us in welcoming Robyn Payne (aka Asmaa Ahmed), anewscafe.com’s newest columnist. She’s previously from the North State, but now lives in Egypt.)

Most people are afraid of flying. When I was young I was never afraid of flying. It was so exciting; the sound of the engines, the rush of the night as you sped to the morning -feeling like you were fast forwarding through time. Then as I grew older and started watching the news and listening to people talk, I came to the realization that planes blow up, crash or just stop flying for unknown reasons and plummet to the Earth 10,000 feet below.

So after spending 23 hours flying across the United States, parts of Canada, the Atlantic Ocean, England, Europe, Israel, Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, I was so thankful to God that we arrived safely.

I never thought I would die in the back of a taxi hurling through Cairo, Egypt like a steel ball inside a pinball machine.

If you’ve ever been in New York City and taken a cab and thought that was crazy, take that experience and multiply it a thousand times and you’ve got yourself an Egyptian taxi driver. New York cabbies have nothing on drivers in Egypt. The drive from the airport took about 45 minutes but it seemed like it took hours. My 9-year-old daughter spent the whole time with her head buried against my chest and her fingers dug into the flesh of my arms while she shook from fear. I held onto the man next to me, who is now my husband, digging my fingers into his arms the same way my daughter was to me. I spent that 45 minutes praying to God to get us to wherever we were going in one piece and vowing NEVER to ride in a cab again, but like my mother says, never say never.

Our flat is on the fourth floor of a six-story building and faces the street, and the first few days I spent a lot of time watching the traffic and the people from my bedroom window. The best way to describe almost any busy street in Egypt is to just say “frogger”. That is what it’s like here if you’re a pedestrian; dodging cars, weaving through traffic while they are temporarily stopped or not, praying that they don’t start driving or driving faster while you’re in the middle of them all. It can take you 15 minutes to cross 4 lanes of traffic on foot.

The more I watched the traffic out that window the more nervous I became about ever getting into a vehicle of any kind, and we do have many different kinds. Taxis, as you now know, are bullets on wheels, seemingly driven by blind mad men. Then there are Micro Buses which are Toyota’s version of the VW buses of the ’60’s and ’70’s. There are generally three bench seats in the back and in the front. You have a driver (sometimes tw, as they will squeeze other bus drivers who need a ride home next to them in their seat) who is smoking, drinking tea, talking on a cell phone, giving change to passengers and swerving through pedestrians, carts with donkeys, cars and other Micro Buses all at the same time with as little as 15 to almost 30 people both inside and outside of the bus. Then you h ave the farmers and merchants who are either driving down the street with carts being pulled by donkeys or horses or riding them.

Oh, I almost forgot about the motorcycles. These can be driven by anyone, and I do mean anyone, from old men to 10 year olds who are big enough to reach the handle bars and can steer them. I have seen as many as five people on one motorcycle: the father who was driving, with a 4-year-old in front of him, mom is sitting behind him “side saddle” holding an infant in her arms, and a son about 8 years old sitting behind her holding onto her lightly.

No fear. That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the way people travel here, they have no fear. But then that is explained by the belief system they have that your destiny is in the hands of God, and when it’s your time, no one can stop it. So they live for the now, not the tomorrow.

Robyn Payne (aka Asmaa Ahmed) was born in Weaverville, California and was raised in Mountain Gate. She graduated from C.V.H.S. in 1988 and has lived all over the country since then but always ended up back in Redding. A year ago she left Redding once again and now lives in Ain Helwan, Egypt, just south of Cairo with her Egyptian husband and his family. She’s always enjoyed writing stories and poems and is a “just for fun” photographer.
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