Postcards From Egypt:
Surviving Travel – Part 2

So any given day in Egypt you’ll likely see a mix of animals (wild dogs in packs, herds of sheep and goats, the occasional donkey, buffalo or camel), motorcycles, taxi’s, micro buses, private cars and then industrial and city vehicles, big rigs, tour buses and tons of people on the streets from around 4am until 2am the next morning. Egypt is the country that never sleeps!

Except in downtown Cairo and Giza, there are no traffic lights. There are a few signs here and there, but like the “pirate code” from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, these are thought of as “mostly guidelines than actual rules”. People drive two, three or four cars wide on a two lane road. They go north and south in the same lane, sometimes on the right side of the road, sometimes the left. I’ve seen vehicles not only driving backwards, but cars pushing other cars backwards through oncoming traffic. There are no police to enforce any traffic laws in most places and there would not be enough police to even do this job in a country of over 80 million people.

My first experience on a micro bus was to go to a wedding. They had rented two buses to carry everyone to the wedding party in another part of town (Egyptian weddings are another great story I’ll tell you about another time). So you have all women, girls and babies in one bus and the men and boys in another. The women do this twirl with their tongues to celebrate an engagement or wedding, the birth of a child or anything where they are happy called “Zaghrota”(most Americans associate this with suicide bombers just before a bomb explodes which is incorrect – and only women who do this, men DO NOT).

Photo by Wael Ghonim

So you have about 20 to 30 women and children all crammed into this micro bus, yelling, twirling their tongues, clapping, singing with the men in the other bus playing drums, clapping and singing, the bus drivers racing each other and honking their horns like their lives depended on it while ignoring anyone else who is on the road with them, my daughter so scared she was almost in tears, while my future mother in law yelled at the driver to slow down. I forgot to mention that weddings are at night and NO ONE uses their head lights except to maybe flash each other to let them know they are coming up behind them or if someone is coming towards them. By the time we got to the wedding party, we were both willing to walk all the way home. This was my first experience on a micro bus and as you can guess I prefer to take the Metro Rail if at all possible, especially when traveling into downtown Cairo.

The Metro Rail is great. I love it!! Did I mention that I really love the train?? The worse thing that happens on the train is that you can have about 100 people crammed into a car at one time on a hot and muggy day all sweaty and gross. However, you’re not swerving through traffic, dodging donkeys and praying to God you make it home alive. Another nice thing with the train is there are two or three cars set aside just for women. This is great for mothers with kids, if you’re breastfeeding it’s a great place for a pit stop for the baby to feed without any embarrassment and just in general if you are traveling without your husband or a male escort from your family.

It’s been almost a year now since my first experience with Egyptian transportation and surprisingly enough I will fall asleep on those same micro buses that used to make my knuckles turn white. I prefer the Metro Rail and my husband prefers the bus, sick man that he is, but you have to adapt and adjust quickly if you want to go anywhere and don’t have a car in Egypt.

All I can say is I really can’t wait for any of my friends and relatives to come visit so I can see their expressions the first time they ride in a taxi or on a micro bus. I can laugh now and probably will then at their expense, but I believe I have earned that laughter.

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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Robyn (Asmaa) Payne was born in Weaverville, California and was raised in Mountain Gate where her family still lives. 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. In October of 2011 she left Redding once again and now lives in Cairo, Egypt, with her Egyptian husband and step son. She loves to write and is looking forward to sharing more of her new country and the people and places she loves here.
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16 Responses

  1. Lincoln Lincoln says:

    This is brilliant stuff, as were your previous posts. (Sounds a bit like transport melees I've witnessed and participated in from China to India to Indonesia). Keep up the terrific writing. Especially enjoying details like the male vs female minibus race.

    Lincoln (from Weaverville)

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      Shoukran(Thank you) so much Lincoln. Yes, you don't appreciate having your own car in the US until you have to rely on public transportation. Smiles. Keep reading…there is so much I can't wait to share.

  2. Avatar JJH says:

    So did you meet him online and how much younger than you is he?

    • Why would you ask that? It has nothing to do with the article.

      Thank you to Robyne for these great articles–they are very informative.

      Two weeks ago at a hotel in So. Calif. I had the priviledge of watching the processions for an Egyptian wedding. The women came on Saturday night and then the men and women were there for the wedding on Sunday night. It was beautiful!

      • Thanks, Diane. That anonymous comment rubbed me the wrong way, too.

        • Avatar Robyn says:

          Shoukran (Thank you) Diane. As for a response for JJH….I will write about my relationship later .. maybe for our 1 year anniversary that is coming up in December. Egyptian weddings are pretty amazing, and loud. But I don't think I've ever seen such beautiful brides and dresses as here. Not everyone does this, as weddings now are very expensive and many people just have small family parties to save expenses. But the love of the families here (Aunts, Uncles, cousins galore, and brothers and sisters and more, more, more) is worth more than all the money in the world. Really it's the heart of the Egyptians that make them so beautiful.

  3. Avatar Canda says:

    What a fun and fascinating article! You do such a great job of painting a picture I can visualize. I hope you'll keep these jewels coming. Stay safe over there!

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      Canda, Shoukran! I'm just so blessed that I get to share a piece of my new home with people from my old home. It's not like anything I ever really imagined from TV or anything. I pray you enjoy the next articles as well.

  4. Marilyn Traugott Marilyn Traugott says:

    Robyn, thank you for sharing a slice of life that most of us will never experience or even imagine. I've been saying the drivers here in South Africa are the worst (e.g., routinely and aggressively tailgating at 75 mph) but I stand corrected by orders of magnitude! As Canda just said, stay safe… and keep writing.

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      Marilyn, Shoukran!! One of the first things I thought of when seeing the traffic was "what freedom". I could be out on the street 5 minutes and there are so many tickets that could be written in that time. There are so many "rules" in the US just when it comes to driving. Smiles. So you can have the extravagant Mercedes next to the humble donkey and cart…but both drivers will have a spirit of fearlessness to them…just different modes of transport. I hope you enjoy the rest to come.

  5. Avatar Cheri says:

    LOVED this visual picture you have painted for us with your words! Great articles…keep them coming…..thank you…:)

    Cheri

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      Shoukran Cheri!! I pray that God continues to gift me with the ability to paint with my words!!! Bless you!

  6. Avatar 2r says:

    Great Article.. I think thru the MEDIA we are Painted a certain picture..of far away places..Things Is, We all have a story to tell, some good,some bad,some terrible..and Your adventure there should Open many eyes..We may different traditions ,or beliefs,or ways of doing things,But Our Spirit shines thru,and knows we are All so connected,in so many ways. Many blessing to you ~ And Thank you ~2R

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      2r,

      Shoukran my friend, you are so right. I was finding out the other day what approximate "number" I and my husband were the day we were born, and I realized how "small" this big world really is. The day my husband and I met there were 6,915,676,891 other people here..the chances of us meeting and ending up sharing our lives together is amazing to me, but we are all so blessed and connected. Allah al hafiz (God protect you)

  7. Avatar Sabrina Ryan says:

    That is an awesome adventure sounds like KENYA …same traffic rules over here too busy but over here we have small cabs they call them TUK TUK …just like indian mini cars with 3 wheels ..i guess Egypt is far more worse if they are doing min bus racing thats sounds like SUICIDE …. there is no smilleys here to share my shocking look …what a world its full of Surprises and Horror too .

    Thanks Robyn (Asmaa) for sharing your thrilling adventures in Egypt …am sure soon you will surprise us with more exciting moments !

    would love to hear more from you . Stay Blessed .

    Peace!

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      Shoukran Sabrina, there are Tuk Tuk's but not in Cairo, they are mostly over in Giza and close to the farms. I will write about that soon with pictures. The soil along the Nile River is so fertile and black, that the crops that grow are amazing. In less than 10 miles you go from millions of people packed in a city, to farmland to desert……The world is an amazing place, and I bet Kenya has some wonderful and exciting stories of its own!!!!

      We are blessed.

      Your sister….Asmaa