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 Payne

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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