A Lesson From Egypt: Driving

As far as I can tell, Los Angeles is somewhat notorious for traffic and crazy driving. However, while I’m no expert on traffic patterns across the world, I can say with certainty, Los Angeles has nothing on Cairo. If you ever go to visit Egypt: Don’t Drive. You’d be better off driving in England or Australia (just remember: don’t turn right on a red!). But, if you must drive in Egypt, here are some suggestions.

1. Relax. While I’m talking mostly about Cairo here, I rode in taxis and buses in Alexandria, Luxor, and Aswan as well, and the experience was about the same. Never, in any of these cities, did I see a driver get agitated. I realize a great deal of this is probably a matter of personality; however, I’ve ridden in far fewer cabs in Los Angeles and New York and experienced a great deal more driver frustration.

2. Relax more. Egyptian drivers are so relaxed that they don’t follow what Americans might consider “traffic guidelines.” In a multilane street, Cairo drivers drive arbitrarily over the lines instead of between them. If there are a lot of cars, you’ll see about five lanes of traffic on a three-lane street, with one car never directly behind or in front of another. If there are fewer cars, two cars can manage to take up most of the three lanes.

3. Be aware. There are hardly any traffic lights, which means there are no crosswalks, which means pedestrians will walk in front of your car at any time at any place. Now granted, they probably don’t want to get hit any more than you want to hit them, but avoiding that kind of thing is your responsibility as well as theirs.

4. Be more aware. At seemingly arbitrary and very rare intersections there is a lone person directing traffic. If you’re familiar with the territory, you probably know to look for this person, but if you’re covering new ground, while trying to adjust to the relaxed, controlled chaos of Cairo, you might miss this person, which could cause actual chaos.

5. Honk your horn. If you’re passing a car, honk your horn. If you’re passing a pedestrian honk your horn. If you’re letting someone go in front of you, honk your horn. If you’re changing lanes, honk your horn. Basically, you want every other person on or near the road to be as aware of your presence as you’re trying to be of theirs.

6. You’re going to get hit. I didn’t see a single wreck; nevertheless, more than half the cars, I’ll say about 75% without feeling like I’m exaggerating, had scratches along the sides, corners, or mirrors. With five lanes of traffic on a three-lane roads, you’re driving within inches of other cars (side mirrors even closer) at freeway-type speeds. People who have been driving in Cairo for years seem adept at this; however, you – you’ll get hit.

6. Appreciate. Traffic in Egypt is beautiful. It’s like watching non-rush hour traffic weaving and slowing and speeding and dancing on a freeway in L.A., but better. It’s like watching a tightrope performance, where beauty feeds on tension. Something could go horribly wrong, but as long as it doesn’t, it’s glorious. The ability to sit back and watch is why it’s better to ride than to drive in Egypt. But this is also probably a matter of personality. I’d rather be the audience than the circus, but I’m glad someone wants to be the circus.

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