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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  18 March 1999
  Egyptian Driving Test
  Return to Cairo Update Index

Greetings from Cairo,

Well, it has finally happened! After two years of public transport and taxis we now have use of a car! And yes, life has become easier; we no longer have hassles waiting for taxis and paying them, instead we have hassles getting parking places and paying mechanics! It's been about a month now that I've been able to use the car. We're sharing it with a couple from Finland who will be returning home in July, until then we are using it equally. At the beginning I took it out a few times late at night when there were no other cars on the road- my aim was to first get used to the steering wheel on the OTHER side and changing gear with the RIGHT hand. Which side of the road to drive on isn't a problem, either I just had to go with the flow, or if there were no other cars then drive down the middle of the road like the other drivers.

Eventually I will have to pass the Egyptian driving test. This does not concern me. Until a few years ago the Egyptians had the easiest driving test in the world. Basically it was to drive 6 metres forward, then 6 metres back. After seeing the way that the Egyptians drive I didn't believe that the test could actually be that difficult- I guessed that the testing procedure would be to see if the person doing the test could use the horn and shout abuse at passing drivers.

I our Arabic teacher about the previous driving test to see if it was right. I asked her if it was really 6 metres forward then 6 metres back? She dismissed the idea- "No, it is more difficult than that- you have to go forward and back round a slight curve in the road to show that you can steer". Ha, well- I guess that makes all the difference eh? I then asked her if anyone failed. She assured me that many DID fail- some stalled the car, some panicked and drove into the kerb; there were many different reasons. I suppose that one has to bear in mind that learner drivers aren't allowed on the roads and as far as I can see there are no driving schools, so how does one go about learning?? Answer- One doesn't.

Now I hear that the test is more difficult. It involves driving round a 150-metre course, obeying the road signs and finally reversing into a wide parking bay. All of which takes a few minutes. But even to some people this is quite a high standard. A certain number of drivers get their licenses by having friends in the right places- and by just simply paying the right amount it is easy to bypass such a difficult(!) test. I have such a friend who is a youth leader in a church (bribery is common in this culture, and there are even many Christians who don't consider it to be wrong). I was having a white-knuckle ride with him once, one of his hands seemed to be permanently attached to the horn, and the other oscillated the gear stick into every combination before getting the place "that seemed to make the engine sound right" (often accompanied by a hideous crunching sound). Along the route of near misses and screeching tires I asked him how long he had been driving for. "Two weeks", was his reply. I asked him if he had been involved in any accidents in that time. "Yes, about four I think". Surprisingly he considered himself as a good driver. I guess he was, in-between the crashes . . .

I heard recently that in Cairo alone there are 8000 new drivers licenses issued every month. Man, that's a lot of inexperience to let loose on the roads at any one time!!

Now that I've been driving for a month I feel quite comfortable behind the wheel but in heavy traffic I'm still a bit hesitant. No matter how hard I try it is difficult to unlearn habits such as stopping at a red light, obeying traffic police, giving right of way . . . etc. all of which would break the general flow of traffic.

The car has already proved its value when I first used it for a meeting a couple of weeks ago. No hassles of carrying equipment on and off the metro or waiting around for taxis.

It's getting late so I'll sign off now. There's so much news but never enough time to write . . .

Toodle Pip,

Jason, Alison, Hannah and Esther.

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It's a Fact!

Facts about Egypt:

  • Egypt's population is 66 Million

  • Egypt is four times the size of the UK

  • Only 3% of the land can be used for arable crops

  • Cairo has 18 million people and is growing by 1 millon each year.

  • Cairo is the Largest city in Africa and the Middle East

  • Official literacy rate is only 45%

  • A total of 11 languages are spoken in Egypt

  • Public Debt per person is $790

  • Average annual income is $630

  • Unemployment is estimated to be 17%

  • Religion: Approx. 85% Muslim and 15% Christian

  • Most Christians are affiliated to the Orthodox Church, less than 1% of the population are Protestant

  • There are an estimated 100,000 street children in Egypt


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