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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  31 May 2001
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Well, I've been driving for over 2 years in Cairo and I've only had two crashes- apparently this is quite a good record. The last crash happened a couple of weeks ago. I was in a hurry going to a computer shop during the afternoon rush hour. I wanted to avoid the busy main roads so I followed my sense of direction through the backstreets to the place I needed to get to. I was quite pleased by the progress I was making when at a junction, a taxi came out of a minor road and crashed straight into the passenger side of the car! I didn't need to get out of the car to inspect the damage since I could see it from the inside- it was mainly the front passenger door that took the impact, but the back door suffered some damage too. Ouch!

After I got out of the car I saw the damage from the outside and of course it looked a lot worse! Looking at the bright side, I wouldn't need to lock the doors on the passenger side when I next parked the car because the doors were unable to be opened anyway. Surprisingly the taxi was relatively undamaged, but neither of us were travelling fast so I guess it could have been a lot worse. I was surprised by the fact that that taxi didn't stop, I saw him slowly approach from the minor road but just got closer and closer. As we both stood there inspecting the damage to both cars I politely questioned the taxi driver on his eyesight. Since the previous crash I learnt a few Arabic phases to help out in situations like this. Phrases like "Are you blind?", "Why didn't you stop?" and "You idiot, look at the damage you've done to my car- I expect you to pay for that!"

Before I got to the last phrase the taxi driver pointed out an important factor- I was travelling down a one way street the wrong way. I dismissed this as a pathetic excuse to cover his bad driving. There were no signs when I entered the street to say it was no entry, and at each of the intersections there were no signs informing drivers to only go one way . . . but then I noticed that most of the cars in the street were parked in one direction. A number of passers-by were gathering and agreed with the taxi driver that I was going the wrong way. He didn't look in my direction because I shouldn't have been coming from that direction. Actually, I have to say that the taxi driver seemed to be a really nice person- he was very polite and obviously sorry for the fact that I had a lot more damage than him.

Since there is no motor insurance in Egypt drivers who have crashed have to sort it out between themselves who is going to pay for what. This never works because in Arab culture you *never* admit fault. Fortunately for me the damage was only to my car, and since everyone agreed that I was in the wrong, it was my problem. Of course as a Westerner I blame the authorities for not putting up signs to indicate there was a one way system! It seemed that everyone living in the area just knew this, but anyone (like me) driving into the area is likely to have problems . . .

Afterwards I didn't feel too bad because I knew the damage wouldn't cost much to repair by UK standards- and I was proved to be right. Labour costs are very cheap, and since hammering out the door back into shape and repainting it is a lot of labour I knew the price would be a lot less than what I would expect to pay back home. I was two days work and at the end the doors looked like new (there is plenty of practice for this type of work, so the labourers are quite skilled!). The price? The equivalent of £41. There are some nice advantages to living in Egypt :-) I think I prefer the Egyptian system, last time I was in the UK I had to pay an arm and a leg for insurance!

The unpleasant thing about the whole experience is the way a crowd quickly forms when two cars collide- there is a dark side to human nature that likes to watch conflict close up. In Egypt no one feels any shame to run up to an accident to watch the drama unfold, I like to think that at least back in England we prefer to watch from a distance!

A few days later I was in the car near the junction close to our house when there was another collision, fortunately for me I was two cars behind the guy that had the most damage. I most of the traffic stopped to watch the inevitable argument between the two drivers, and I found that I was like one of those annoying people who liked to watch the conflict close up . . .

The junction (like a lot in Cairo) is unmarked and there are no traffic lights. Both roads on the intersection are multiple lanes and the unwritten rule in this case is that priority is given to whichever car is approaching the junction at the fastest speed. It reminds me a lot of old banger racing where they race in a figure 8 shape, and eventually there is a big pile-up in the middle! The junction in question has had its fair share of collisions. As far as I could tell, the argument between two drivers went a bit like this:
"Why didn't you stop?"
"Why didn't *you* stop?"
"It was the front of *your* car that went into the side of mine!"
"That's because you put the side of your car in front of mine!"
"So why didn't you stop before I went in front of you"
"Why didn't you stop first?"
. . . etc.

Both guys seemed calm, expecting the other one to admit fault quickly. Not wishing to be too morbid, I found a way through the cars and proceeded home. Afterwards I decided to go to the shop to get some supplies, my walk took me back past the same junction about 20 minutes later and I was surprised to see that the same guys were there arguing as to who was going to pay for the damage. By now a big crowd had formed around the two and since cars had stopped to watch the argument the whole junction was deadlocked. The two guys were now shouting at each other:

. . . etc.

The damage to the two cars was minimal compared to what happened to mine a few days earlier!

I've had a quite month this time since I had a break from meetings two weeks off in the middle of the month. The first week off was to catch my breath from a series of back-to-back meetings and conferences. The following week Alison went home on a surprise visit to her parents (paid for by our company, under the condition that she did a few things in the UK). She went with Lydia, which left me to look after Hannah and Esther. I think I had the better end of the deal when it comes to having a relaxing time since Lydia still needs to be watched to make sure she is not getting into something she shouldn't! It was nice to spend time the whole week with Hannah and Esther and experience their routine first hand. Actually, I took a nice photograph during the week, I'll attach it when I've finished.

I have a busy summer ahead of me. The temperature last Sunday reached 43C (110F) this is really unusual for May and it is a bad omen for the coming months!

Toodle pip,


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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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