Yesterday, after staring at a month's worth of dirt on our rug, we undertook a mission to buy a vacuum. This involved a 25-minute cab drive to the Carrefour City Centre and so we summoned an Uber.
The drive was an experience. First, the driver couldn’t find us and we had to get someone who spoke Arabic to give him directions and he was about 20 minutes later than he should have been. The car had no seatbelts, which, combined with the driver's disturbing habit of alternating between slamming on the gas and slamming on the brakes, gave us quite an ab and grip workout.
Then we were passed by a police car with sirens wailing and lights flashing.
It may be a Canadian thing, but when I see a police car (even without sirens or even any vehicle that looks like a police car from at least two chevrons away) I slow down to exactly the speed limit and give police a wide berth. It seems that in Egypt, a mere police emergency is not a good enough reason to change their aggressive/erratic driving habits. On this occasion their only concession was to swerve just enough so they didn’t actually make contact with the police car without actually slowing down.
Our Uber driver took this emergency situation as a great opportunity to get to Carrefour faster. We tailgated the police car for a several miles, weaving through traffic. If anyone tried to steal our prime spot he simply laid on the horn. The tailgating only ended when our driver determined the cruiser was going too slow and passed him.
And headed straight in to a parade of scooters.
After we whizzed past about 50 scooters we were stopped for 10 minutes as, one by one, they all turned into the road in front of us, much to the annoyance of our driver.
He then followed the scooters onto the road, which was not the entrance to Carrefour and had to weave through several of them and get through a barricade before we eventually arrived, frazzled, but safe.
After our shopping trip, vacuum in tow, we attempted to call another Uber. The handy app informed us that there were none available so we flagged down a yellow cab. The driver didn’t speak much English and he listened to religious Arabic music during the drive. He offered to change the music, but it was quite peaceful and we didn’t mind. I directed the taxi in Arabic to our apartment and as we came to a stop we geared up for a battle about the price. We have been charged more than triple the regular rate by a yellow cab in the past, most likely due to our skin colour and language. We've heard this is a regular occurrence.
The driver helped us unload our items from the car and motioned us over to check we had everything. Richard, tired and hungry, asked driver “how much,” grimly prepared to argue.
Here’s the weird thing, the driver refused to be paid.
Rich was in the unusual position of insisting he take the money as the driver backed away towards his car making small bows.
We went into our building feeling a bit befuddled. During our month here we’ve gotten used to being ripped off, stared at and asked for money by strangers. Every day is a little bit of a battle. That, combined with the oppressive heat, can make Egypt seem like a hostile place. Without noticing it, we’d become a bit prickly.
Even though we did end up paying the cab driver, his gesture made our surroundings feel a bit more welcoming. I’m not sure why the taxi driver did it, maybe because it was Friday, the holy day. But it made us realize that there are good people out there.
I’m going to try to remember this man when I am out and about in Egypt. Often, the good hearted people do not stand out as much as hostile people, but it’s good to know they are there.