Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cairo is Egyptian for Chaos

On the chaos scale, you start with Boston.

Talk to any Harvard-going Mass-hole and he'll consider himself some kind of war hero for surviving it (and I say that with nothing but affection for my Harvard-going Mass-hole friends).  Multiply Boston by about ten and you have Tijuana.  Multiply that by about a hundred and you get Naples.  Now multiply that by about ten thousand and you're still nowhere near Cairo.

Mom, stop reading.

I was somewhat prepared for the traffic-dodging, because I have in fact been to Naples.  I learned there that the best way to cross the street is to follow a local, preferably one with a baby, a small child or carrying something on her head.  So what makes Cairo traffic-dodging so much worse than Naples?  For starters, you're doing it at eight-way intersections with no form of traffic signal and four-ish lanes (except there are no lanes) along each of the converging eight streets.  I'm not exaggerating, and I have a few pictures to prove it but I really couldn't fit entire intersections into one frame.

Second, dodging traffic is actually secondary to dodging men.

I had to go against advice for one day and face Cairo commando - that is, with European hair blazing all the way down to my waist.  Because that's how Katrina would do it, because she wouldn't know better.  Here comes the surprising part: I was fine.  Did they whistle?  Yep!  Did they cat-call?  Almost every one of them.  Did they honk? 24/7 - I'm sure it's not ALL for me, however.

Guess how many touched?  Zero!  Not one.  On the street, I credited myself for this because I never allowed anyone close enough to do so.  The streets were not very crowded and this was not hard, except with the occasional do-gooder trying to "help" me cross the street.  Between allowing this and jumping into traffic, I tended to choose traffic, and so far I'm still alive to tell about it.

But on one occasion, I had no choice but to get close to several local men.  It was when I was in "line" for a subway ticket, except there are no lines.  There are only elbows.  So I took a deep breath and charged head-on into a dense herd of about ten male Egyptians.

They parted like the Red Sea.  I was shocked.  Not only did they not try to molest me, they actually went out of their ways to avoid so much as brushing my arm.  Did I just get lucky?  I'm sure I did, and I'm sure that the notorious grabbers do exist and at least one will cross my path while I'm here.  But let it be noted for the record that so far, I have been treated with nothing but respect.

In the future, I will wear a hijab - not for my original reason, fear of being harrassed - but to return the favor and show respect for Egypt.

Now, as I sit looking out at the Nile on the balcony of the coolest room in Cairo, I'm smiling at the notion that a day in Greece might turn out to have been the least interesting part of this trip.  Cairo is chaos - it's my kind of town.  And I haven't even seen the pyramids yet.