Inter-Taxi Chit-Chat

Cairo, Egypt

I don’t ride around in taxis in America, so I don’t know if this is just taxi driver culture, or specific to Arab taxi driver culture, but there are lots of conversations that go on between the open windows of taxis stuck in traffic. Especially Cairo traffic, and especially in the complete disaster that surrounds Tahrir Square for several blocks around.

Often drivers lean out their windows to ask a taxi driver for directions. Sometimes they’re checking traffic conditions. “Is it better to go this way or that way?” In these exciting times, they talk more and more about politics, too. I noticed today that a great many taxis have “25 January” stickers on their cars; there are the ones that look like license plates, banners with the faces of the martyrs, “I was there” stickers, Egyptian flags, and more.

Today my driver spent half his time screaming invectives out his window: “You ass!” or “That’s my spot, man!” He was definitely not loving his job today.

As we were sitting in traffic in front of the Arab League Headquarters, there was a small protest on the sidewalk. The driver on the other side of us asked, “Is that a protest for Libya?” That was the topic of protests in that spot last week. “No,” said my driver, “that flag is for Iraq.” Replied the other driver, “Whatever do they want in Iraq?” Said my driver, “God only knows! Some beans for their bread, maybe? The whole world is falling apart!”

It was a common refrain from him after that. The whole world is falling apart. And sometimes it seems that way in Egypt post-revolution. As I commiserated with my driver, Tahrir Square was a traffic disaster before the revolution. Now it’s a place taxi drivers avoid whenever possible. Before picking up me, he turned down three fares to the same neighborhood because they would entail crossing Tahrir as he did with me. As a result, he gets angry, and I feel guilty and overpay for my ride. Having classes in Zamalek is getting damned expensive!

But it wasn’t all politics. Along the way, as we were waiting on a corner for our turn to go around Tahrir Square, he shouted out his window for a cup of tea from a street vendor.

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