Tuesday, February 16, 2010

About traffic chaos, crappy cars and even worse taxis

When it comes to traffic, Cairo is something else. Chaos rules, but for those that have participated in this chaos, there is an order to it all. Never have I ever seen such interesting interpretation of traffic laws, signs of policemen and diversity of cars, bikes, carts and carriages. Not in New York City, not in Amsterdam, not in Istanbul or Lahore. Here all you can do is look outside your window and smile.

Here in Cairo the concept of traffic laws is interesting. For one, traffic laws are taken with a grain of salt, actually with a lot of grains of salt. If you want to get a gist of how much salt, get yourself a chessboard, put one grain on the first field and double it on the next and so on. For example, most of the roads have 2 or 3 lanes, these are clearly marked with a white'ish line. Now for a driver is Cairo this means that somebody took the time to decorate the roads. As by no means it could be an indication about how many cars are allowed to drive side by side. Of course not, because at least double the number of lanes can fit on the street.

The other day I came back from the airport, Egypt just won the African Cup, Football/Soccer, and right as we were entering the city we got stuck in a traffic jam. After about 45 minutes of very slowly moving forward my driver and I saw about 50 meters in front of us, on the road going the opposite direction a really serious accident. I mean, I couldn't recognize the cars that crashed, only thing I could recognize what color the cars were, but brand let alone model were unrecognizable anymore. So you can understand that the people in the car where even worse. I was a serious mess. But worst of all was the fact that no ambulance was able to get to the location of the accident. There was no chance for it to pass through traffic, as the road was completely jammed. And because there is a 30 cm tall barrier between road to prevent people from crossing to the other side the ambulance couldn't use the empty road on the other side. This is everywhere in Cairo. You just don't want to get into the position where you need an ambulance.

One interesting thing here in Cairo is the state the cars are in... they're all very visibly in use. Dents all over, scratches on every side and most of the cars have some sort of additionally lighting, typically flashing red and/or blue lights. But one part of the cars always seem to work: it's horn. You hear honking all the time, all over the place. If you listen closely, you'll hear different honking. Which is not a coincidence. Drivers honk differently in different situations. There is the 'Watch out' honk, the 'What are you thinking' honk, the 'You stupid motherf***er' honk and of course the 'Hey, how are you doing' honk. In the end it means that I don't think that anybody is paying attention. And then there is the 'light horn'. People flash their lights all the time, as if to indicate that they want to honk, but know that people don't pay attention anyways. One important benefit over honking: it's a lot more quiet, and therefore adds to the atmosphere of Cairo.
The cars around here are of interesting brands, besides the usual suspects from Korea and Japan, and the big brands from Europe (not that many though) as well as Chevrolet, you see here a lot of 'other' brands. Brands I'm not familiar with. There're also a lot of Peugeots, the kind that you would expect in a French movie from the early eighties. I haven't seen a Peugeot from this millenium. And then there are all these Fiat derivatives. Those that turned into Lada later on in life and as I am told, were then build in Egypt under a new name. But you still see them with the Fiat logo as well. Driving around leaving a trail of smoke. I also saw a Simca twice and a Talbot. Brands that I remember from my childhood.
If you're into old-timers, you should pay particular attention to the black-n-white taxis. Most of them are from the late sixties, early seventies it seems. They're a hoot to see passing by, and they do pass by because their drivers don't give a rats #$$ about traffic rules, speed limits, other cars, pedestrians or sanity in general. How I can tell? Just look at the cars themselves. They've probably been in more accidents than there are cars in Cairo. So here the advice is not to get into such a taxi. Especially not since the meter in them is at best questionable. The white taxis are the ones to take when you need to go somewhere, or you can call a yellow cab (which are yellow). They'll pick you up and take you whereever you need to go. Safely.
Even Ahmed, my driver, is positive about the yellow taxis. But don't get him started on the black-n-white cabs.

Until next post on Egypt and Cairo in particular or follow me on Twitter.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Start of the blog, some context


I'm doing a few blogs, one is actually an attempt to write a novel. The other blogs are about stuff that is happening in my life as a person living in the Netherlands, and a third is a blog about me being an IT guy using the Netbeans IDE for development.

Since I'm no longer living in the Netherlands and instead am now living in Cairo, Egypt, I've started this blog. It's a blog about living and working in Egypt.

I'm working at CIB, a bank in Egypt, where I am the Chief Architect and Head of Architecture and Strategy. This is all within the IT department. I started on January 3rd of this year and ever since I've been living in the Grand Hyatt Cairo. The hotel is right on the Nile shores and fairly close to the office, but not as close as the Four Seasons, which would've been the hotel I would stay in were it not that it was completely booked.

I arrived in Egypt on January 2nd, and started at CIB the next day. Ever since then, I've been back to Holland twice. Every other weekend I spend with the family in the Netherlands. Which typically means I catch the KLM flight on Friday morning 4 AM arrive at 8 AM at Schiphol Amsterdam airport and on Sunday night 9 PM I fly back to Cairo and be back in the hotel around 3 AM. This is doable, although last time I was kind of very tired on Monday, which was a regular workday for me. But allows me to see my wife and kids and they see me. And we have a blast of a time. Meanwhile I'm using Skype extensively to communicate with the family while I'm not there.

The rest of the world is kept up to date with my proceedings here in Cairo through Twitter, where you can follow ThreeAxis, which is me. And now there's the blog. This blog. And I plan to post mainly in this blog all my realizations of being a Dutch expat in Egypt.

So keep an eye out for this blog. Follow it, or follow me on Twitter.