- Micheal, native Egyptian
19.04.2010 - 26.04.2010 32 °C
Sometimes, in an anarchic world, chaos works.
It might not work for you when it works for me, and it might not work for me when it works for you, but it always works for someone some time.
Take Egypt, for instance.
Having a baby in Egypt is not easy. Having a car in Egypt is not easy either. Getting lost in Cairo with a hungry baby in the backseat is even harder. Thankfully, a general disregard of traffic laws means one can stop in the middle of a roundabout to ask a traffic cop how to get from one side of the city to the other. On this particular occasion, the direction Christine and I needed to go in was blocked by large concrete blocks. Telling us this was definitely the way we should go, the cop was insisting there were no alternative routes. (Thank God I speak Arabic!)
Still, distracted by my Cheerio duty, I let Christine do the talking. A busy baby is a quiet baby! In fact, I was so busy ferrying Cheerios to the backseat that I barely noticed Christine zipping through the concrete blocks as the cop waved us on through. With a smile. Looking at her quizzically, Christine turned and shrugged, “I told him going that way was illegal. He said he didn’t have his pen and paper.”
Sometimes, you gotta love Egypt.
At the airport in Damascus, you have to go through security three times: once at the entrance to the departures terminal, once after checking in, and once at the gate before boarding. At each point, they check for all the usual suspects: nail clippers, knives, bombs, water bottles, etc. This is particularly frustrating when, after passing through the first security check point, you decide to buy a brand new bottle of water. Even more frustrating when, after surrendering said bottle of water to the second check point, you buy another bottle of water before even knowing there is a third security check point. The third check point however, is run by the airline you are flying with. In this case, it was Egypt Air. Oh Egypt Air. Seeing me frantically trying to guzzle my 1.5 litre bottle like I was born to do it, the security man appeared to feel empathy for me and my thirst, and waved me on through to the other side. Having not removed my belt or emptied my pockets, I shamelessly set off the metal detector as I crossed through. Here’s the beauty though: as there was no woman security guard, the male security guard was culturally (or religiously) unable to do a full body scan. So he let me go unchecked. Me and my clinging metal and water bottle. Great for me, potentially not so good for everybody else.
Thankfully, I am not a terrorist.
Arriving in Cairo, travellers are typically pulled over for a luggage search before exiting in the arrivals terminal. See if any weird things are making their way into Egypt. Again, no female security guards seemed to occupy these posts (that day anyway).
Nevertheless, as I sauntered through, a young (and clearly inexperienced) male guard pulled me over and asked me to open up my backpack. Before we go on, there's one thing you should know about my backpack. In the top flap that flips open, there is a clear plastic pocket which I like to call my ‘laundry basket’. In this ‘laundry basket’, I like to stockpile my dirty undergarments until I’ve none left. Keep the dirty safely zipped away from the clean. I love compartments! This means that when you flip open my backpack, you are greeted by a jumble of panties. Not kosher at all.
Well, a glint of pink lace and a flash of polka dots, and the senior guard was over in a jiffy, chastising the junior officer for daring to air my dirty laundry in public (quite literally). He hastily closed up my backpack, stood quite straight, and in his best English, waved me through with a big smile saying, “Welcome to Egypt.” Welcome indeed. Being a woman does have its perks. Should have stocked up at the duty free!
Ok, so maybe this has more to do with male-female roles than it does with chaos. But it really is all the same. (Isn’t it?)
Sometimes, chaos is not so kind.
The National Jewellery Museum in Alexandria is said to be open from 9 to 5, every day except public holidays. Being, as it was, two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, my Egyptian posse and I figured we had all the time in the world to visit Muhammad Ali’s valuable collection (the father of modern Egypt...not the boxer). Strolling in at 2:15 pm, we casually sauntered up to the counter to purchase our tickets.
It was not meant to be. Although the city guide lists 5 pm as the closing time, the ticket counter was closing... now. At 2:15. Clearly, this made no sense. Closing three hours early? Outrageous. An argument quickly ensued, but I was forced into the role of clueless bystander. Angry Arabic is not a language I speak. As the tension heated up, we noticed the timetable next to the ticket counter had been manually altered with a marker to read closing time 3 pm rather than 5 pm. Aha! Using this in our favour, we (by that I mean my friends) pointed at the closing time enthusiastically, bolstering out argument that we still had at least half an hour to visit the museum. But they only shook their heads.
The manager was called. The security guards were called. The window was shut in our faces. Still we persevered. Closing time was 3 pm darn it, and we’d be danged if we didn’t see some jewels, even if we only had 45 minutes to speedwalk through the displays. But no matter how right we were in principle, the gods of reason were not on our side. The ticket salesperson (as well as management) informed us that although they wrote 3, they really meant 2. Obviously!
By the time we finished arguing, it was almost 3 pm. It was too late. Out of breath and irritated, we jumped in the car and sped off to see some Roman ruins instead. Jewellery be damned! Big rocks always win over sparkly gems anyway.
Problem was, we had no idea where the ruins were. Thanks to a picture map, all we knew was that when we hit a fork in the road, we absolutely had to go right, and not under the tunnel to the left. So of course we went left.
Quickly noticing our error, Michael, our intrepid driver, immediately pulled over to the side of the road, and our friends in the car behind us followed suit. Of course, by ‘pulling over’, I mean he inched as close to the median as possible, as there was nowhere to pull over to. Never mind that this was a highway. This was Egypt! By then we had gone far enough down the left side that the median separating both exits was high enough to cause significant damage to any undercarriage attempting to cross over, including my own. But Michael, being native Egyptian, had a different plan in mind. He swiftly jumped out of the car, ran behind the second car, and directed traffic while the second car reversed all the way back to the fork in the road. On the highway. Once the second car in position, it would (and was able to) block traffic long enough for Michael to run back to our car and do the same.
Please note: Although I am relating this in a calm demeanour now, I was not calm then. No. Did I mention this was a highway? With high traffic circulation? This post is only possible because I am still alive to tell the tale.
On the positive side, we made it to the Roman ruins in no time at all. Why needlessly get lost obeying traffic laws when you can risk your life getting there much more quickly? The choice was simple. Excited and flushed, Michael ran back to the car and sped off down the right side giggling like a school boy, “I love Egypt! I hope it never gets better.” The Jewellery Museum experience was entirely forgotten.
Sometimes it works for you, sometimes it works against you. In Egypt, it always works for someone, some time. Lucky for us, chaos seemed to be on our side. Most of the time.