City of Madness – Crossing the Street in Cairo

Nighttime has arrived in this city and I am standing on the sidewalk, alone. Locals burst past from all directions, their faces blasé with the familiarity of their surroundings as the busyness of their lives pushes them toward their evening destinations. These people are the vibe of the streets.

On this, my first night in Cairo, I do not know how to cross these downtown streets, as unstoppable traffic speeds by. Already I have learned that the scene that plays out before me is typical of the city. Hundreds of vehicles swerve through the six lanes that lie in front of me while hundreds more careen around corners and shoot out of alleyways from all directions. Egyptians on foot mesh into the streets with an ease borne of knowing nothing else, slicing around speeding vehicles whose honking horns obliterate the stillness of the hot night air. With poetic fluidity they gracefully fight their way across these untamed streets, sans stoplights, sans stop signs.


Cars, Confusion and Calamity in Cairo

As I stand frozen in this unnavigable territory, a tall and well-dressed silver-haired gentleman is suddenly standing at my side. His name – Viktor – and his appearance – light skin, light eyes and a Western suit – tells me he most likely is European. In his hand he holds a small brown bag with two rounded loaves of bread poking out. Viktor lives in this downtown neighborhood, he explains, and is on his way to prepare dinner for a friend. First, though, he wishes to walk me to the other side of the street.

With quick precision, he pulls himself erect, looks straight ahead and places his hand on his hip, his bent elbow creating a sharp angle through which to slip my arm. I grasp his lifeline. Immediately, without a word, Viktor steps forward, pulling me from the sidewalk into the street and directly in front of a hurtling car. The driver throws on his headlights and lays on his horn, but he does not brake. I suck in my breath and pray. Viktor moves us forward, and the car hurls behind us. Now we are in the center of the madness. Horns blare. Cars swerve. Headlights flash. Locals on foot swoosh through. I am now a part of them, sliding forward and sideways through the traffic as they do, attached to the arm of a dapper European Egyptian.

We arrive safe, somehow, on the opposite side. Covered in a film of sweat, I look up to see my new friend smiling and digging in his jacket pocket for a pen. He writes his name and two phone numbers on a small, wrinkled piece of paper. If I need anything, want anything, he says, call him. I watch him walk away with his bag of bread, and I know I will not ask for more. Viktor has already woven me safely through my first lesson in surviving this city of congested madness.

Thumbnail Cairo at night photo by Mossaiq

20 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Gray says:

    OMG, hairy! But how did you get back across the street to your starting point again? :-)
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Freestyle Dining on NCL’s Epic: Perfect for Solos? =-.

  2. Nick says:

    lol, lucky you had a knight in shining armour to help you out! As someone once said so eloquently in a comment on something I wrote, crossing the street here is like playing frogger…
    .-= Nick´s last blog ..Three Egypt travel secrets =-.

  3. Sabina Lohr says:

    Hi, Nick! I actually had many more knights in shining armor walk me across the street while I was there. But Viktor was my first.

  4. Sabina Lohr says:

    Thanks for commenting, Gray! When Viktor ran across me, I was actually trying to return to my starting point. I had gotten to the place where I met him by a less trafficky path that hadn’t been so impossible to navigate. He walked me back where I wanted to be.

  5. ha! this is a really well written moment in time! i love it. i took me back to so many foreign street curbs, where i waited in fear for critical mass to accumulate, before attempting to cross. hurray for small victories!

  6. lara dunston says:

    Love it! Don’t I know that feeling?! But never had a Viktor, Terence and I usually make our way across somehow – we generally wait for a group of locals to form and follow them!
    .-= lara dunston´s last blog ..Barcelona’s Charming Old Shop Fronts =-.

  7. Sabina Lohr says:

    Hurray for small victories, indeed! Critical mass is also a great way to cross.

  8. Sabina Lohr says:

    Thanks for commenting, Lara! Following the locals is a great method. But I’m glad I didn’t do it this particular night, or I never would have met Viktor.

  9. Mike says:

    Never would of thought it’d be so dangerous crossing a street over there. Here in Japan we have overhead crosswalks on the highly congested streets but, we don’t have to worry about camels and their riders bumping their heads on them during rush hour !

  10. gerry boyd says:

    Same in Rome, you just have to be brave enough to take that first step into the river of river.
    .-= gerry boyd´s last blog ..At least one unburned codex =-.

  11. jessiev says:

    what a great story! i love that viktor was so very kind. bag of bread and all!
    .-= jessiev´s last blog ..A Garden and Flower Tour in Ecuador =-.

  12. Sabina Lohr says:

    Overhead crosswalks. Nice!

  13. Sabina Lohr says:

    It’s that first step, though…

  14. Sabina Lohr says:

    Thank you, Jessie! He was, indeed, very kind.

  15. lara dunston says:

    Hi Sabina

    We’re unable to copy your blog post to check your word count – could you please email or DM me the word count at our Twitter account?

    .-= lara dunston´s last blog ..Cava 101: What Makes Catalunya’s Bubbly Special =-.

  16. Sabina Lohr says:

    Hi Lara –

    I e-mailed you. Thank you!!

  17. Joel says:

    Nice story! It’s remarkable how much kindness you can find from people while you’re traveling. Everyday kindness, not just grand gestures.

    Now I know to practice playing “Frogger” before heading to Cairo!
    .-= Joel´s last blog ..Miami: From Douche til Dawn =-.

  18. Sabina Lohr says:

    Yes, so many people are so much nicer than you expect them to be. And from what little exposure I’ve had to Frogger, I’d say the streets do resemble it.

  19. Dina says:

    Awesome story, Sabina! I usually wait for somebody that is more confident doing that crossing the street, and tailing beside the person (in the safer side). Even though I grew up in Java, crossing busy street is still really scary thing for me!
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Top 3 Exotic Foods and Local Specialties by Travelers Around the World =-.

  20. Sabina Lohr says:

    Thanks, Dina. Definitely I think tailing someone can save your life.

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