Rules for Crossing the Road in Cairo

This may sounds silly, but crossing the road in Cairo is one of the most difficult learning curves of hanging out here. There are no street signs, stop-lights, oodles of people trying to get across, and conversational honking.

My best advice is to think about the cars as people. Imagine you are trying to get from the door of a cafe to your car and you have 10 feet of 5pm business crowds blocking your way. How do you get across? You look for a hole, make sure the people you’re crossing in front of see you, and walk at a predictable speed so they can adjust to not knock into you. That’s what it’s like crossing a street in Cairo, but it’s six lanes of traffic going faster than any speedwalker could. Here are my other rules:

  1. Don’t stop. You’ll never get started again and there’s no part of the road which a car might not drive over in the next minute.
  2. Don’t run. The drivers are trying to modulate their speed to deal with all of the other cars, you, and every other person trying to cross the road. Be predictable.
  3. Look for a gap. There are usually spaces in traffic. Right now I need a pretty large one to feel safe getting across, but I think with more experience I could manage to safely make it–Frogger-style–through a narrow gap and across the road.
  4. Use human shields. When in doubt, or too embarrassed at having spent 5 minutes trying to get 15 feet, sidle up to a group of Egyptians and follow them as they make it across the street. You might get teased, but you are using people as meat-shields. It is worth a little teasing.
  5. Don’t get offended. Drivers may honk or gesture or yell: I’m assuming it is all a general “look out!” rather than “you are super-stupid for not knowing how to cross the street.” As with all things in Egypt, I’m assuming everyone is being nice to me (with a subtle heap of skepticism about advice on where to shop, what word to use, and whether this is a shortcut because all humans like to play silly-buggers) until I get a vibe they’re being creepers.
Clearly, from the videos on YouTube, other people have found this worth mentioning. Here’s the best video I’ve found:

That’s what I’ve got so far. Speaking of other things which happen on streets, I experienced nearly no street harassment today. One guy, as I was crossing the street, said something vulgar, but it’s nothing I haven’t heard in the U.S. and he wandered off immediately. It seemed my steely-look-of-fervent-focus kept all of the toutes from seeing me as a convincible-tourist and she-who-must-be-left-alone. And that’s how I like it.

Inspirational Quote:

“I did not fully understand the dread term “terminal illness” until I saw Heathrow for myself.”–Dennis Potter, 1978

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