Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Cars and Donkey Carts

Donkeycart
Donkeycart, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
My car, a 5 year old Jeep Cherokee with sunburned paint, is in the "shop" for a couple of days for an adjustment to the rear differential. Wow...that almost sounds like I really know what I'm doing here. Well, I almost do but I'm relying a lot on the guidance of a good friend, who drives desert rallies and does jeep trekking in the desert. He helps me take care of the car, while his wife helps me take care of my body with her amazing massage skills. The work on the car will take a couple of days but will only cost a few hundred LE, which is good since I have more time than money. The "shop", like many here in Egypt is a shady spot under a bridge where a good jeep mechanic has a small parts warehouse nearby and a light bulb suspended from the bottom of the bridge so that he can work all night during the heat of the summer. Meanwhile, I take some time to work in my garden and get some writing done.

If I really need to go somewhere, I can always call a neighbour in an emergency. There aren't any cabs out here, but on a casual basis there is always Zuzu's cart. Fresh cut forage is a basis of the feed for my horses, donkeys and water buffalo, so I invested in a cart that a steelworker made for me and that my daughter and some friends spent a hilarious afternoon painting last summer. My daughter is the arm at the right of the photo, her friend Rana is helping to pull the wagon, and Ganja, one of our baladi dogs is supervising. Driving that cart is one of the supreme joys in my life, believe it or not. I am the occasion of a great deal of mirth for my neighbours, since who ever heard of a foreigner driving a donkey cart? And every kid who sees the cart has to ask to hop on for a ride...I don't mind. I just tell them that it's 50 piastres from my house to the mosque and they all fall over themselves laughing. Zuzu is a white donkey who came to me skinny and covered in sores about 18 months ago. She's now sleek but with a bit of a belly still after the birth of her son, George, who appeared a snowy white, but has mellowed to a dusty beige. She trots along on automatic pilot, knowing the way to my friends' homes and staying to the side of the road so that the huge dump trucks full of sand don't run us down.

We have to share our roads with all sorts of creatures here, a wide variety of vehicles as well as the usual livestock (camels, donkeys, goats, sheep, horses, chickens, ducks, geeese, and dogs...plus children!) and Zuzu and my horses have learned to handle a myriad of situations that many other equids would freak out at. It's currently wedding season, as most village weddings are held outdoors in the summer, and every so often we encounter a parade of trucks...pickups, dumptrucks, you name it...all loaded with men, women, children, and the furnishings of a newly wed couple's house. Horns honk, women sing...it's a joyous occasion and one that almost sent my mare and I into a canal the first time she saw it! But country drivers are much more courteous that city drivers and they slow down for beasts. There are five geese down the road that I swear wait to cross only when a car is approaching...and we all slow down so that they can go for a swim in the canal.

Driving in Cairo proper is not for the faint of heart. As many visitors to Egypt have noted, Egyptians are warm, friendly, welcoming people....until they get behind the wheel of a car. Then the monster within awakes. Actually, it isn't really their fault I believe. Most have never formally learned to drive. The rules of the road are not published in neat little handbooks to study but are mysterious pieces of esoterica only for the initiated, whoever they are. Cairo traffic reminds me of those shots of fish schools on the Discovery Channel. You can never see what the signal is, but they all change direction at once. Well, sometimes the signal for the cars is the horn, but often you have to ponder the fact that there are much fewer accidents than one might expect with such creative driving.

One of my most terrifying experiences was that of having my son and daughter finally reach the age at which they could get a driving license. They were thrilled and I chewed my nails to my elbows. I had taken quite a bit of time teaching them both to drive, but what could I do about all the others on the road? So far, so good and they both seem to be good drivers. The trick is to assume that everyone else on the road is a homocidal/suicidal maniac who is probably going to do something to kill himself/herself while taking out as many others as possible. Cairenes are by necessity amazing defensive drivers.

But for two days, I can relax and depend on my own two feet or Zuzu's four.

22 comments:

sanjana said...

i enjoy reading your blog and look forward to it everyday! thank you

Julie D. said...

Thanks for taking the time and effort to put so much about your daily life here. I only discovered your blog recently but really enjoy it. Not only do you have a talent for taking the reader "to Egypt" but it is fascinating to be reminded that life is so different in other places ... invaluable reminder for us in the U.S.!

TheDQ said...

Awesome blog :-)

Dr. Ysu Umbalo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ashley said...

I started coming to your blog after a friend told me about it and how he had left this massive comment because the content interested him so much, I have been coming here ever since and just wanted to say that i really like your writing, keep it up.
Thanks

Anonymous said...

Egypt is for losers. A bunch of really smart people a long time ago. Just like Iraq, the people have become lazy and now are just like gnats who want to suck the juice out of everything else that is beautiful and meaningful. No wonder you are damned......

J-Birds said...

Damn Maryanne,
How do you manage to stir up such emotions in a blog about donkey carts? Maybe your donkey learned to type comments. - Craig

Skadi said...

Anonynous is the loser - and a gutless coward too cause he/she/it hasn't got the required genitalia to leave their name to such garbage.

Having said that, this entry made me smile and wistfully wish I could journey over with my daughter (Sahbet). I LOVE the cart, it's awesome.

Em Hotep,
MeritAset

dewi said...

it's a joyous moment reading ur blog..keeping me anxious coming there soon.looking forward 4 the latest brief adventure of yours marriene. .:)It will fruitfull my imperfect, flawed english too..really nice to knw u

rowena said...

Every now and then i check in to see what's the latest in your blog. Today's one is great...a wonderful sense of humour you have!

Firepeace said...

Love your blog! I think it will become my breakfast reading!

Iru said...

I also tasted the Cairo driving(of course, in taxis) and it was "funny" everytime we got into the car, we didn't know if it was the last day of our lifes =P*kidding* it was... chaotic!! but it works!!! and what about the taxi-men... showing their family pictures to my dad... truly, a place to remember, now I'm at home, I think I miss all that differences... and the guideman of our travel... ;)
take care
*esme*

James said...

I really enjoy checking in to your blog, as I visited Egypt last October and loved it. Everybody was very nice and exceptionally welcoming.

The traffic, while hard to understand at first, became second-nature by the end of our ten days. Coming back to the UK, I had to remind myself that London traffic didn't like it if I were to cross between streams of cars. Oddly more than anything, though, I found the traffic, while seemingly chaotic, to be infinitely safer than traffic in countries where drivers depend on a book to tell them when they're driving the right way. In the UK or the US or Canada, you know that if you try to cross the road on foot near cars, you will be hit. And if you change lanes without signaling, your car will be broadsided. And... countless other examples. Drivers in these other countries "know" when they're in the right, so they go for it. In Egypt (Egypt the country and "Egypt" (Cairo) the city), no matter how many tires screeched or horns honked or threats were yelled, people drove defensively, and I never saw one accident.

Anyway, I hope to keep coming back for more. My blog (I think my name has a link to it; if not, it's mkcillip.blogspot.com) has pictures from that Egypt trip and more. I look forward to seeing more pictures posted on your blog, showing the other side, Egypt from within. Write on!

Asheila said...

Hi Maryanne,

Writing about religion will surely gain the interest of many. I admire your courage to continue writing about different cultures and religion even if you do get many unfavourable comments. I must also add that I am glad to have found your blog. It is indeed refreshing and definitely encouraging. Thanks

Marcos Munoz said...

Los retrogados,indigentes y analfabetas intelectuales
no pueden comprender lo precioso de tus escritos.
Pero nosotros apreciamos tus expresiones -y por lo
tanto sigue adelante. Te apoyamos y apreciamos.

This is a precious blog!

Vladimir de León said...

Wow this is an awesome design.

Here and There said...

It's great to hear personal accounts of daily life from people living in other places... those individuals are the most knowledgeable, and best qualified people to give them. In an age where people use traditional media outlets as their primary window to the world, it can be difficult to discover anything about a place aside from what negative events it may have recently endured. Thankfully, there are those who take the time to inform us of the more plentiful, and positive aspects of life in other cities, countries, and regions. It is often these stories that need the most telling.

FuTuReKiD said...

Why not try writing? You have a very good style of presenting things. Now on i will be a regular
----------------------------------------------
F.K
The FuTuRe is Mine !

Amani said...

Your blog is so interesting to me. My father was (he passed away in 1991) from Egypt- family in Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said, mostly. My mother (American) and he lived in Egypt until 1962, when they came to the States for good. I have never been, and all I really have to go on is the media, and my mother's outdated impression of Egypt, how it was fifty years ago(!).
I hope to come some day soon, and reading your stories makes it seem that much more possible. thank you.

Bala Subrahmanyam M said...

Hi..
laughed like anything...
liked every moment of my stay in ur blog..
great..

love4444all said...

How u write..is mind bloggling:-)some great writers would say..you're a chip off the old blog;-)
keep it up...!

Jamila said...

You have inspired me to be a Khewega On A Donkey Cart as well. I MUST get one. You have also inspired me to set up a "blog" account...http://jamilahabibi.blogspot.com/

You sound like MY kind of person. Thanks for being an agnabiyya not to be embaressed by. :-) Hope to see you out on your cart next time I am in Giza.