Walking in Zamalek
I suddenly realized that I am becoming a local. When I first arrived, I couldn’t understand why people always walked down the road – even in quite heavy traffic. There were footpaths – so why dodge traffic?
Well, it only took one walk to work out why.
The pavements are terrible. Edges collapse and are frequently very high – a good half metre is not unusual. They have odd lumps of concrete which look as if they might have fallen off a building above and no-one has seen any good reason to move them – at least, not for the last ten years. There are deep holes in some – one nearby is two feet deep. I asked a nearby boab (in Egypt this is a guard outside a building, not a big tree as in Australia) why there was a hole right in the middle of the footpath. He smiled and said “cats”. This would have taken a lion a week to excavate – and I have yet to see the cat that could dig through asphalt!
Now and again there is a nice, neat piece of pavement which is really good to walk on. These are often outside Embassies. For security reasons, a large chain stops anyone from stepping onto this pavement, and the chain lasts until you are level with the next bit of broken up footpath. I often wonder if the chain is the reason the pavement is so good.
Add to this the fact that there are frequently small brown piles on the pavements, some steaming gently. Now and again I suspect that they are not all from animals. You can see the odd skid mark where one has been trodden in. You don’t get these on the roads.
Then – there is the local trick of parking absolutely anywhere. There are frequently two lines of cars parallel parked at the side of the road – the inner line against the curb, and the outer line against the traffic. Anyone who wants to get out just sits there with his hand on the horn (making horny noises?) until the car blocking his exit is moved. A favorite parking place is across the end of the pavement, where you would normally step down to cross the road. Except that usually you can’t step down because there is a car in the way.
I used to look at the way the cars were parked and feel totally impressed with the quality of Egyptian driving. While I am still at times over-awed, it is not necessarily admiration.
You see cars parallel parked against the curbs, some bumpers actually touching; sometimes there is a bare handspun between vehicles. In one place I noticed that every car in a line of twenty was jammed tightly against the one in front. I noticed this because I was trying to escape from an area of bad pavement.
Unless cars here are able to turn their wheels and shunt in sideways, it seemed unlikely that this was just skilled parking. Then I realized that four men were happily bouncing cars against each other to pack them in so more people could park. When someone wants to get out they ‘unbounce’ a few! I even watched someone park a lovely Mercedes by gently and firmly pushing the car in front against the one in front of him.
So – for the time being I will walk on the road, moving aside when people honk at me. When I do start driving I will hand over car keys, look the other way and block my ears.