Bip. Bip. Beeeeep. Beep beep. Beeeeeep beep beep. Bip. Beeep. BEEEEEP!!!!
Cairo has its own language, expressed ever so eloquently through car horns. Bip: watch out Im on your inside; thanks for letting me in; quick cross the road now; lady do you want a taxi?; gidday Mohamed, havent seen you in a while. Beep: move over; youre getting too close; let me in; come on lets go. Beeeeeep: get out of the way; thanks for cutting me off. Beeeeep beep beep beeeep: well, you get the gist.
Cairo has a population of 20 million people. Thats almost the entire population of Australia! I swear we met 15 million of them on the road today. Its like a scene out of The Matrix. On a two lane highway you will see 3 cars abreast; then the lanes disappear completely and thats when the fun really begins as cars spread to 5 wide, jockeying for position at 80km/hr. Its an adrenalin junkies wet dream. Its certainly the best amusement ride Ive ever been on.
It gets even better in the city centre. Three lanes hold 5 or 6 cars and trucks and buses abreast, weaving in and out of each other. Cars will u-turn 3 abreast. Often the car in the left lane will turn right just in front of the bus in the right lane turning left. Even more cars are double and triple parked on an outside lane or, as you do, around a round about. Add a horse-and-carriage and an ambulance into the mix and you've got yourself a show!
Cairo is as chaotic and filthy as I expected it to be. The entire city is blanketted under a thick layer of smog. Buildings are covered in decades worth of grime. Streets often have half the bitumen missing and the "gutters" are full of dirt and rubbish. There is a piquancy to the air that Id rather not talk about.
Our hotel is on Ramses St in doentiwn Cairo. At midnight the rush hour and beeping continues. The shops dont really shut till then. The streets are full of people day and night. Many will call out to us "Welcome to Egypt", and some will hand out flyers about the revolution and loved ones lost - they want us to spread the word. Maybe they dont realise we already support them. A massive poster of some of those who lost their lives hangs outside the Egyptian Gazette HQ next to our hotel.
There arent so many western looking faces about. Egypt has taken a huge hit in tourism since the events that started two months ago. We are led to believe that the revolution was scheduled to start earlier but was postponed following the bombing in Alexandria. There is nothing to fear here though - other than getting run over or hassled to death by street vendors. Police numbers are low (esp traffic police apparently) but I imagine that what we are seeing is how Cairo functions normally.
There is little evidence of the Revolution having taken place - aside from the memorial poster, we have seen "Mubarak Station" become "------ Station"; the burnt out shell of the National Council for Women next to the Museum (its believed this was a front for Mubaraks wife to launder money); and any picture of Mubarak cut out or defaced. The people are trying to remove all trace of him.
Even though we saw all ages protesting on our TVs, it seems the young people are taking ownership of the revolution. I think places like Egypt are on the verge of significant social change. The younger people are always glued to their mobile phones abd althou public displays of affection are not condoned in the muslim culture, (although we see many men kissing each other on their cheeks) there are plenty of young people holding hands and gathering in the street at night or behind a museum piece to spend time together.
I could never live in a city like Cairo. But it seems to work for the 20 odd million that call it home.