April 1, 2003
Taxi Stories, Part Two
by Youssuf El-Kalay
Asalamu Aliakom Wa Rahmatu Allah Wa Barakatu.
This is the second installment in a series of taxi stories. As I stated in my first taxi story, each tale will hopefully give you (my fellow reader) an inside look into the many comical rides I have taken in Egypt. Strap in and prepare for a good laugh Insha Allah.
There came a period of time in my life when my family decided to move to Egypt and try living there. My sister and I were enrolled into a GCSE exam preparatory school (the British equivalent of Ordinary/Advanced level exams). We had no personal means of transportation and considering that public transportation was so readily available in Egypt, we decided to utilize this service.
Looking back I realize that I learned a great deal about the Egyptian culture and way of life from these taxi drivers. Many of them had pursued other occupations before becoming taxi drivers. In Western society a lot of times people take for granted that there is a human being operating that train or car or airplane, that these people have lives outside of their occupation.
My sister and I had a typical school daily routine: get up, get ready, find a taxi, go to school, come back home and repeat. The "find a taxi" bit of that procedure was probably the most interesting part of the day. It was definetely a challenge flagging down the taxi drivers and getting them to agree on a reasonable price.
On one of these occasions we happened to find a taxi that was parked on the side of road, waiting for a customer to approach. Apparently the man was having his morning shay (tea) while reading the popular Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. We spoke to the taxi driver and agreed on a fee, but before he started the car I commented about the unlit cigarette he was holding in his hand.
"Excuse me, but do you mind not lighting that cigarette, the smoke irritates my lungs and eyes." I said cautiously, as I knew that many of these taxi drivers could not live without having their daily fix of nicotine.
The taxi driver answered me without even looking directly
At this point I was really confused. Why would a man who does not smoke accept a cigarette from a gas attendant? The driver started the car and headed towards our destination. There was total silence for about 5 minutes until he said very angrily,
"And anyway, you have no right to tell a guy not to smoke. This is MY taxi, and by Allah if I wanted to burn it with this cigarette I'd do it! You just get in the taxi, shut up and wait till you get to your destination, and just put up with the smoke! Ten minutes of it won't hurt you that much."
My sister and I were flabbergasted by his boorish reply. I mean we had asked many other taxi drivers before to extinguish their cigarettes and none of them had even put up a fight. It was almost as if the guy had lost his mind. To top it off he started driving very rapidly, zooming in and around cars.
Just as I was about to reply to his totalitarian speech, I heard a loud bang to the left of me. BAM!! We had just hit another car. Alhamdulilah both my sister and I were fine, but the driver of the other car was furious. There was a large dent in his rear door. The driver got out of the car and said,
"Wait here, I'll deal with this."
Now in Egypt car accidents happen all the time, but our taxi
driver was driving around like a maniac (comparatively maniacal
to the level of poor driving in Egypt) and it's clear that the
driver of the other car could see that. I looked at my sister
who was just as worried as I was about us arriving on time to
class. Before I could speak, the taxi driver rushed back into
the car and said,
The driver zoomed off towards to the direction of the school and I couldn't help but feel that we'd gotten off to a bad start with this taxi driver. Looking back, I don't know why we didn't just get out of the taxi and find another driver to take us to the school. Perhaps it was the shock of his reply to my questioning the cigarette or maybe it was the trauma of hitting the other car.
Just as we were about to reach our destination I whispered into my sister's ear,
"As soon as we get to the school let's get out of the car quickly - there's no telling what this madman will do next!"
As we approached the school I pointed towards and the driver stopped with a screeching halt. My sister heeding my words of caution quickly got out of the car and walked slowly towards the school. After what I had seen, I had no idea what the driver was capable of and I didn't want to take any chances.
Rather than succumb to his tyrannical taxi fares I decided to put on my tough guy act. After all the guy had been treating us rather unfairly the entire ride, not to mention getting into an accident on the way.
"Listen here "
He cut me off saying,
"Look I know, I know I've been rude. It's just that I've been trying to quit smoking these past few days and well it's real tough. I'm so used to having my cigs in the morning and well I'm sorry, I'll take whatever you'll give me."
I handed him the money and stood there in surprise as he took what I offered him and drove off.
I believe it is a mercy from Allah not to be under control of a substance like nicotine, though everyone has their own weaknesses that shaitan can exploit. For those of you who happen to know anyone who is trying to quit smoking, be supportive of them. It is definitely an uphill battle.
Till next time Insha'Allah.
Jazakom Allahu Khairan for reading.
Youssuf El-Kalay has lived in Scotland, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United States, and currently resides in Southern California. It is his hope that through his stories, you the reader will be able to experience some of his adventures and the lessons he has learned from them.
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