May 7, 2001
Taxi Stories, Part
by Youssuf El-Kalay
Asalamu Aliakom Wa Rahmatu Allah Wa Barakatu.
Welcome back to another episode of Egyptian Tales. This story
is the first part of a series of stories. Though I will try and
keep them non-linear so as not to bore my fellow readers. Each
story will be a whimsical and comical look at one of the many
taxi rides I have taken in Egypt.
A great plus to living in Egypt is the ability to get around
fairly easily - assuming, that is, that you know where you're
going. A person can ride the bus, take one of the horse drawn
carts, ride the metro and last but not least take a taxi.
Taxis in Cairo are readily available. Just walk out onto any
main road and flag one down, and unless they are already occupied
they will stop with a loud screech right in front of you. Cairo
taxis are noted for their black and white coloring on the body
of the car. They come in all different styles, but the majority
are either Peugeots or Fiats. Some are completely run down, while
others look sparkling brand new, depending on how well the driver
takes care of the car.
Even though the taxis are fitted with fare meters, the majority
of the drivers don't go by the price on the meter. In fact, don't
be surprised to find a taxi without a working meter at all. By
law they are supposed to have them running but a lot of them
use the excuse that it's too much of a headache maintaining the
meter (as if). They do this so as not to have a set price for
the fare. Don't let this scare you away though: just as it can
aid the driver's pocket book, it can also hurt him. Remember,
they've got competition out there. Just as with everything, not
all taxi drivers are created equally. So don't be surprised if
one driver quotes you a price to get to downtown Cairo and another
one the next street over gives you a cheaper price.
While living in Egypt I found that the best way to get abreast
of the pop culture is to chit chat with the taxi drivers. You'd
be surprised as to what some of them have to say. Much of my
historical knowledge of Cairo and its neighborhoods came from
the knowledge of cab drivers. Though sometimes you may find some
taxi drivers with quirky personalities. I learned this first
hand when I took one of the funnier taxi rides I have had.
One day while vacationing in Egypt over the summer, my sister
and I decided to go visit our aunt. We walked out onto the main
road and flagged a taxi down. It was a small four-seater Fiat,
with a driver who looked like he was in an awful hurry to get
"Can you take us to Old Maadi?" I asked.
"Sure no problem, how much are you willing to pay?"
he asked rather excitedly.
After much deliberation, we agreed on a price and we were
soon on our way. As we zipped through the streets towards Old
Maadi, the cab was filled with the sound of the old-fashioned
Arabic music playing on the driver's cassette player. However,
as soon as we stopped at an intersection, he quickly swapped
the tape and replaced it with more "modern" music.
Perhaps the driver had noticed we were from out of town, and
tried to make us more comfortable by putting on some westernized
music that he thought we would enjoy. From the speakers in the
back I could hear someone singing in English, but with a strong
Egyptian accent, "Sure you cana stay, but I canta stay."
It soon dawned on my sister and I that the song had been translated
from Arabic into English. Seeing as how there is a major loss
in meaning during the translation, we couldn't help but giggle.
Even more humorous was the driver's comment about the music,
"This music is fresh from Europe, you know? I am learning
English from this song, it's great, I love it!" he said
"Yeah, I'm glad you like it," I said, trying with
all my effort to hold back the laughter.
Soon we arrived at our destination, and I as paid the driver
his fee, I heard another song being played, which sounded like,
"Very nice, very nice, very nice, very nice!".
At that point my sister and I could not hold back the giggles
and started to laugh.
To this day, I still laugh about this taxi ride. In Egypt,
a taxi ride isn't just going from one place to another, it's
Jazakom Allahu Khairan for reading,
Till next time insha Allah.
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.
If you enjoy these stories, let us know. Your
feedback is important and is always appreciated.