Muslim Matrimonials and More's Egyptian Tales, by Youssuf El-Kalay

May 7, 2001

Taxi Stories, Part One

by Youssuf El-Kalay

A taxi in Alexandria, Egypt

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.

A taxi zooms through Cairo

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 somewhere.

"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 ecstatically.

An Egyptian taxi driver

"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 an adventure.

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. Muslim Matrimonials