Tuesday, March 27, 2007


In case anybody was in any doubt as to where to tick. (Photo courtesy of al Jezeera it would seem via Sandmonkey)

Taxi drivers’ genetic predisposition to hold forth on issues of our time seems to have made them terribly en vogue in Egypt, and the ability to recount an amusing taxi anecdote is now mandatory in polite society. If you’re quick off the starting block you’ll even end up making a few quid out of their ramblings.

I was reminded of this yesterday evening when darkness prevented me (the world’s most unsociable person) from avoiding conversation with a book.

As usual, the driver possessed a remarkable ability to turn the lead of ‘wost el balad men fadlak’ into conversation gold, and before you could say which-is-better-England-or Egypt? we were discussing the referendum. The driver was particularly loquacious and talked with incredible speed, as if he had a minute to plead for his life, so by the time I alighted I knew practically on which side he dresses. Luckily he was polite and entertaining, and gave me an interesting glimpse of his world.

His main complaint about the referendum was simply that he had no idea what the amendments were, the government having chosen to publicise them two days before voting. He attempted to inform himself by reading all 400 plus articles of the Constitution before voting, but encountered many articles, dealing with the technicalities of parliamentary affairs, which he was unable to fathom, and so sought recourse to ‘ustaaz Maged men el wezaara’ who works with him in his day job. Ultimately he decided not to vote, not in protest, but simply because he did not know what he was voting for, and he is a man habituated to understanding his choices. He asked (rhetorically obviously, my role being limited to emitting a ‘sa7’ at regular intervals) how uneducated, illiterate people could be expected to understand and digest the import of 34 amendments, particularly in two days. He concluded that this was unimportant anyway, since many of these people were in any case under the impression that they were voting for Hosny Mobarak.

All in all he felt disenfranchised, but this is not a new feeling to a man who, after thirteen years of employment, earns 250 LE a month in his government ministry day job. After securing the job at the ministry he was forced to take the night job in order to have ‘twenty geneeh or so to give to the madame.’ He keeps two thirds of what he earns (out of which he pays for petrol) - the other third going to the taxi’s owner - and drives from four pm – midnight, six days a week. On a good day he comes away with 80 LE in his pocket. On a bad day he goes home with nothing.

He was particularly grateful for his two-year army service, because during it he learnt to drive. He had wanted to continue his education in the Open University afterwards, but must direct all his funds into supporting his two kids. Despite everything he never once thought about looking for work abroad because he doesn’t like el ‘3’orba.’

This might have all been a yarn of course, spun for the rich (!) tourist, but the sad thing is that even if it was a fabrication in his case, it is the life story of others.

Watching terrestrial channel 1 that evening there was a ‘the People hath Spoken, Viva Democracy’ type discussion. No mention was made of the fact that independent groups put turnout at less than 5% of course, and the bastards kept interspersing this nonsense with masr ya balady-type video clips featuring old Nubian geezers smiling in front of the Egyptian flag, and clips of Hosny waving, all in slow-motion. Which induced feelings similar to those experienced by a man who is dealt a final swift blow in the goolies when he is already prostrate on the ground.

*My insistence on extracting improbable, weird and unamusing word play out of anything knows no limits.


Basil Epicurus said...

I've heard similar stories from cabdrivers in my two days here and they do break your heart. One bloke said to me 'Ana lamo2akhza mish mota3alim wi mish fahim eih il tasweet dah' (Please forgive me for being uneducated..I have no idea what the constitutional amendment is about). I explained it to him in simple terms and he seemed distressed by it, but also unsure what he could do.

There's nothing he can do; the system is set up to keep the plebs in the dark, the middle classes in the maintenance of material mediocrity and the fat cats to stick their snouts in the as many troughs as they can (forgive the mixed metaphor).

Nice post, as usual.

Seneferu said...

"terrestrial channel 1"...lol

david mcmahon said...

G'day from Australia,

Nice writing. I like your style. The separated at birth made me laugh.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to introduce some more design elements/ graphics or photographs.

My background in newspaper and magazine editing and design prompts me to say what I've said to many bloggers - the more reasons you give a reader to come back to your blog, the quicker he/she will return.

In other words, introduce photos a bit more liberally.

If you need to clarify this, buzz me directly at http://david-mcmahon.blogspot.com/ as I'm always ready to help.

Cheers and keep smiling

Davjd aka aussiejourno

Ki said...

Since you're into all manners of interesting wordplay:

Seneferu said...

"*My insistence on extracting improbable, weird and unamusing word play out of anything knows no limits."

Your skills would be much appreciated by the headline editors of Al Ahram Weekly. But I assure you that yours are amusing while their titles are just too cheesy - ugh. But they would love you there I think.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

A depressingly, wonderful piece - I look forward to reading more of your work..

Scarr said...

David: Thanks for the advice, whose application is hindered only the fact that I can just about manage to post text, never mind pictures. I would like to spice things up with graphics and images and stuff, but Blogger is extremely uncooperative and I've conceded defeat for now.

Ki: Does this referendum post you've linked to consist of only the word 'isstefta2' and then comments, or am I doing something wrong?

Seneferu: Stay tuned.

Shrink Wrapped: Great name, and ta.

Ki said...

Er, no the title of the was not "isstefta2", it was "istefsa2".... hence the graphic of the car expelling air from its, er, behind.

Scarr said...

LOL. Very nice.