June 4, 2009

Egyptian Incompetence and an Asinine Taxi Driver - Part II
Giza, Egypt

The long drive by highway had turned into a dirt detour and congested gridlock after passing over the Nile. Tatiana and the baby were in the front seat, with me squeezed into the back with the bags (nearly piled to the roof).

Our windows were rolled down as the sun's mid-summer heat painfully poured into vehicle. Dust and particulates of pollution clung to our sweat-soaked bodies. I passed a bottle of water forward to Tatiana so she could have a drink and refill Aidric's cup.

Ugh… the heat. Ugh… Cairo.

It was around 6:00 p.m. and we'd already been in the car for a good 45 minutes.

"Humm," I thought to myself, "the 30 pounds was certainly worth the money for this distance/duration."

We had no idea from where in the city we started, and only Tatiana possessed a vague cursory memory of our destination's placement in Giza from her time here two years ago.

Giza Arrival

The East Delta bus terminal to our Giza apartment, as shown in a perfect world. [map]

Discomfort from the heat aside, things had generally been going fine up until the point where we reached a large roundabout in Giza.

I'd already caught my first glimpse of the pyramids and Tatiana had quickly identified a large hotel (Le Meridien Pyramids) in the area as one she'd seen in close proximity to Princess' apartment—our destination with A/C salvation.

…But our optimism started to turn to frustration as it became painfully obvious that our driver had no idea where to go. Yes, he knew the general target area, but certainly not the specifics.

Drive, Stop. Drive, Stop. Drive, Stop… Forever Circling…

Tatiana and I kept exchanging looks at each other through the car's side-view mirror. What had started out as some innocent Q&A about the address with folks he'd shouted out to on the street had escalated into a real problem.

He'd repeatedly holler out the same question to the locals, and within the span of 40 feet he'd get three different directions! One guy would point this way, another points another, while a small cluster would point back another way!

Driving around this area in circles…

Almost as frustrating as the unproductive stops for clarification was Tatiana's inability to identify where we needed to go. Although she spent much of her weeks here indoors, she'd been in this place before and we really needed her to dig deep and remember where her friend's apartment was located.

We'd been circling the same area for at least half an hour now, baking in the vehicle and car exhaust. The more I thought about it the angrier I was getting.

But who deserved my rage?

Was it the incompetence of Princess' fiancée? Did he not give a proper address or instructions over the phone?

Was it the guy who wrote down the address like a three-year-old with Parkinson's?

Or was this taxi driver simply a complete idiot who didn't understand what was written in front of him? (Tatiana later told me that he reeked of alcohol.)

…Eventually I dug into my pocket and handed Tatiana Shalaby's phone number.

"He needs to call him to get this sorted out," I insisted.

The Second Phone Call

Tatiana held the number in her palm as the driver pulled the car over keyed his mobile. He spoke briefly after connecting, and then handed the phone over to Tatiana.

The speaker on the phone was turned all the way up, and I could sort of make out part of the badly distorted conversation. Tatiana did most of the speaking, explaining our proximity to the Le Meridien hotel.

She could barely make out what he was saying, so with me pressuring from the backseat she ended up just handing the phone back to driver so he could get the directions necessary in Arabic.

As the conversation came to an end I picked up on the sound of approaching helicopters.

Suddenly, a familiar sight noisily appeared—so loud and so low to the ground we practically felt the blast of air from the rotor blades it passed overhead. It was President Obama abroad Marine One, flanked in tight formation by two other choppers, flying directly towards the pyramids. He was in Cairo today, clearly taking in the sights.

A sweaty mess but again optimistic, the driver proceeded as if he knew where he was going… but as he started circling and circling again (in different part of the same area) our displeasure once again flared.

"I don't care what he's going to say about driving around for longer, this guy's not going to get a single cent more!" Tatiana exclaimed to me, as I nodded in agreement.

Not much later I pretty much reached my breaking point when the moron threw the car into reverse after missing a turn and starting backing up on a large one-way avenue. The guy couldn't even keep the vehicle going in the straight line as he went backed up a good 70 yards. And as he pulled out into the middle lane (still in reverse) to go around a parked van I called out for Tatiana to brace herself and the baby, as I thought we'd be getting rear-ended for sure.

That was it.

I wanted to speak with Shalaby myself. I needed to know if we dealing with one or two Egyptian fuckwits.

But the driver hummed and hawed about this, pointing to his phone indicating that he was out of credit. Eventually, he conceded and pulled over next to a minimart to buy more, leaving us in the vehicle.

It was 6:45 p.m.

We'd been running around Giza for the better part of an hour, and stuck in the cab for at least 90 minutes.

The Third Phone Call

Tatiana pulled out Shalaby's number and we watched and waited as the driver started to key it in again.

Hesitation…

Then, on the second digit, he screwed up.

"I don't think this guy even understands the phone number!" I exclaimed as he conceded the phone to Tatiana. She continued typing in the digits and connected the call, ending my rant and speculation.

A more successful conversation ensued this time around, and at precisely 7:00 p.m. we arrived in front of the apartment building (which was generally close to the area where we'd spent the last hour circling).

Hot, dirty and angry after our first two hours in Cairo we unloaded the bags and turned our backs on the moronic man, now certainly sober, who was demanding that he be compensated for the extra time.

More shouting ensued, followed by us simply walking into the building and away from the misery of his presence.

Following Tatiana's lead, we slowly climbed the flights of concrete stairs that led to the top floor, weighed down by the events of the very long, emotionally exhausting day. And discovering (not long after our arrival) that Shalaby had actually given the man more money just made us want to forget the afternoon all the more.

…But on the bright side of things, this place has got one helluva view:

Apartment View of the Great Pyramid of Giza

Our Bedroom in Princess' Apartment

Princess' Apartment Building (photo taken some days later)

The unit we're is on the top floor—the enclosed balcony centered in the image, extending right.

Postmortem

Questions, questions…

1. Was the address on the piece of paper accurate?

I never got a chance to have Shalaby take a look at the supposed address handed to the driver to confirm what it did or didn't say, but it's quite clear to me that there are no specific numbers contained within it.

I e-mailed a friend that's very proficient in Arabic and asked him if he could translate it, telling him no context other than that it should be an address. The gist of his response:

"Archery (?), Sra'ir of the Pyramids St."

Notes: No numbers are given. Not sure what archery is, maybe an area. Sra'ir is written sloppily; I can't quite make out what it is or means. Assuming this is from Egypt, my best guess is that this to a vague location near the Giza pyramids. Hope that helps.

2. Why is the address on the piece of paper not accurate?

The incompetence on the part of the Egyptian who wrote it is the most probable cause. The illegibility is clearly the fault of the penman. Shalaby comes off as being more intelligent than to give such a vague location. Then again, I don't know what was said between the two men, or if Shalaby even knows the proper address. Perhaps he can only describe its location by landmark.

3. Could the driver understand the non-Arabic telephone number you showed him?

Normally I write out things like this in Arabic, but as we'd not planned on having to call from within the taxi, it was not. The mobile phone the driver was using had the both styles of numbers on it, and he didn't give any sign that he didn't understand.

4. Was Shalaby consulted once or twice from within the taxi?

Just ONCE! This was confirmed when I asked Shalaby to show me his call log so that I could make a note of the times we called him. He showed he received a call from the bus station at 5:00 and another at 6:45, but none in between.

5. If you and the driver weren't talking to Shalaby in that conversation, who the hell did the he call?

It certainly wasn't a wrong number. The conversation was much too long. Likely the driver quickly gave up on the written phone number (or never even tried in the first place) and called up a friend of his for help instead. Tatiana wasn't familiar enough with Shalaby's voice to tell that it wasn't him.

This act puts the driver up there as probably one of the dumbest we've ever had, the world over.

Comments:

Saudi Arabia

Jiffry

September 23rd, 2010

Haha, Egypt is famed across the Arab world for its moronic taxi drivers. You'll need to get a phone pretty quick as you never want to have to ask a favor from anyone while in the country.

Almost everyone is a part time con artist, your typing style shows that you detect this and are obviously on high alret so you might just get through this in one piece.

India

riitaa

November 15th, 2011

WOW! amazing post very informative love Egypt wish to be there.

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