A Dance With Death
I spent three days in Alexandria, Egypt two weeks ago. It was my first time in Egypt. And since my quick stop in Naples a few years ago, the first time I thought my life was really in danger by *just* crossing the street. As a matter of fact, no tourist or unpracticed individual should ever try to be a full-fledged pedestrian in Egypt, or a driver, for that matter. Unless you're suicidal, or like Russian roulette. The first contact I had with the driving habits happened at 3 am, when I landed in Borg-El-Arab, the far-away airport for Alexandria. A taxi was waiting for me, which is always a great relief when arriving in an unknown country at odd hours. The driver was very nice, and listened to French music (from old French crooners to Emilie Jolie, the Halliday version). And he drove without lights. I mean, it was 3 in the morning, and it was night. And the road was not exactly a very new highway, but rather a bumpy road full of strange holes, not mentionning the in-the-middle-of-the-road boulders or unknown lying objects. After a few kilometers, I asked him. "Why are you driving without lights?" To which he answered this very obvious thing: "Well, there are lights on the road." And sure enough, the highway we were driving on was all lit up, all the way from borg-El-Arab to Alexandria. But still, it was 3 o'clock in the morning, and no-one had lights. And I couldn't see them well. And those trucks we passed (with no lights) were looking very sleepy, hovering from one side of the road to the other without warning. But that was just a night trip, and you only really understand the extent of skills needed to drive in Alexandria in broad daylight. Which happened the day after, when the friends I was meeting there came to get me.
Alexandria is a very long city stretching along the Mediterranean. Its biggest street is a 3 to 7 lane (each direction) boulevard along the sea. It is the main artery in the city, which allows you to go from the citadel and presidential palace on the one end to the Montazah gardens on the other. Along the 20 km or so of this street, there are no red lights (although I must say that the meaning of street lights in Egypt is a theoretical concept). And no zebra crossing. None. Maybe one or two pedestrian bridges? Anyway. In order to go anywhere in Alexandria, you *need* to take this street. And if you don't yourself have a car, you need to take the bus, or the micro-buses (hop-on taxis that cruise the street). And, to do so, at one point, you *must* cross the street. And risk your life. As indeed, in Egypt, crossing the street, as well as driving, is an art. Something of a dance with death. I would have given my shirt to be able to film the traffic from above, and watch the impromptu choreography of it. Man and machine, forever avoiding each other. It is really an amazing sight, something of an endless ballet. Cars smoothly fitting themselves in one small opening in the traffic, or firmly pushing their way into a lane, bumpers flirting with other bumpers, carosserie flirting with people's feet or behinds. Since then I learned that Egypt had one of the highest mortality rates caused by traffic... Deadly choreography indeed.