Friday, February 15, 2008

Choke

All text & photographs in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2008

"Min fadlak," (please) squawks the loudspeaker on the roof of the puny-looking ambulance, in between the woo-woo of an equally puny siren.

"Please get out of the way!"
"We have a very sick person inside."
Woo-woo-woo-woo

A few seconds later:
Woo-woo-woo
"Please! We have a very sick person in the ambulance."
Woo-woo-woo-woo

Nobody moves. They can't. Traffic has ground to a halt on the the Kasr El Nil bridge. We've been standing still for about twenty minutes now.

From my cab, I see the paramedic jump out of the ambulance and run to the cars ahead. I see his hands making wild, pleading gestures. I see him run back to the ambulance, and shut the door.

The decal on the door reads "A gift from the people of Japan."

He gets back on the the loudspeaker.

"Please move to the side..."
Woo-woo-woo-woo...

Nothing is predictable in this city of 20 million people - not the cab fare, not the price of a cup of coffee, not the direction in which a car will drive down a one way street. Everything is negotiable. You have to be 'on' at every instant. You have to be thinking. You have to be alive.

Except when you're stuck in traffic - Cairo's predictable, non-negotiable monster. It will choke you to death.

There are more than 2 million cars on Cairo's streets, very few traffic lights, and extremely bendable traffic rules. The city is like a heart in a state of constant cardiac arrest.

Woo-woo-woo...

Half an hour later, we're still in the same spot. The paramedic's loudspeaker pleas have become less frequent. He's stopped jumping out.

Forty minutes into the jam, I decide to walk to work, and get out of my cab.

As I cross the bridge over the Nile, I turn back to look at the hopelessly stuck ambulance.

The driver turns off the siren.

1 comment:

Marie said...

Wonderfully atmospheric account, Yasir. Made me a little nostalgic.

For the Metro.