I almost got hit by a car last night.
It was going slowly, so it wouldn't have done damage, but still . . . it scared me, and therefore, it infuriated me at the time. I think I'm over it now. It's all part of the process of learning not to expect Egyptians to drive like Americans.
I was crossing a street, on my way home from a cell group meeting. There's this one traffic circle near the compound; it's really busy, and it's often difficult to take the shortest way across (which is directly across it, through the grassy median in its center, and then across its other side) so Jeff and I usually just go around it. We cross maybe four smaller streets that come off the circle rather than cross the high-traffic circle twice. In this case, we were crossing one of the smaller streets when the cars that were going down that street ended up in a bit of a traffic jam--they all stopped. So of course that's the perfect opportunity to go across the street. As I was crossing behind the last car in the line, following Jeff, I looked up to make sure that the oncoming car was stopping. Something in that driver's face told me that I was in danger but not from him. So I turned to see the problem and found that the cab I was crossing behind was backing up--it was about half an inch from me. I instinctively hit the trunk of the car with my fist as I bounded away from it. The driver looked up as if to say "What's the problem?"
What's the problem, indeed. To the Egyptian mind, the problem was that this Western woman had just smacked his trunk. To the American mind, the problem was that this Egyptian man had just started backing up without checking to make sure he wasn't about to hit anyone. But we're in Egypt, not the States, and these things happen.
You see, in Egypt, there seem to be two major rules for traffic: If you want to go there, and you fit or can force yourself to fit, go ahead; and you're responsible for what's in front of you, not what's behind you. The first rule results in 4 or more cars driving side-by-side down a 3-lane road and in cars often driving on the wrong side of the road. I'm convinced it also has resulted in the extremely high sidewalks--usually a good six inches--so that cars can't drive on the sidewalks, not that they'd want to, with the trees and signs growing out of them at random intervals, but hey, they'd use it as a passing lane, trust me.
The second rule results in drivers routinely backing up without looking; after all, if there's a car behind them, it's the other driver's responsibility to honk the horn in order to let the reversing driver know that there's a problem. It also results in drivers honking their horns when approaching a car from the rear and attempting to pass, in order to notify the driver that it may be a bad idea to swerve in that direction right now, because you're also not responsible for what's beside you unless its nose is sticking out farther than yours, in which case it counts as being in front of you.
As you may have guessed, the horns are used as general communication tools here. It isn't the case where a horn indicates anger, frustration, or threats of bodily harm, as it usually does in the States. Horns here can mean "please let me go there," "okay," "thank you," "you're welcome" . . . I think sometimes they just mean "hello." As a pedestrian, oncoming vehicles often honk the horn just to say "hey, I'm coming, don't step out in front of me because I won't stop." (That can be a bit more necessary here than most Americans would think; after all, it's common here to ignore the sidewalk and walk down the middle or side of the street instead, because of the 6-inch curbs at every intersection, the potholes in the sidewalks, and the random trees and signs in the middle of the sidewalks, not to mention the air conditioners that drip water on you from above.)
It gets interesting when the two major traffic rules are applied to turns and attempts to merge into traffic circles. When turning, it is important to go quickly--the guy behind you is not interested in waiting while you carefully pick your opening in the oncoming traffic. The horn-honking in that situation sounds almost as belligerent as horns in the States always sound. There are no red lights to speak of, and stop signs are ignored, so getting onto a busy street is a matter of confidence. The huge SUV usually obtains right of way over the tiny little car, but I've seen cases where the tiny little car driven with confidence trumps the huge SUV. It's just a matter of deciding that you're going now and forcing oncoming traffic to slow down, stop, or swerve in order to avoid hitting you. After all, if you pull out in front of them, you're in front of them, and rule #2 applies.
I haven't tried driving in Cairo yet; our vehicle hasn't arrived from the States. I assume I will eventually drive. I'm too stubborn not to rebel against the fear. My goal is to accept that in Cairo (and in Maadi), people drive like Cairenes. They do not drive like Americans. Although I would like them to drive like Americans, it isn't going to happen, and it would be neither right nor practical for me to expect them to. Americans who are successful in driving in Egypt--without giving themselves or their passengers heart attacks--are Americans who are able to accept that they are in Egypt. In other words, they drive like Cairenes.
The adventurous part of me is looking forward to ignoring the lanes. The logical part of me is too busy reassuring the scared part of me that the heavy traffic prevents anyone from going at the high speeds that can cause real damage, so even though there will be scrapes, there won't be injuries.