It was a bright Saturday morning. We were standing on the sidewalk outside our hotel, ready to use a wonder of technology that is revolutionizing the concept of public transport the world over – Uber. We had arrived the previous night after a long flight into Cairo and checked into the Novotel Airport Hotel, not wanting to mess with the idea of haggling with a cab in a foreign country that evening. The feeling carried itself over the next morning – hence Uber.
It was a busy road, as seem to be most roads in Cairo. It did have a dusty sidewalk, but at least it had a sidewalk. Every few seconds, a cab (or a cab lookalike) would pull up to us pestering us to use their ride. I turned to J to ask him how far out our Uber was. Apparently, once you request an Uber, its likely the driver might stop for a tea break before picking up his ride, or so it seemed. J said
“well, lookout for a Red Mitsubishi, driven by a bearded Ahmed. The car is headed towards us, but its moving at a glacial pace”
Although in the Cairo heat, you would think a glacier would be receding at a breakneck pace, but that’s besides the point here.
Finally to my delight I noticed a red Mitsubishi moving along the side of the road at a somewhat slower and uncertain pace towards us. I identified the bearded driver, we made eye-contact, I smiled and waived and he pulled over. I leaned into the window of the passenger side and asked
He nodded in affirmation.
I opened the passenger side door as I turned around and gestured to J and B to jump into the backseat of the car.
“That wasn’t bad at all”
exclaimed B. J meanwhile, a hard to impress Korean curmudgeon and also Uber-virgin finally had a gleeful expression on his face.
I turned to Ahmed and said “Let’s go”, excited to be heading for our first day of adventure in this ancient city while at the same time not mindful of the fact that english is not expected to be understood by everyone everywhere in the world. Ahmed mumbled something in Arabic, which I assumed was a greeting. I decided to show off my Arabic with “As-salaam-alaikum”, and again pointed towards the road asking him to drive.
Ahmed drove, but drove too straight for Cairo trafic. Within a few yards, he drove into another car. This immediately wiped the gleeful expression off of J’s face. I think we all at this point might have yelled at him, perhaps in three different languages none of which Ahmed understood. They all amounted to saying
“What the F#@$”?
Having regained his composure, Ahmed again turned to me and mumbled something in Arabic. I figured he was apologizing. I could sense that from the fact that by now he was beginning to sweat. I said something like ” That’s okay, be careful now, and drive”. Ahmed, I thought began to apologize some more in Arabic. Since I couldn’t understand, and didn’t care all that much, I told him to just drive.
Having realized we weren’t interested in his apology, Ahmed decided to start driving, albeit at a slower pace. Well a slow Uber is better than a no-Uber or a reckless-Uber I thought. About a mile down, we come to an intersection, and Ahmed again turned to me mumbling something in Arabic – from the tone I could tell it was a question! Having spent years in Bombay, where it was a common trick for cab drivers to ask their passengers which route they wanted to take (and in the process figure out how clueless they were), I assumed Ahmed was playing the same trick. Trying to sound like a confident local (who apparently didn’t speak a word in Arabic), I asked him to make a left.
Clearly I had no clue which way our destination was. However, knowing we had the power of technology, I turned to J whose phone we had used to request the Uber, and asked him to make sure Ahmed was taking us in the right direction. Perhaps Ahmed didn’t know how to use his Uber App that would have given him the right direction, and hence he was a little ashamed and nervous in front of foreign tourist, and that might explain his extreme sweat and shivers.
So J’s expression, as I noted earlier had turned from glee to horror. Now as I turned back to look at him for direction hints, I could sense it had changed once again, now to one of confusion. The confusion once again turned to horror, this time for all three of us when he exclaimed
“Hey, why does this app show that our car is still where we were waiting for our pick up?”
I think three people yelling in three different languages probably caused Ahmed to get a heart attack, if not partial deafness. He slammed on the brakes in the middle of the busy road. I didn’t get a chance to look at his facial expression, as all of us jumped out of the car like a bat of hell.
That was our “Welcome to Cairo”
ps. I can only imagine Ahmed’s side of the story when he went home to tell his wife and friends
Ahmed: “Hey three foreigners tried to abduct me today”
Wife: “Really? where do you think they were from”
Ahmed: “Hard to tell”
Wife: “describe them”
Ahmed: ” One was White, one was Asian and one was brown”
Wife: ” You been drinking again??? Its the couch for you again tonight !”
pps. In our defense, we discovered later that half the Uber Cars in Cairo are Mitsubishis (or so it seems)
We also discovered that half the men in Cairo are named Ahmed.
Finally half the men in Cairo have beards..
Now you do the math !!