Friday, February 16, 2007

Invitation To Ride

So I cycle to work every day. It’s not a long distance really, something like 10-15 minutes by ‎bike or the equivalent of 20-30 minutes by car. Cairo is not at all designed for bicycles but ‎then again neither is it designed for cars or pedestrians or even humans. I used to cycle from ‎place to place when I had my freestyle bike as a child, but all that changed since it broke ‎down and I sort of outgrew the freestyle stuff. Anyway it did take a bit of courage to decide ‎to cycle in Cairo to and from work, especially that I was showered with warnings from ‎everyone who came to know of my plan. ‎

The warnings were concerning many aspects, firstly the pollution in Cairo, instead of actually ‎doing a sport that would benefit my body, I would be augmenting the inhale of pollution to ‎bring about more quickly the ruin of an already deteriorating pair of lungs. Another problem ‎was traffic; driving in Cairo is chaotic enough as it is without the disadvantage of having to ‎deal with it from a vulnerable exposed bike. Being a driver myself I can see how anymore ‎space used up by a bike can cause drivers to go crazy with rage. The pedestrians have left the ‎non existent sidewalk and moved on to the road, but what makes bikers more infuriating is ‎that they move quicker than both cars and pedestrians. They use up little enough road so as ‎to glide through traffic and yet enough to hinder some cars.‎

One more issue that was raised but that is totally absurd is harassment. Yes even guys can ‎get harassed if walking in shorts, or strange clothes or on a bike. Of course I don’t have a ‎poor looking bike like those carrying bread or running errands, so one can expect the same ‎kind of remarks as those I get while going to play football wearing shorts during the winter. ‎Even more, some have warned that I may get some kind of mockery from the not so ‎accustomed workmates. ‎

But of course that last issue is the least of my worries, relative to the normal population, I’m ‎considered eccentric anyway, and I’ve never cared much for what people say, I’ve been ‎down that road so many times and I discovered that if you’re confident enough people get ‎tired of the strange things you do and eventually start accepting you and sometimes even ‎respecting you.‎

Despite all these warnings, I still decided to cycle to work, and it does have its perks apart ‎from dodging pedestrians walking like zombies unaware of their own existence and yours, ‎the bigger task was to avoid cars that continuously ignore you, almost run you over and then ‎simply smile and apologize. The perks of cycling though other than it being a sport I enjoy a ‎lot is that I get home faster in the deadlocked traffic of Cairo. I can run errands on my way ‎home and I can decide to leave during rush hour rather than rot away in the office. I can ‎enjoy the cold air in the evening and rid myself of that usual feeling of lethargy at the end of ‎a working day. I can actually go back home and decide to go out, not dreading driving to ‎places since I haven’t been locked in a traffic jam for over fifteen minutes. I can even park ‎right next to the office and not go around 10 extra minutes looking for a parking space, with ‎the car, the process of parking is horrendous. ‎

With all these perks comes one that was very unexpected. Owning a bike is like being lost. ‎Not in a bad sense I assure you, it’s just that when people are lost, people are very anxious to ‎help them and get them on the right way and talk to them. That’s what it’s like when some ‎people see me with a bike. I’m talking about the doorman and the security guards and the ‎garage keeper. They’re very excited that I have joined their ranks and run my errands on a ‎bike. One of the security guards was so interested that he asked me if my bike was normal or ‎with “3’eyarat” (gears). The ability to make small talk about the bike is excellent. ‎

I’m not sure why people don’t go to their work on bikes here in Egypt, I mean it may be a ‎bit demeaning, but if more people did it then the traffic won’t be as bad (except on the 6th of ‎October bridge) and the whole biking thing will be generally more accepted. If anything it ‎can attempt to bring closer those rich enough to own cars but choose bikes, and those rich ‎enough to merely own a bike.‎


Egyptian dust said...

hey, came across your blog via blogger.

you know, you're the right person to get people cycling in egypt. If enough khawagas do something, then it must be good! No government initiative will change behaviour as well as khawagas doing something....

Anonymous said...

i see ur logic, i only have one major problem: luggage :) when i am getting out i have my back pak and my son's bag and my son and sometimes even more stuff, let alone when i am shopping.. i need a family size bike

Eventuality said...

Oh how I wish I can do the same. I've always wanted a motorcycle too. But imagine you're a guy and you get harrassed, how would a veiled female look on a bike here? I dare not imagine :)

Wael Eskandar said...

hey egydust, good to know that blogger makes mistakes and directs to my blog.. In any case, I'm not a khawaga unfortunately, I've no blond hair or colored eyes to lead this movement, I'm just an outcast. Though if I were a khawaga I would be a leader, so go figure :)

Insomniac, I see you have a problem with your luggage and I'm sorry to say my invitation doesn't extend to you for practical reasons only I assure you. Perhaps when you have less luggage then :)

Everything: I don't imagine that you can do much with the current situation and yours. It may take men five years to get on their bikes, but that means women will take ten, and veiled women twenty. But never fear, I intend to start this movement today, so be ready in twenty years.

(But I'd better find some blonds to help me out)

Eventuality said...

I'll be waiting patiently then :)

Alluring said...

As i said before, you ARE brave, but lucky for you you don't have to go over any bridges on your way or else i don't think you would still cycle to work. Or would you???

Wael Eskandar said...

Luckily I don't have to go over any bridges, but some bridges are okay to cycle across. Ironically, once you're on the bridge, you may find that it's one of the very few places with a decent sidewalk on which you can cycle or walk.

Anonymous said...

A conversation over the phone with my father 7 years ago..
Him: are u buying a car?
Me: no.
Him: is it a question of money cause i can help u buy a car, u know?
Me: no, i'm ok, thanks.
Him: how do go to work then?
Me: i bike.
Him: leh yabni, howa enta beta3 el laban, danta doctor mo7taram.

I still bike to work and otherwise, however never in Egypt.

Enjoy traffic in Saigon

Wael Eskandar said...

This video is unreal, very difficult to imagine riding a bike there.. I hope that's not where you cycle.

I know what you mean about being a doctor or an engineer and riding a bike .. :)