We have a microbus stop outside our apartment building. What this means is that anywhere from one to twenty minivans are parked in one or two lines, just a few feet from our front door, and they snake around the corner toward the main road. It sometimes means a lot of noise and people traffic as there are busy times for people to be riding this mode of public transport. Also there are small scuffles at times among the drivers and perhaps passengers, which involve yelling and frequent honking of horns. For us personally, it means more air pollution, and sometimes, a longer walk to the main road if we choose to take the clean-air route and go all the way around the block. All in all, it’s not terribly inconvenient or bothersome most of the time, but it would be nicer if this microbus stop was in another location.
We have rarely ridden on this microbus line as it goes to a section of town that we usually have no need to frequent. It’s a poorer, more crowded neighborhood a little north of Maadi. But the other day, on Easter, in fact, we planned to ride the microbus to the end of the line to have dinner at the home of one of Jayson’s friends. It was quite an experience.
We exited our building and found a long line of microbuses, as usual, but we also found our doorman, our landlord’s son, and a police officer right outside the gate of our building. We didn’t notice right away that there was a problem, but as Jayson spoke with the officer, who has a friendly relationship with him, and I was briefly talking to the doorman, there was some commotion around us, and the officer told Jayson he was busy at the moment. A minute later, our landlord’s son got into his large white car, and backed it up and parked it blocking the entire line of microbuses. He got out of the car, slammed the door and walked away from it. Meanwhile, the doorman is saying to him, “Hey, no, this is wrong. Give me the keys.” But the son ignored him and walked around in a huff. I thought, hmmm, this is interesting, we were just ready to board the microbus to meet our friend. Hope he moves his car soon. Surely, the police officer will do something about this.
So, Jayson and I, with the two girls, our bag, and a bag of chocolates for our host, boarded the microbus and waited. And waited and waited and waited. The microbus was full, as were the four or five that were surrounding us, but no one was moving because the big white car totally blocked the possibility. The landlord’s son was standing on the street yelling and talking with the doorman, and some of the microbus drivers were yelling too. Many of the passengers were looking around wondering what was happening and what they should do. Jayson and I just sat there, with our girls in our laps, watching the scene. Another son came down from their apartment to either watch or help, but his car stayed parked there for about ten minutes while the people who wanted to ride the microbus waited and questioned and fumed and threw their hands up. At one point, most of the people in our microbus exited and walked away to find another way to their destination. We didn’t really know where our destination was; we just had instructions to ride the microbus to the end of the line, and besides, we were interested in what would happen in this situation, so we stayed put.
I wondered where our landlord was, and thought that she could intervene and talk some sense into her son. I mean, it seemed he had some problem with the drivers, but what about all these poor passengers who were now stuck? I was also getting nervous for him as the crowds were gathering and tensions were getting high. Jayson wondered at one point if he should get out and ask what was happening, and perhaps the presence of a foreigner would kind of shame the son into doing what’s right. I wondered if he knew we were sitting inside one of the microbuses waiting to go, if that would make him move. I mean, this is a guy who is often sitting in his parent’s living room while I visit with his mom. Would he want to inconvenience his parents’ tenants? But, we thought it best to just watch and learn.
After about ten minutes, he got in his car and drove off, swerving a bit wildly, down the street and screeching around the corner. Well, I thought, now he’s safe from the crowds for the time being, and we can finally get moving. But, the microbuses did not move. It seems the drivers were quite upset about this whole thing and kind of went on strike for a little while. At one point, one of the drivers who had been yelling and very agitated, started to run back behind us in the line of vans. Two of the girls in our microbus got very nervous at that point and were afraid he was going to get into his bus and do something drastic. So they quickly exited, along with some others. But just as they were getting out, he ran up the sidewalk with a club in his hand. I thought it would be best to stay in the van! As is typical in Egyptian fashion, some of the other men around calmed him down enough to keep him from doing anything with that club (click here for a cultural explanation and personal reflection). It was a little scary for a minute, and as the crowds continued to gather, since the microbuses had now been standing still for fifteen minutes, I wondered what could happen. The drivers were angry, and surely the passengers would start to get angry that now the path was cleared and the drivers refused to go. What a mess.
Meanwhile, Jayson called his friend and apologized for our delay and tried to explain the situation to him. After he hung up, and it seemed there was no movement to go anywhere, we finally got out ourselves, and walked to the end of the street where we found a taxi who was taking a few other passengers to our destination. Once inside the taxi, we asked one of the other passengers if she knew what the problem was. She explained that one of the people who lives in the building by the microbuses (we knew who that was) was upset because the microbuses are loud and bothersome day after day and he finally got fed up and parked his car in their way. Wow, I thought. Yes, I could agree that they are sometimes louder and more bothersome than they need to be, but what good did it do for him to put his car there? Surely this would not encourage the drivers to be more concerned for his comfort and well-being by keeping things quieter and not beeping incessantly when it wasn’t necessary. No, instead it seems he just made stronger enemies who would now probably go out of their way to bother him.
We don’t know how long things were at a standstill on our street. We arrived at our destination via taxi and had a nice dinner and time with Jayson’s friend, and by the time we were ready to return home, the microbuses were up and running again. We haven’t seen our landlord or talked to the doorman about the situation, and we probably wouldn’t bring it up. It is a curious thing, though, and provided a bit of entertainment and cultural insight on an otherwise nice, normal holiday. Happy Easter.
Footnote: A few days later I visited another neighbor who lives upstairs. It seems she may have been home during this fiasco, and perhaps watching from her balcony. She explained that maybe the son had a little more justification in doing what he did. It seems he was parked on the side of the street and a microbus hit his car. Whether this was on purpose or just because the driver was being a little careless, I don’t know. But when he yelled at the driver, it seems the driver hit it a second time, intentionally for sure. So, that is what started the whole thing. When I asked my neighbor about all the innocent passengers who were inconvenienced, that didn’t seem to matter too much to her. Her feelings are that the microbus drivers are generally not nice people. She says they talk crudely to each other, but I don’t notice it because I don’t understand what they are saying. She complains that they cause a lot of problems on our street, and it would be best if they could go somewhere else. She wants to write a petition, signed by the residents of our building, and if Jayson and I sign on, she thinks it will go a long way in moving this line somewhere else. We’ll see if anything happens with this plan.