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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living in Egypt: Roads

Cairo is not known for its good roads.  Like all third-world countries, orderliness and maintenance are not at the top of the government's priorities (which is, I suspect, one of the reason they stay in the third-world tier).

I remember one hair-raising trip home when my parents were visiting during our first stay in Cairo.  We had taken a taxi home from Al-Azhar park in the evening, and hadn't yet realized that taxi drivers don't know where they're going.  The trip home from Al-Azhar is fairly straightforward (enough so that I could drive it myself), but the driver had decided that evening to go through all of the strangest and out-of-the-way corners of Maadi to get us home.  

At one point he headed down a street that was literally flooded.  Rain falls here sufficiently strong enough to flood roads once every few years and that wasn't one of the years, so I'm not sure how the road was flooded, but it could only have been from dubious sources.  I remember creeping along the side of the road at maybe three miles an hour listening to the murky water sloshing up the doors and watching abandoned tires, concrete blocks and other large detritus pass us as we drove through.  After that, I always gave the driver directions.

The roads (excepting those in Maadi which were built by the British) make absolutely no sense and have no street signs (except in Maadi, and those were made for an Eagle project). One major road, the Autostrade, runs north-south through the valley.  The first time I hired a taxi to take me home from the Khan, I thought I was being taken for a ride when he started diving through the City of the Dead, a cemetery near downtown.  After some tense minutes, he popped right out onto the Autostrade and took me home. 

 I didn't realize then that the only south-bound access to the Autostrade in that area was to drive through the City of the Dead.  When the road was built, almost no thought was given to access.  I have seen drivers drive onto major highways and then pull U-turns in the middle to go the other direction because there aren't any on-ramps going their way.

I was surprised when we returned to find stripes painted on the roads, a feature that had been added while we were gone.  The stripes, however, are only for decoration.  Last time I went to the airport at 3 in the morning, I was amused to watch the driver languidly drift over the wide-open highway with no apparent reason.  Perhaps he was simply enjoying the room.

The roads in Maadi are laid out on the grid system, but just as shoddily maintained as in the rest of the city.  Potholes are filled with rocks, plastic bags, and broken-up tiles.  I dislike walking anywhere in the morning because all of the cars have been washed and dirty puddles lie in the road waiting to swallow the stroller whole.  When Kathleen rides her tricycle, she gets quite a workout from all of the ups and downs.

Until recently.  Somebody somewhere decided that 20+ years was long enough between pavings and has started paving all of the roads.  So three or four blocks will be paved and then a week or two will go by while the equipment sits on the side of the road and then another few blocks will be paved.  The roads look really nice for about two days before the garbage piles back up on them and the pools form again.  

One thing somebody neglected to do, however, was raise all of the manhole covers.  Perhaps they thought that nobody would need to access them.  While I was walking to the pool I saw one that had been excavated with a pile of rubble sitting a few feet away on the side of the road.  And it's still there.  And it will probably be for the next 20 years, until they pave again.  


UnkaDave said...

OK, while here in Raleigh, the paving companies must have some municipal officers in their pocket, as perfectly OK roads are paved frequently and unnecessarily.

Bridget said...

Ah, so true. I'm glad you are getting your neighborhood re-paved! I hope it's an improvement.

PaulaJean said...

I echo Dad. Due to stimulus money, road all over town are getting repaved that I was unaware needed new asphalt. Silly.