Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Driving me crazy


Traffic in the Middle East can sometimes be disorderly. After all, one would need four arms to light one's cigarette and keep one's hands simultaneously at 10 and 2. Lord knows that those man-eating Basra badgers are probably the only creatures up to the task.

Of course, this is a stark contrast with the always law-abiding, uber-aware drivers in the good old U.S. of A.

All sarcasm aside, zeroing in on the disregard for traffic laws seems to be one of the patent comments visitors make about the region. You've probably received an email from someone commenting on this.

Admittedly, yours truly may have engaged in such emails in a past life.

And to be sure, it bears some truth. And, yes, it can be a useful device to symbolize one's acclimation to life here (Example: "On the first day, I could barely cross the street. Now I ghost ride across Midan Tahrir. And this is much like my understanding of this place. Whereas before I was tenative, now I ghost ride." You get the point.)

But is it time to retire this motif as hackneyed tripe? Has it jumped the shark? Is it - much like using a veil pun in the title of a book about Muslim women - initially clever but now just annoying? Might it even be more pernicious, a modern day manifestation of Orientalist travel literature that imagined "labyrinthine markets" to symbolize some Eastern incapacity for logic or reason?

Two articles in Slate and the New York Times, respectively, used this theme in the past few days. They utilized it to get at larger issues, Mr Slackman of the NYT to meditate on the ups and downs of Cairene life and Mr Cook of Slate to illuminate informal norms of conduct in the region (though Mr Cook deserves some derision for complaining about crazy driving in posh Zamalek).

So, my criticisms: definitely a bit overblown. But can't we dig a little deeper on the symbolism front, gentlemen?


Anonymous said...

Your blog is very interesting!
Please, send me the photo of your pc desk and the link of your blog.
I'll publish on my blog!.
Thanks Frank

Anonymous said...

It's true!

There are Badgers in Basra!

Aisha said...

another great post - you're on fire...

Marium said...

I actually met the photog that took the pictures for the NY times article...shawn baldwin..and we spoke about the crazy driving in egypt and all that hoopla...i think i might ask him abt your theory too...cuz hell i totally agree with you.
and i have to does it feel to be born on the day that THE LAST HARRY POTTER BOOK COMES OUT?!?!?!
hey, thats a HUGE deal!!!
haha take care and see you soon InshAllah!!

Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Crossing the shari'a. (Nothing deep or symbolic here.) Yeah, I can cross the street in Cairo. Even Midan Tahrir. Altho I'll admit, the time I go after a man is when I see one about to cross a street (or any group of people). I'll cling respectfully nearby, preferably not on the side of incoming traffic. But I can do it by myself--the certain dance and interaction and eye contact/hand gestures/honks. The occasional car that actually stops (must be a foreigner--scares me to death). OK, my hubris may precede my being flattened on my next excursion, but I am quite proud of attaining this level of "walk like an Egyptian."