I have lived in temperate climates before, but it still feels very strange to listen to Christmas music while wearing shorts. On average it’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s already December. It’s actually colder inside my apartment than outside because of the thick walls meant to keep out the summer heat. But despite the weather December it is, and I found myself going to a Christmas party with friends on a balmy Thursday night.
The Community Service Association in Maadi is a lovely place with a gym, coffee shop, and shop that sells local artists’ crafts and artwork. Their red-and-white themed Christmas Party was to be held outside with a buffet, door prize, and a raffle. My coworkers and I were dressed and ready to go at 6 PM, we just needed two taxis for the seven of us.
We stepped outside into the slightly chilled night air and asked Mahmoud, the security guard, to hail us two taxis. Mahmoud is such a nice guy, but he speaks only two or three words of English. The best part about him though, is that he doesn’t let this slow him down. He still speaks to all of us foreigners in complete sentences and paragraphs – all in Arabic. It must be true that 90% of communication is non-verbal, because I still manage to understand a lot of what Mahmoud is trying to tell me. Anyway, Mahmoud went to flag down a taxi, and I pulled out my English map of Maadi. Because I live in New Cairo, I am not very familiar with Maadi, and had only been to the CSA once or twice before.
Mahmoud arrived with a taxi driver who spoke no English. As I showed him my map of Maadi he looked at me blankly and asked me something in Arabic. Oh great. Mahmoud did his best to help out, but as I said, he doesn’t speak more than a few words of English. He knew our destination was in Maadi, but that was about it. It was decided (I think) to flag down another cab, hopefully one who knew where we were going.
Instead, a good Samaritan pulled up and asked how he could help. I explained where we wanted to go, (#3 on the unhelpful map) and he spoke to the taxi driver for a few minutes. As he and the driver talked Mahmoud went to flag down another taxi, but none of the others were helpful. Eventually Naun, the PE teacher from Honduras, stepped out to get us a taxi. Naun’s dark complexion and black hair mean that he is often mistaken for and Egyptian, and thus has better luck flagging down cabs than us glow-in-the-dark white people.
Finally, the good Samaritan who had stopped on the side of the road came to an agreement with the cab driver over how to get to the CSA, or at least Maadi, and the discussion of price ensued. I said we would only pay the meter price, and the driver wanted to settle for a pre-determined amount. When the driver wouldn’t agree to turn on the meter, we gave up and he drove off.
Great, now we had to start all over again to find a cab. Also, our new next-door neighbor came to see what the 7 foreigners and three Egyptians were doing. He couldn’t make heads or tails of the map either, so he left to ask his friend to help. Mahmoud and Naun found another taxi driver, this one more agreeable to figuring out the location of the CSA. He also had a friend who drove a taxi who could take the other 4 people.
Our neighbor and his friend came back over to look at the map, and the neighbor’s friend, whose name I cannot remember, realized that the CSA is close to the Grand Mall. Suddenly it clicked in my head how to get to the CSA. I knew I could probably get us there if the driver got us to the Grand Mall. Hooray! We thanked the good Samaritan who had pulled over and before he drove away he made sure the cab driver would charge us the meter price and not get too lost. Our neighbor and his friend also checked to make sure that we would make it to our destination safely before they went back to their business.
It took another five minutes but the taxi driver’s friend finally drove up and we all got in and drove off as Mahmoud waved. The kindness of all of these complete strangers flabbergasted me. They were all happy to interrupt their busy lives to help out seven strange foreigners standing in the cold.
After a few wrong turns and roundabouts in Maadi we finally made it to the CSA none the worse for wear. But I have a newfound respect for Egyptian hospitality.