A kinder, gentler mess

Cairo, Egypt. I am here for about ten days to work with my Dominican brothers here and to explore just a bit of this rich culture.

My first impression is quite good. I am used to arriving in airports in the developing world that are a delightful mess. Cairo is that, and it is not that. It is delightful, and a mess, but quite impressive in other ways. The architecture and grand buildings are just astonishing.

I had to negotiate for a cab to take me where I am staying, and that is usually quite a task. People usually expect Americans to pay twice as much for everything. But I was quite surprised when the driver in the airport offered a price of 80 Egyptian Pounds (about $13) right of the start. Exactly what I was supposed to get him down to!

As expected, the trip was "exciting", with lane markers and traffic regulations being more "suggestions" than "laws." When we got to the right part of town, we had to stop and ask directions to where we were going, and it is here that I found out how incredibly polite Egyptians are. We pulled over and the driver just waved his hand to call over a boy from a "tele-phone" shop. He came over, but had not heard of the street. So he called another person over, who had not heard of the street. So they all called the owner over, who, of course, had not heard of the street we were looking for and was sure it did not exist.

At this point, I found a telephone number in my luggage, and the driver called up the house to which we were going. Since the driver didn't really know where he was, the phone had to be passed around the group to figure out how to get from where we were to where we needed to be just a few more miles.

Of course, streets not really being marked in Cairo, we had to stop three more times for directions before we arrived: "Is it this street or that street?" At one time we asked a bus driver who was fixing his micro-bus full of passengers in the middle of a traffic circle. He seemed not to mind in the least dropping his repairs to answer our questions.

I think I am really going to fall in love with these people.