Sunday, September 17, 2006

This Girl Gets Around

There are about five means of transportation here: my legs, bus, metro, tram, and taxis.

1. My legs: the most common means of transportation for me. I have learned my way around the city through walking and have become a pro at crossing streets in a frogger-video-game sort of fashion.

2. Bus: I just tried this out for the first time. There are tons of different kinds of busses and I only went for the nicer ones because they actually have numbers rather than just shouting something out the window. To get on the bus, it slows down and you run up to it and jump on while it's still moving a little. To get off, you walk up to the front and wait for the bus driver to slow down enough for you to jump off.

3. Metro: They're like el-trains in Chicago, but not elevated. My favorite thing about this is that there are two cars for women only. But, it can get quite crowded and stuffy. A friend and I were counting how many bodies were touching us the other day and I was literally smashed up against 6 other people. Good thing I don't have personal space problems!

4. Trams: I'm not really sure how these work. All I know is they are the cheapest, most unpredictable, and slowest form of transportation here. They cost about $.3 and drive on rails through the middle of the roads. They often get slowed down during rush hour (3pm-1am) when cars and busses also drive on their rails.

5. Taxis: These, minus my legs, are my most common form of transportation and have also been the setting for some of my greatest adventures. When you think of taxis here, don't think of NYC taxis that are yellow, clean, air-conditioned, and have a meter. These taxis are black and white and usually reek of smoke and have loud, loud Arab music blasting from their speakers. If you're lucky your window will open and you won't have to reach your hand outside the window to the outer door handle in order to get out of the taxi once you're in. I'm not sure they even know what a seatbelt is. The ride consists of a lot of accellerating, slamming on the brakes, and honking. Because I am a female, I always sit in the back. There is a key to paying your driver: You must get out, crumple your money up in your hand, hand it to him through the window, and walk away behind the car. This is because they don't have meters here and taxi drivers are known for trying to rip off foreigners. This method gives me enough time to get away before he tries to argue me into giving him more money.

Since there don't really seem to be any traffic laws here, it makes for some wild rides. During the day, everyone honks and then drives into the middle of the intersection. (My question is, if everyone does this, who yields?) Eventually someone will slam on his breaks so the other driver can get through. At night, the taxi drivers means of communication is his lights. No one drives with their lights on and only turn them on to alert a pedestrian or car in their way. When asked why he didn't use lights a taxi driver replied, "It drains the battery." Hmmm. Where is he getting his info?

I was in my first taxi accident last week in which my driver squeezed through a spot that he didn't fit through and scraped the entire side of his car on the bumper of another. He didn't stop driving though. He merely accelerated and then opened his door and stuck his head out to assess the damage. Meanwhile, we were coming up on some traffic and he was facing the wrong way. Thankfully, I emerged unscathed.

Two days ago, a 5 minute taxi ride turned into an hour long taxi ride. I directed him to the Sheraton hotel in the area. He began to talk and talk in Arabic and drive and drive. I didn't know my way around enough to tell him how to get there. I wasn't recognizing anything and asked him about it, but he assured me he was going the right way. About 15 min into the ride, I had already exhausted my knowledge of Arabic directions so I went to grab my mobile to call a friend, but unfortunately, I had left it at home. So, I settled back in my seat praying that I wouldn't end up in the middle of nowhere with a crazy man. He continued to talk to me in Arabic and my response was always, "I don't understand." He continued to drive and I began to see road signs that were not at all where I wanted to go. Then, began to say over and over "Mish henna! Mish henna!" (it's not here! it's not here!). Next thing I knew, he pulled up to the Sheraton hotel in the middle of the city. This was NOT where I wanted to be, nor was it where I told him to go. I repeated my directions that I had already told him many times, and this time he responded with an "Oh! Ana aarfa! I know!" and thus turned around and drove me there, giving me a tour of the city (the president's house and everything!) on the way back. A few times he almost stopped the taxi and was trying to get me to give him money, but I refused and just kept telling him to keep driving. Finally, I arrived to where I was meeting my hour late and exhausted.

Lesson learned: NEVER, EVER, EVER leave the house without your mobile when you don't speak the language and don't know where you're going.


Lesli said...

No kidding girl! I must also echo your fears of leaving the house without a cell in a foreign country. Terrifying! I just know that the one time I do it, the crappy, small, old elevators in the building will get stuck and I will have a total mental breakdown while I wait for help. (And how could I call for help anyways??) So few people speak English here that if I got stuck in the city without my cell I would literally be alone ALONE. Thus far I have tried not to wander the parts of the city I don't know without someone else with me. :)

Anonymous said...

Whoa crazy cab driver! Press on my friend and way to go in not letting him push you out of the cab! I am glad you amde it:)

Anonymous said...

Whoa crazy cab driver! Press on my friend and way to go in not letting him push you out of the cab! I am glad you amde it:)

andrea said...

I love crossing the streets there!!!! It's insane, but very adventurous!! :)