Frankly, I could replace this entire post with a single screencap:
Back in March, I spent a week bumpin’ around Cairo: eating twelve-cent meals, chugging fruit smoothies, haggling felucca fares with a guy who added me on WhatsApp and now sends me, at random, snippets of radio talk shows entirely in Arabic.
I was thrilled to see Cairo for one reason:
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So anyway, Egypt does Uber damn well. First of all, it’s cheap. You can get from Cairo to Giza with the same plate of cash it takes to go three skimpy blocks in L.A. Second of all, it’s Uber. And third of all, it’s cheap.
So here’s what happened:
As soon as I cross the Egyptian border, I tap the Uber app, only to realize I’ve made a grave mistake. Because as soon as the screen loads, I find myself in a situation in which I must confront my own mortality. And between the two of us, this is not the kind of situation you want to find yourself in directly after a red-eye flight from Morocco.
Here is my mortality in a couple of pixels:
These pixels form a little black motorbike. And on my screen this fateful morning in the Cairo International Airport, said motorbike is accompanied by the insidious caption . . . “UberScooter” . . .
So the deal is, at this point, I’m still recovering from a car crash in Senegal, both physically and psychologically. I possess no helmet. I have no travel insurance. I’ve casually “forgotten” to wear my retainer for the past four months, so if I die now, it will be with one central incisor cranked up like a sad reaching arm, ostensibly laying to waste the thousands of dollars my parents invested in three years of pink-and-yellow braces.
Unfortunately, my buddies agree that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I always wonder if people know what they actually mean when they say this. Skydiving, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Motorcycling through Cairo, a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity! Leaping naked into a pool of bloodthirsty, man-eating crocodiles with three packs of crocodile bait taped firmly to your crotch . . . A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY!
Folks. “Once-in-a-lifetime” means that after you do it “once,” you might actually have no “lifetime” left to do it again. Think about it.
Anyway, a couple days in, during a hunt for the best rice pudding in all of Egypt, we settle on El Malky and call ourselves two UberScooters—one for Alex, one for me and Jainaha. Immediately, I have to sit down. I do so in the dirt on the side of the road. My bowels are moving at the speed of light, which is what happens when I go into states of complete and abject terror.
The way it works is, you’ve got Giza on the west and Cairo on the east. The Nile River splits straight down the middle, this wide, regal affair that’s brown and silty from decades of pollution. Despite its parasitic appearance, it still moves like it knows who it is. It’s the Nile. It knows. It owns.
The river’s wide enough to fit an island or two. Jazirat ar Rawdah is one such island. In addition to cinemas, restaurants, a palace, and some bars, Jazirat ar Rawdah contains El Malky, our little rice pudding Shack of Interest.
Our waiting game becomes a gambling one. At first, Ride A’s ETA is 10 minutes later than Ride B’s. Then, abruptly, Ride B is farther than Ride A by 10 minutes. Both icons appear to be drifting about the streets of Cairo with neither purpose nor direction. At one point, Ride A’s distance grows to 23 minutes away. Then it drops back to 7. This is a bad omen. We worry, but our fates are sealed. We cannot return to America without getting on one of these godforsaken UberScooters.
Finally, destiny intervenes, and our two scooters arrive at the exact same time. They are less scooters than straight-up motorbikes. For a moment, I consider squatting on my dirt pile for the rest of the century. Then I stand up—the blood rushes to my head—and stagger to the nearest bike.
The guy says something in Arabic. I say “bati” at least fifteen times. According to Google Translate, this is Arabic for “slow.” I doubt I use it correctly because the driver smirks and gestures offhandedly for Jainaha and me to get on behind him. I slot Jainaha in the middle and clinch my arms around her torso.
“I’m sorry,” I say in advance.
“It’s okay,” says Jainaha.
In the recesses of my mind, a dark and leery voice that sounds kind of like Morgan Freeman goes, Moooortaaalityyyyyyy.
And, without helmets or seatbelts or knee guards or bulletproof vests, we take off.
We go at a leisurely pace, breezing past the jam-packed traffic scene of Cairo’s late afternoon. In the heat, this speed feels good. We’re fast enough for my neck to air-dry, but slow enough that the sweat doesn’t fly off into the windshields behind us. Alex’s scooter weaves in beside ours. We smile and laugh and all is well and beautiful.
Then the traffic starts to clear up.
Suddenly all is not well and beautiful.
Suddenly I’ve got one fist clenched around Jainaha’s shoulder and the other hand mashed up against her boob. Suddenly I’m yelling without pause into her ear, “NO NO NO NO NO NO.” Suddenly the sweat is flying off my neck. It is instantly replaced by more sweat. I sandwich the bike between my knees and feel my thighs begin to drip. I look right and there it is, the River Nile. We soar by on a cloud. My heart soars too, intermittently, when it’s not beating wildly against a cage of paranoia. I keep thinking that at this speed, a bump in the road could be the end of me. This is, after all, what happened in Senegal.
But it is true that I also experience moments of bliss. The engine purring, the wind rushing, the river and the cars whisking by. Sure, I’m shrieking the whole time. But I’m shrieking through a grin. Yes, the grin’s clamped so tight my molars could pop into my brain. But I’m feeling. Colors, bright, vibrant, explosive, splashing around inside me. I’m feeling!
At times, we slow down to accommodate for traffic. Our driver cuts his weaves so close, I knee a passing woman in the back. Before I can apologize, we U-turn and zip onto a new street.
By now, we’ve long lost Alex’s scooter. It is with this revelation that it occurs to me . . . in this one ride, we’ve crossed the River Nile three times.
I count on my fingers, which have hardened into claws. No matter how I count, it doesn’t make sense. To get to an island from Cairo, we only need to cross the river once.
“Um,” I say.
Our driver has his earbuds in. It appears he is on a phone call. He holds his phone up so he can see the GPS, shakes his head, and keeps going.
“Um,” I say again, because I go to college and I’m smart.
We zip for another fifteen minutes. I say “um” twice more. I come to the conclusion that my college degree has done absolutely nothing for my common sense.
Finally, our driver pulls over.
Pictured above is the route we took. In hindsight I am almost positive our driver had no idea where he was going. Ever.
According to both Google Maps and Uber, we’re parked exactly on X Marks The Spot. But this cannot be right, because we are in an alley with some trash.
Our driver shrugs, swerves around, and drives us up the street. My blinking blue location dot follows us. “No,” I say, “it’s back there.”
We flip directions again and cruise slowly along the street. I see a variety of shops and people, but neither El Malky nor our missing friend Alex. Filled with apprehension, I ask a shopkeeper, who responds with an apologetic side-eye of confusion. By the time we get back to the alleyway, we decide to let our driver off the hook.
We get off the bike and he’s gone within seconds.
After careful scoping, we discover that El Macky is literally a tiny shack with a tiny menu and a banner all in Arabic. Jainaha orders rice pudding as I patrol the street, searching for Alex. He’s not responding to messages, and he’s nowhere to be seen. I begin to panic. I picture him sailing off his bike and going splat into the pavement. I picture him getting run over by two cars and a truck. I picture a lot of things, and then I pull up a photo of Alex and start flashing it to people on the street, like, “Have you seen him? Have you seen this kid? HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MOTHERF**KING—”
“HE’S DEAD,” I screech to Jainaha.
“I’m sure he’s okay,” she says reasonably, eating her rice pudding.
“NOPE,” I say, “HE IS DEFINITELY DEAD.”
With nothing else to do on this random block on this random island, Jainaha and I call an Uber home. And a couple minutes into the ride, guess who decides to finally respond to one of my four thousand messages and say that, oh, cool, he got to El Malky half an hour before we did, got bored of waiting, and LA-DI-DA, CALLED AN UBER AND WENT HOME HIMSELF WITHOUT TELLING US? Or worrying that we were dead, for that matter?
Using this blog post, I would like to dispel a delusion you may have about me, reading about all my (mis)adventures. You may think I am fearless. Hopefully, in the course of this post, you have learned that I am most definitely not. On the contrary, I possess the unique ability to extract death scenarios from every possible situation. You can ask my boyfriend, who has now suffered 2.5 years of this. I. Am. Anxious. All the time. How many times was I convinced I had malaria while I studied abroad in Senegal? EVERY. GODDAMN. DAY.
I go out and do things like skydiving, motorcycling, and the flying trapeze because fear is malleable. In the process of experiencing a fear, your comfort zone expands to include it. And a larger comfort zone means doing better in other facets of life: confidence, empathy, intelligence. It’s an indirect way of becoming a better person.
However, I do not encourage you to go out and endanger yourself. I think YOLO is ridiculous, not only because it’s YOLO, but also because it’s a blanket statement. YOLO is internalized peer pressure. Just because you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity doesn’t mean you need to take it. Don’t ever do something you don’t want to, and don’t ever feel guilty about not doing it.
You may notice that my sentences are getting increasingly incoherent. This is because I write to you from Beijing, directly after a 27-hour flight. I have yawned fourteen times in the past two minutes. Stay tuned for more, and please do subscribe and share with as many people as possible. It takes a torturously long time to complete a post, and each reader makes it feel less torturous and more worthwhile.