God love the Bangles for giving lazy journalists the phrase ‘walk like an Egyptian’. I’ve written about Cairo traffic before (http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/africa/curse-of-toot–and-karma/2008/09/04/1220121408026.html) and I thought that while I am now quite experienced – which means I don’t have to hold anyone’s hand (unless I really want to) to cross the road – I had a road-to-Damascus moment the other night when a small group of us were walking down my favourite street, the impossibly beautiful Sharia Al-Muizz in Gamaliyya.
A taxi was squeezing through the narrow lane and past us, and tooted. “Habibi,” said Hany. “Why did you call the taxi ‘friend’ or ‘darling’?” I asked.He explained that when the taxi tooted at us, he tooted ta-taaa-ta, which means, ‘habibi’. I’d already heard the horns when people get married, the married couple drives through the streets followed by all their friends who joyously toot their horns in a victory sequence that’s also used after football matches by victorious fans. Ta.Ta. Ta-ta-taa. Ta.Ta. Ta-ta-taa (repeat ad nauseum).So, apart from having to learn Modern Standard Arabic, slang Egyptian and all the various hand signals, there is yet another language in this polyglot country – the language of the horn. Ta-taaa, ta! Ta-taaa, ta! Translates as “Bahebak bahebak, “I love you” (always tapped out twice) but weddings and niceties aside, then there’s also the darker side – trading insults on the freeway. Not content with shouting such pearls as “Shame on your beard!” (my favourite, and apparently QUITE an insult to a religiously observant man who grows his beard), there’s a sequence for, “Get out of the way, mother***,” which is then correctly responded to with, “Ok, son of a mother***.”)So there we were, tearing down the broad roads of Saleh Salem, alternatively loving and insulting ourselves, till other cars started to give us a wide berth as we made Hany tap out this wondrous new language on his car horn. As Rachael noted from the back seat, you’d get done for noise pollution in Australia.