Friday, August 29, 2008

Scenario #8: A Bit of a Social Critique based on Metro riding

As I rode the Metrô across town to meet some friends last week, I enjoyed a good half hour of people-watching. No one person jumped out at me, but I found myself pondering just how different the Sāo Paulo Metrô was from another big-city metro line that I've recently used: the Cairo metro. The two cities have much in common: enormous population, terrible pollution, crazy traffic, a huge income disparity with typical scenes including homeless men sleeping on the streets outside posh rich restaurants, etc. The subway lines of the two cities are of a similar size, serving what I suspect is a similar number of people each day. But here were the differences I noticed:

- There were women standing while men sat on the Sāo Paulo metro. On the Cairo metro, there is a separate car for women, so there aren't really all that many women in the other cars. But for the women who do find themselves, for one reason or another, on a car with men, it is not unlikely that she might be offered her seat by a gentlemanly man - simply for being a woman. In Sāo Paulo, gender seemed to have no bearing on who was offered a seat. In fact, the seats were almost entirely first-come first-served, with the exception of the elderly. In both metropolis', someone was likely to stand up to offer a clearly aged and frail person his/her seat.

- It took me a while to get used to the fact that there was not a single woman wearing a head covering on the Sāo Paulo metro. Considering Brazil is not a Muslim nation but Egypt is, this must seem obvious. Nonetheless, it felt strange to me. It wasn't just the lack of Islamic headscarves, though; it was a general sense of disarray. At 19:00 (7 p.m.), in Sāo Paulo, everyone was heading home from work, and the women on the Sāo Paulo metro car looked like they were coming out of a long hard day in the office. Their clothes and hair were, though clearly fashionable to start with, a bit dishevelled. Most of them looked tired. In contrast, on the Cairo Metro at 19:00, most women would be head-covered but almost all women would be sporting carefully chosen outfits and headscarves (or hairdos if their hair was exposed) that have nary a stray strand. This reminds me of the fact that many Arab women don't work, that many Cairo women would be on the way to do some shopping or to visit family. Those that are headed home after a long day at the office would still be dressed nicely, having gone to great lengths to not leave the office looking like they actually did any work (or maybe the scarves just cover up the signs of exhaustion, and bottles of gel do the job for uncovered Egyptian ladies).

- Considering the above, it was even more striking, sitting there on my seat on the SP Metrô, that it smelled good. Very good. Like fresh soap and deodorant and light perfume fragrances. Everyone smelled clean and fresh, and the overall effect was that, though the metro car was crowded to the limit, it was not an unpleasant atmosphere. The Cairo Metro, I'm afraid, varies from not-smelling-too-great to barely-able-to-breathe. Last year I rode the Cairo Metro with some men and so had to take the men's car. At its most crowded moments I... well, I leave the scent to your imagination.

- On the Cairo Metro, there is almost always a woman or a child coming through selling things. I have bought from Cairo Metro salesfolk, among other items: hair clips, tissues and band-aids. Lots of band-aids. This phenomenon does not appear to exist on the Sāo Paulo Metro. However, what I did get this week was entertainment. The guy singing and dancing on my metro car didn't seem to be doing it for tips or to provide us with any kind of a show. He just seemed to be that animated. It was neat to see how he managed to capture a few of the weary commuters surrounding him into his web of fun.

1 comment:

Isabela Siqueira said...

how cool is that comparison between two cities in one single aspect: a means of transportion!!! I loved it, had some fun and could learn about othe culture "Metrô" !!
dear sister. God bless you...keep on writting !! :)

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