Sunday, July 10, 2011
Don't ever worry about the traffic police in Egypt
There is a rather odd security policy in Upper Egypt: Foreigners visiting the area are always provided with a police escort. It's for our own safety, they say, but I have to admit I felt safer when we were not driving 130 km/hour to keep up with our escort on a barely-paved rural road!
We'd been warned that we would receive an escort, and had hoped it would not happen. But right as I was dozing off on the outskirts of our destination city, I heard a police siren and felt the car slowing to a halt. I was hit by the dread of a girl who has been pulled over for speeding and so was rather relieved to discover that it was our escort.
A newish blue car with matching blue police lights pulled up alongside us. Four men in uniforms were inside. They asked what hotel we were headed to, then confidently pulled out ahead.
Seconds later, we came up behind a bus. The sound of the siren burst out, followed by the irritating sound of an emergency vehicle's horn. You know the noise: a scratchy, low-key beep that hurts somewhere in the gut to hear and instills fear because something must be wrong if you're hearing that sound.
No, the bus did not pull over, so the cops did what any driver would do: changed lanes into oncoming traffic, took advantage of the larger vehicle's halt on a speed bump, and pulled out ahead. What could our driver, who thus far had been exceedingly kind and cautious, do but follow? The bus was too fast, though, and it did the ambulance chasing thing, using the wake left by the cop car to pass a truck. Eventually we got around the bus and began the harrowing drive into town. Don't they know that we are already more likely to die from a traffic accident than bandits, even when our driver is being careful?
They stuck to us like glue for the duration of our time in that city. When we entered a poor neighbourhood to lead a focus group discussion with women, they followed us in. We were the affair of the week in this little rural community: a celebrity had come to town! When we finally emerged from the car, I heard one child say to another, "I wonder if they are American." I felt so much safer now (she says sarcastically).
Yes, we are. And that is why we had an escort. Ironically, though, when the cops first met me after we got out of the car at the hotel, they thought I was Egyptian. And now, thanks to them, all of the city knows that an American came to town. Yes, I felt so much safer.
And my poor Egyptian colleague! She got the brunt of it all, I'm thinking, because they took her number and called her every. single. half-hour. "Where did you go today? Where is that? Who was with you? Where are you going now? How are you getting there?" As if they hadn't been with us every step of the way.