The other day I rode a microbus. It’s not something I do too often, but there are certain places I go which are on a microbus route so I choose this cheapest option when I can. On this particular day, I was going to the Carrefour Express market located in nearby “New Maadi.” The cost for a microbus is 75 qirsh (or about 15 cents) which is significantly cheaper than my return trip which I must do by taxi since I’m laden down with bags of groceries. By taxi, the cost is usually 10 LE (or approximately $2)—a big difference.
When I took the microbus to Carrefour Express last week, I had a new experience, and one which I can only guess at its meaning. I arrived at the microbus station and found a vehicle not yet full, but anxious to begin its route and find customers along the way. I sat in the third bench seat back from the driver with another woman. Sometimes these microbuses get crowded, and it is best as a woman, if at all possible, to sit next to another woman, which leaves less room for trouble. So, this driver seemed to take a slightly different route than I was used to, but since I don’t ride it enough to know all the variations, I didn’t think too much of it. However, while driving down a street which was unfamiliar to me, a police officer walked up to the van and stopped the driver. This is one of those situations where I wish I could understand when two Egyptians speak to each other. As a non-native Arabic speaker, it is much easier for me to understand an Egyptian speaking to me because they slow down and say things more simply so I can understand. However, when two Egyptians are speaking to each other, it’s almost impossible to follow along.
One of the things that made this somewhat easier, was that the officer kept repeating the same thing over and over again, “License … give me your license. Where’s your license?” And the driver kept answering, “I’m sorry. This was the first time I did this. I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.” But it seemed the driver was either without a license or really didn’t want to give the license to the officer. I can only guess here, but I was thinking the latter was true. Sometimes, these exchanges can be less than “above par.” If the driver did have a license with him, and gave it to the officer, it could mean a trip to the station to get it back, or a small payment (aka, bribe) to the officer to return it. This driver was just hoping to get away without a scratch.
As they continued to exchange the same words over and over again, I began to wonder what to do. This was the second time I was stuck in a microbus wondering what to do. The other passengers weren’t making any moves to get out, and I was really hoping, along with the driver, that the officer would just let him go so we could get where we were going. But then a strange thing happened. One of the passengers in the front seat got out of the van, and walked over to the officer and asked to talk with him. Now, I didn’t really know if this was just any passenger, or a friend of the driver or if maybe he was the regular driver of this van and the other guy was just driving a few shifts for some reason. I had no idea. But he and the officer walked to the side of the road and talked for a few minutes before the officer returned to the driver and told him to turn the van around and get back on the route and not to deviate again. (At least, that’s what I think he told him in Arabic.) So the driver got away without a scratch, and it seems it’s all because a passenger helped him out.
Why? I have no idea. Did he just want to get where he was going? Was the driver a friend? Why would the officer listen to him? Did he have some sort of clout? It’s common in this society to have mediators work things out, rather than working directly with the affected parties. Did he pay a bribe? If so, why would he? I didn’t notice much discussion among the other passengers as we just finished the route in silence and all exited along the way. The passenger that helped out got out of the van a little while before me, and his leaving didn’t indicate anything special about him or his relationship to the driver. So, I’m left with many questions about what exactly happened there. But I am glad I got to the store and back home again without too much of an extra delay.