The Metro Experience
I have a confession to make: I have spent most of my life being sheltered from the majority of Egypt’s society. I can trace this back to my overprotective parents, who I honestly can’t completely blame.
My parents have always forbidden me from riding taxis, taking public transportation and going through any type of governmental errand or paperwork alone. Now that I’m older, I understand how dangerous this country can be for a young girl, but if I had a daughter I would honestly do things a bit differently.
This doesn’t mean that I actually obeyed their wishes and never took taxis. In fact, from the age of sixteen, I took taxis behind their backs on a regular basis so I wouldn’t miss my Thursday night outing just because I didn’t have a ride. I even remember one incident when I walked from Zamalek to Mohandiseen, on top of the 6th of October bridge, just because I didn’t have money for a taxi and feared getting yelled at for not planning a ride in advance.
So this is why I am ashamed to tell you that my first ever Metro ride by myself (and second one ever) happened this year, at the age of 23.
I know, it’s sad. But better late than never, right?
It happened because I wanted to go see a play that had gotten some striking reviews, but it was held somewhere in Ataba, and people warned me I would never be able to drive there -let alone find a parking space.
The metro seemed like a reasonable option, but the Paranoid Mona inside my head reminded me of all those rape and harassment incidents that happen down there. So, naturally, I was extremely tense. But I also decided to overrule her wishes because I’m supposed to be an adult, dammit. I should be able to ride public transportation.
When I called a friend and asked about the metro routes and where I should go, he told me that I would be switching stations at some point -which left me with the image of poor, little, helpless Mona missing the station and finding herself somewhere in a strange, remote city with no cell phone reception.
Yes, I am extremely melodramatic -are you just realizing this now?
I went to the Maadi metro station and paid the clerk the 1 EGP for the ticket, half expecting him to throw the money in my face, telling me that it now costs 20 EGP. He, however, seemed unfazed, and a little annoyed that I was slowing down his line.
I waited for the metro to pull up, and when it did, I couldn’t find the women’s cart. I, of course, panicked, stood back and waited for the next one. No way was I ready to be with a bunch of strange Egyptian men in a closed area. A normal Egyptian woman might not be scared, and would cuss down any bastard who would even attempt harassing her, but I was not that woman -not that day, anyway.
That day, I just wanted to avoid any interactions with society. I was riding the metro, and that was enough for one day.
Thankfully, I found the women’s cart in the next metro and climbed in. I was lucky that it wasn’t that crowded and I hurried towards a seat. I looked around and all the women seemed bored and sleepy.
The excitement began when all types of vendors started entering the cart between stops. The first one, a woman with a face filled with makeup enough for five others, selling eyeliner. She loudly repeated the same statements several times, explaining that her eyeliner was gentle on the eyes, and would stay on for a full 24 hours.
Later on another woman emerged with a bundle of necklaces, bracelets and anklets, also telling us about how competitive her prices were. Another vendor appeared, selling undergarments, and then another with belts, and then another with scarves.
After that, men came into the cart, selling all sorts of school merchandise, like stickers, notebooks and coloring books. I was honestly surprised that a man was in the women’s cart, but no one else seemed to care.
With all the loud noises and commotion, it started feeling like more of a market than a metro cart. I was starting to get a headache.
The one selling stickers casually dropped a few of his products on each woman’s lap and continued towards the end of the cart. I picked mine up and studied the golden disney characters. I looked around in frustration; was I supposed to buy this now? I didn’t want it.
The women next to me started noticing my confusion and explained that he would come back and gather them all again. Interesting, this was basically an honor system. How would he know if someone decided to snatch up the stickers and claim not to have received any?
I decided it was time to ask someone about the station where I’d have to get off to switch, and the women next to me looked at me suspiciously.
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Oh, no, I am,” I said, trying my best to look confident.
“Have you been living abroad?”
“No, I just drive everywhere. I’m not used to taking the metro.”
They exchanged knowing glances, probably thinking I was the spoiled little brat who was too good to ride the metro. I wanted to correct them and tell them about my overprotective parents, but it was going to take way too long, and it wasn’t really worth it.
To be honest, they did end up helping me and pointing out the right station. I thanked them and left.
The next station was extremely crowded, and I got on to a cart so full that I barely had enough room to grab on to a handle. Paranoid Mona was now worried she would get pick-pocketed, so I clutched my bag tightly to my chest.
It was so hot that I started sweating, and the thought of reaching my destination this way got me reconsidering my choice to take the metro. Not to mention, a large portion of the Egyptian community was not familiar with the concept of deoderant.
I don’t even remember how I got off the damn cart. All I remember is that my body was basically carried by the dozens of bodies around me, moving outside the cart to the station.
I stood in the station and decided to try my luck with the right exit. I went outside and started walking around Ataba, and the first thing I saw was a man touching himself in the street.
Oh, hell no.
I turned and went back inside the station. Maybe I’ll just stay here. Why did I want to see a play, anyway? I’m not that cultured. I’m not Frasier Crane. I should just go home and watch House of Cards, like the sheltered little bitch I am.
This took a while, with me just standing in place and trying my best to avoid having men walk near me. Forgive me, but I do not trust Egyptian men one bit.
I finally called the person I was meeting and managed to reach him after he explained which exit I was supposed to take.
I got out of the train station and found him waiting. By that time I was extremely sweaty, with my hair clinging to my neck and my eyeliner running. Should have bought the damn eyeliner from the vendor.
He, on the other hand, seemed perfectly groomed, and stood calmly smoking a cigarette. He had taken the new metro from Heliopolis, which was equipped with an air conditioner.
Sufficed to say, I didn’t take the metro home that night. It was too much adventure for my sheltered self. I silently cursed my parents for not teaching me how to take care of myself in situations like this.
But it was nice knowing that I could actually ride the metro if I’m stuck, so I decided that I will choose to ride the metro occasionally -but only in the winter. Definitely only in the winter.
And next time, I might just buy that eyeliner.