My friend the salsa-dancing teacher Allison invited me and my roommates to a Dushera festival with her at the British International School in Maadi on Friday night. (What’s Dushera? Unfortunately the Indian Community Association of Egypt wasn’t very descriptive about why the festival was taking place, so I’ve no idea. But there was dancing and singing and lots of good food!) We all piled in the taxi only to realize that none of us knew exactly where the place was: we had some vague directions, and Allison said, “Don’t worry, when we get to Maadi we can ask!”
Taxi drivers needing to ask directions from people standing on the street is fairly common; Cairo is not only huge but there isn’t any sort of licensing system for the taxis so basically you get in, tell them a major landmark to aim for and then direct them from there. This gets to be a problem when you haven’t been there before and don’t know the way. I’ve never had a situation where they weren’t able to figure it out, but it sometimes takes a while.
In this case the drive took nearly an hour, which is only about twice as long as it should’ve taken, but when the driver stopped the fourth time to ask directions and actually got out of the car to flag down some passers-by we started to get nervous. Especially Lucy, who I knew had to submit something via Blackboard for one of her classes by midnight.
As usual there were some death-defying manouvers by the driver as we sped along the major roads. I have to say I’m never as nervous when I’m in the car with other people despite the fact that the drive is just as recklessly intrepid. I also had the realization as we rattled along that I’m not afraid of death.
Don’t panic. I didn’t say I’d welcome death, or that I desire it in any way. I’ve had a wonderfully enchanting life full of all sorts of interesting and exciting experiences. It has been full and rich and very worthwhile. I don’t want to miss out on the future I’ve planned to continue very much in the same vein. But I am contented with the time I’ve had so far, and if my fears about Cairo taxis are someday realized I’d be going out on a high note, even though I didn’t get to finish the whole score.
Despite this I am still desperately terrified of pain, a fact which loomed large in my mind every time the gap between our speeding taxi and an overloaded work truck shrunk to molecular thinness, but that’s another story.
Anyway. Soon enough we were wandering the dark back roads of Maadi, apparently hopelessly lost. Luckily I could keep track of the expressions on the other two in the backseat by the changing light of the LED cluster above us: red, blue, green; red, blue, green; red, blue, green… Finally we thought to call the person who invited Allison to the party for help. This person is a yoga teacher looking to share a studio space with Allison; they’d exchanged some e-mails and spoken on the phone but hadn’t yet met. Allison admitted that she still wasn’t sure whether this was a man or a woman, not being able to judge from the name nor even from the tenor of their voice on the phone. Thankfully the yoga teacher was able to give the driver directions and we were at the school in minutes.
We went in. Garlands of fairy lights trailing from a pedestrian bridge greeted us as we entered the school courtyard, where food stalls were set all around the sides at the back of a field currently occupied by round tables and chairs, all facing a grassy dance floor and a small stage at the front. We meandered about for a bit, then Allison and I struck off to have a look at a side courtyard where we thought there might be more food. No such luck but through the fence we could see a giant bouncy castle topped with a chicken’s head which we thought was part of the sporting club next door. I felt this was photo-worthy.
We then went back through to the main courtyard, sitting with our food at a table next to a large mock wooden boat. Bright flags flapped overhead and people dressed in bold colors danced around us while I bemoaned my saris currently being in a box in the bottom of my closet in Florida.
Intermittently a fog machine or a bubble machine would start up, emitting little bursts in time with the music. I have some good photos of people dancing in the bubbles. They were doing a dance with sticks – clapping them together and then turning around each other, forming a big uneven circle. Everyone seemed happy and relaxed in their bright fabrics. Children bobbed in and out, dancing a little bit then retreating to the boat to watch.
Allison expressed doubt about meeting the yoga teacher, explaining that she’d already had a long day full of uncertain experiences. I goaded her until she called the person and told them where we were sitting, reasoning that we’d never have gotten to the party without help.
Just then Lucy and Eva came up and said they’d like to go soon because of Lucy’s deadline. Even Allison expressed keenness to leave. I was surprised but agreed – I felt the real dancing wouldn’t start until later and we’d miss out.
Immediately before we made our move a short, round-faced Indian man probably about my age came to greet us with a pleasant smile. Mystery solved! We chatted for a few minutes about Cairo Scholars, upcoming yoga events in Cairo, the difficulties of obtaining a studio, etc. Eva was very excited to meet a yoga teacher, asking about his particular specializations and the upcoming workshop he was taking. And then we were off again!
When we got outside we realized our fatal mistake: where were we going to get a taxi on this deserted road in Maadi? From where we were standing our shadows stretched long over the sand and rock on the other side of the street; there wasn’t anything out here but the school and the sporting club next door. We stood dithering for a moment, then Allison asked the guards for suggestions. They told us to go to the corner at the end of the street and there would probably be something there.
We didn’t have to wait long; a taxi came to deliver some fresh revellers to the festival while we made our way along, signalling that he’d come back for us. As we waited we watched a group of young people who’d snuck away from the festival and the sporting club throwing rocks at the rocky cliffs on the opposite side of the road. Well, there weren’t any cows around to tip, I suppose.