I sat pressed against the back seat and the window, had my bag on my knees and my knees against my chest. Eleven Egyptians and me were packed like sardines in the mashrou, a microbus that is a very cheap means of transport in Alexandria. The driver was horning at everything and everyone while zigzagging through the traffic jam. It was hot, I was sweating and I hardly knew where I had to get off. It was the first time I was using a microbus on my own and I was wondering how I would get off, since you can only get off by yelling something at the driver. In front of me, I saw our driver exchanging a five pound note for five coins of one pound with a passenger of another microbus. All of this was done through open windows and while driving at least 80 km/h. All of a sudden, a waft of fresh, salty sea air hit me and I could not help but smiling. You feel most alive outside of your comfort zone. I saw the Starbucks somewhat close to my place, tapped the boy in front of me and said “shokram shokram” (thank you thank you) while pointing with my finger to the ground. He yelled something to the driver and I squirmed my way out.
Moving around the city is very different than what I am used to. Since there are no pedestrian crossings, people cross the street everywhere and whenever. People cross the street even at the busiest point of the Corniche , which has ten lanes divided by a strip of concrete (see picture below).
Cars whizz by at 100 km/h and they do not stop, nor are they predictable in their driving behaviour. A few years back, an average of six people died on the Corniche every day, so I still rather take the underground tunnels, even though these sometimes lie pretty far apart. But apart from the Corniche, I am getting quite used to randomly crossing the street. Nor do I walk on the pavement anymore. You walk on the street, not on those fancy pavements.
I find the traffic to embody the Egyptian spirit quite well. Sudden, chaotic and loud. Egyptians are as quick to anger as they are to forgive. They are also very hospitable and really friendly. Money is hardly an issue when you are going out with them, as they tend to be very generous and share everything they have, even though that is often not much. It has already been a very enrichening experience talking with Egyptians on matters such as the new revolution, faith and the position of women in the Islam. Faith is still very strong in Egypt. People pray five times a day, often visit the mosque and stick to the Ramadan, which started yesterday, with an impressive amount of willpower. Almost every woman is draped in a burka or at the very least has her head covered with a scarf. If you mention the Prophet Muhammad, they reply with a short Arabic sentence that means “May Peace be with him”. You would wonder why religion is still so strong here, but I have been reading up on the Koran and I found out, to my big surprise as an agnostic, that there is some pretty convincing evidence for believing that the words in the Koran were perhaps indeed Allah’s words, spoken by the Prophet Muhammad. For example, the Koran speaks about the evolution from a sperm cell to a child during pregnancy and the creation of mountains and seas in very specific detail way before these things were discovered (and proven right) scientifically. It seems that, as science improves, more and more things are being discovered that were already said in the Koran before anyone could know. It gives an incentive to believe in every word of the Koran to which I have no counterargument. Not that I will turn Muslim now, but it is certainly fascinating and makes me wonder whether there are still secrets in the Koran that science has not yet uncovered?
Some places also breathe a certain atmosphere that I associate with spiritualism. Take these pictures for example , which I took in the Citadel of Qaitbay, a castle built on the remains of the famous Lighthouse, the Pharos:
The combination of the sun, the darkness, the stones and the sea make for a very beautiful, calm and peaceful combination that I associate with Christianity and with the Islam. In fact, I do not believe the Islam is a violent religion. The Koran is clear in its peaceful aims, saying explicitly that murder is one of the biggest sins possible. Yes, Muslim extremists do exist and perhaps they exist in greater numbers than any other religion, but the fault lies not with the Koran, but rather in the extremists’ misinterpretation of it.
I would like to finish with a sentence I remembered and even wrote down while talking to an Egyptian friend about religion. I consider it a sentence worth thinking about.
“Faith needs no proof. Faith is the proof.”