Today I rode very briefly with the worst taxi driver in Cairo. He might also qualify for the worst in the world, and I would not be surprised if he was in fact the world’s worst taxi driver.
I am quite sure that he is also a religious bigot and probably a racist, but in the least he is the worst-mannered person to ever sit behind a steering wheel that I have ever come across.
Earlier today I was with 3 others and we wanted to head over to City Stars mall for some dinner. I hailed a taxi and he pulled over. I greeted him by saying Assalamu Alaykum (may peace be upon you) and told him where we were headed to. As soon as he saw us he would have been able to tell that we were Muslims and that we were not Egyptians, the bulk of my friends being from further down south in Africa.
He agreed with the destination which was about 5 minutes drive away and we jumped in. It was a seemingly normal taxi ride. There was silence except for the news reports on the radio and the constant honking of horns that reminds you you’re in Cairo. The news reports came to an end and the radio station began to play one of those horrible songs that somehow passes for Arabic pop music. I asked the driver if he could play some Qur’an instead. This would be maybe the 100th time that I’d have asked this in my many taxi journeys as it was a polite way of informing the driver that you don’t listen to music.
He responded ferociously, “No!” That is to say, he would not turn the music off and most definitely not to change it to a religious station that plays the Qur’an. Instantly I realised that the driver could not be a Muslim. I’d only ever had 1 other non-Muslim taxi driver in Cairo and he was a very nice man who had no qualms in turning the music off when I had asked him to. This one however was evidently bothered that I asked, I figured perhaps he was insulted that I asked for him to change the radio to the Qur’an station, so I politely asked if he could turn the music off.
“No! I am listening to the music!”, he shouted back. I was amazed! Not only was he clearly being stubborn and rude, he was also ignoring a basic rule of being a taxi driver – If your customer wants the radio off, then turn it off! But I was quickly realising this was not just bad customer service, this was clear cut religious hatred coming from him. He knew well that practicing Muslims don’t listen to music, and as I gazed up towards his rear-vision mirror and saw a small crucifix I was assured that I was not just imagining that his hatred was not religiously motivated.
I told him politely that we don’t listen to music, however he shot back that he does and so would like to keep playing it. I asked him to please close the radio as we really cannot bear listening to it, not just for religious reasons but also because the poor excuse for music that most Egyptians play really is something unbearable. Just the other day my friend was explaining the lyrics of a song we heard playing as we drove past a store which was blasting music from loudspeakers. The translation of the lyrics makes me laugh up until now: “I have very good friends, everybody knows it, if you don’t believe me just go and ask Ahmad.” I can’t imagine that song will be topping the global charts any time soon..
After a bit of arguing he turned the music down. He turned it down all the way, but then moved the knob slightly just enough so the music was slightly audible. What nerve he had! He was obviously provoking us.. But I didn’t say anything, I figured we were not far from the mall so no reason to make too big of a fuss out of it. Then, he ever so casually pulls out a pack of cigarettes. I look over and see him putting a cigarette in his mouth and reaching for his lighter. Dammit.. That guy really knew how to pick at all my pet peeves.
I asked him if he could please not smoke whilst we were in the car. If we were in Australia this would be a no-brainer as smoking is (rightfully so) illegal in taxis. Here in Cairo though its accepted, though its also understood that if someone does not like for you to smoke then its rude to do so. His reaction was not so surprising, “What?! First you tell me to shut the music and now you tell me not to smoke? Who are you to tell me what to do?!” I reminded him that he is working for us, we are paying him to drive us and he has to respect our wishes. He shouted back “I don’t work for you, I work for myself!”, so I told him that if that were so to stop the taxi and let us out. He was fine with that, but pointed to the meter and said I must pay the 5 pounds which had accumulated. Now 5 pounds is not even a dollar, but I was not going to let this slide so easily, after all why should I pay him after he was so rude to us?
The rude driver insisted that I pay him, and stopped the car. I told him I’d get out and not pay, however I realised that perhaps I would be obliged to pay him for the service, even though it was as bad as it was. He kept shouting and threatening to call over a policeman if I did not pay him his measly fare, so I handed it to him and he snatched it away from my hand. He told us all to get out and catch another taxi as we were not welcome in his. A flurry of religious and racial insults followed and I was not sure what to do.. Part of me wanted to knock his teeth out and part of me wanted to just leave and let him wallow in his hatred. I could not leave however without at least saying something, but I was not sure what to say.
Initially I thought of reminding him that if he were a true follower of Christ then he should at least adopt the manners of Christ which he clearly lacked, however as I was about to say this another insult came out from his dirty mouth. It was too much.. I responded without thinking and told him “Yawmakum qaadim” (your day will come soon). He responded by saying “Insha’Allah” (God willing) and with that I left the taxi along with the others who had remained silent for the trip.
We got out and hailed another taxi, I stood in front of the taxi we had just left from so he could not move until another taxi stopped for us. He managed however to do a sharp turn and speed off, just missing me by an inch or less. Within moments a taxi stopped and we jumped in. He was already playing Qur’an and greeted us kindly. We drove and I thought back at just how rude the previous driver was. As we got to the mall the driver smiled and refused to take a fare from us, being the kind soul that he was. As I always do in these cases, I paid him more than the fare was, and much more than the previous driver got from me.
I cannot rule it down solely to religion as I mentioned before that I have had a Christian driver who had beautiful manners. rather this was simply a case of one man and his hatred for others that really turns him into a horrible creature. I feel so sorry for the next person who ends up with him… And I feel very sorry for him if it just so happens to be me ;)