Jumping on the bandwagon of cheap theatrics seems to have been the international sport this week. From a badly made movie trailer to a sensationalist cover of what once was a respectable magazine; individuals worldwide seem to be scrambling to join the fray. In offices of media outlets archives were searched and databases scoured for possible sources. Do we have some offensive cartoons in stock? Print them now, some French editor shouted. Let’s call Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the one-trick-pony poster child of islamophobia and have her write the same rant for the umpteenth time must have been heard echoing around the Newsweek offices. Nothing like baiting the hotheaded fanatics to garner a little attention and sell some copies.
I was all set to leap on my own soapbox. But as I was thinking of how I would heap my arrogant scorn on the heads of those I deem beneath contempt, my plans abruptly changed during my ride to work.
The man that drives the taxi I often use told me a story that steered me in a completely different direction. He shared the misfortune that had befallen his nephew, a 14 year old kid. The family has been struggling to make ends meet and so during weekends and school vacations the boy helps to augment the family income by driving a tuk tuk. A few days before the schools were slated to start he picked up a middle aged couple on his rounds in the streets of Cairo. What started as a normal ride quickly became a nightmare. At first the couple seemed nice enough and as they took off for wherever they were going, they chatted amiably with the young driver and after a while they even offered him some juice. It was a hot day and the boy accepted gratefully. Unfortunately, the juice was spiked and soon after the boy lost consciousness.
The not-so-nice couple left him on the side of the road and took off in the tuk tuk. When they boy came to a little later he was still very disoriented and walked straight into the heaving Cairo traffic. A city bus managed to avoid hitting him by swerving to the side at the last moment. Sadly, a taxi could not avoid the stumbling boy and hit him full on. Luckily the cabbie was one of the good ones and together with another passing stranger they loaded the kid in his taxi and drove him to a hospital and called his parents.
The voice of the driver telling me the story was shaking as he continued. When the family arrived at the hospital they were informed the boy had fractured his arm and pelvis and required surgery. And would they be so kind to pay EGP 5000 as down payment so the hospital could start giving him the treatment he needed? Mind you, this was in a public hospital and the monthly family income combined came nowhere near to an amount like that.
Having had better experiences at another public hospital, the family decided to move the kid. There x-rays showed the fractures, but bed rest and a cast was deemed the proper treatment. And this is where he is now, at home in his bed, hoping for things to get better with time and missing the first month or so of school.
When the driver continued talking I realised that it was not only the concern for his nephew that made his voice break; he was furious. The family has no chance of bringing the thieves that imperiled the young boy’s life to justice. He should not have been driving a tuk tuk at his age. The tuk tuk itself has no license, nor does its engine have a number, so it cannot be traced. The owner cannot report it stolen, as it could land him in jail. Doctors making false diagnosis and charging people exorbitant amounts they can never hope to pay cannot be reported, since they would deny anything like this ever took place.
Not only did a kid get seriously injured, were it not for the kindness of a taxi driver who chose to help the person he hit instead of driving off, the family might have never found out what happened to the child.
The driver concluded his story by saying he spends his days in fear. Fear for his loved ones when they go about their business on the streets, because who knows what will happen to them? Fear that if something does, he won’t be able to get them the help they need. Fear that those who should be caring for the sick cannot be trusted. He is afraid.
For a moment there it seemed that the daily worries of tens of millions of Egyptians were brushed under the new grass on Tahrir. Trees are planted and brooms sweep up the empty tear gas canisters left over from the protests against the insult of a religion and on the surface it looks oh so pretty.
I wonder who I can give my soapbox to so they can stand on that grass and protest the fear many poor, hardworking Egyptians live in? I don’t think there will be many takers because it is not a story that will end up on the cover of a magazine.