Safety Tactics On Cairo Streets: The Human Shield

I first heard the term "human shield" during the Iraq war in the 1990's, when the Iraqis were placing people near strategic military targets to deter the sites from being bombed. While the term entered my vocabulary 20 years ago, I'll bet the pedestrians of Cairo have had a word for it as long as they have had their serious traffic problems. Cairo traffic is so completely choked with cars and pedestrians that the safest way to cross a busy street is to keep the local Cairenes between you and the traffic. This works pretty well, especially if you've got gaggle of veiled Muslim women acting as your human shield.

Walking the congested streets of Cairo, this term popped into my head many times as, by experience, we discovered that this was the best way to cross the streets and not get killed. After a few days and many street crossings, the term became our rallying cry whenever we had to cross the street. My son delighted in yelling “human shield,” while running over to some locals, then turning to look at us with a big grin. We needed this tactic even if we wanted to cross the street in front of our hostel at midday just to go to our favorite bakery.

When you can't find your human shield, you have to improvise. We needed to cross a busy street on our way to the Khan il Khallilly bazaar but there were no locals to hide behind. A man stepped between my wife and daughter and tried to halt traffic for them to cross, while my son and I, smelling a potential baksheesh liability looming, looked the other way and started crossing on our own. Once we all crossed, I looked over to see if he had asked for baksheesh but he was no longer escorting my wife and daughter. A fat, veiled Muslim woman had grabbed him by the ear and was dragging him across the street. A small crowd had gathered to watch and we craned our necks to see the very public, one-sided fight. She was slapping him over and over again and our guess was that he had disgraced his wife by being seen in public with two western women with their heads uncovered. (more on aggressive Egyptians here: What is Suez Canal?)

There are many dangers on the Cairo streets: from heavy traffic to angry housewives. Do yourself a favor and always look for the human shield.

For more Travel Safety tips, visit featured Lonely Planet blog Todd's Wanderings


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  2. Handy tip for Asia, as well. ALWAYS do as the locals do, especially when it come to life-or-death road crossings