Taxi Driver Wisdom, From Lima to Cairo

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Arequipa (2006)” by Leo Prieto

One of the most refreshing books I’ve read this year has been Khaled al-Khamissi’s Taxi. (A kind gift from Noha.) It’s nothing but a slim collection or three-page vignettes that recall conversations with taxi drivers around Cairo. In aggregate these vignettes afford outsiders a glimpse of life in Cairo from an insider’s perspective. (Though, interestingly, the book was a smash hit in Egypt, but hasn’t received much international attention.) The vignettes also map out a history of 1) the Egyptian taxi industry, 2) the urban growth and congestion of Cairo, and 3) the relationship between the Egyptian state and its people.

Arabs — and especially Egyptians … and especially especially Egyptian cab drivers — are known for their loquacious monologues. But they seem to have some competition here in Lima. These brief respites of taxi entertainment between an otherwise continuous chain of meetings have made this trip entirely bearable despite the redeye flights, constant cold, and deadlock traffic. I have learned:

  • That my generation exaggerates the importance of human rights. (“Sometimes you need to kill and even torture a few bad apples to save a country.”)
  • That I should be paying 4 soles for a plate of ceviche, not 25.
  • That the politicians want to pass an impunity law because they’re the ones who are directly responsible for all the human rights abuses in this country and their time has finally come.
  • That Chilean pisco is a type of muddied water whereas Peruvian pisco is an internationally recognized delicacy.
  • That Peru is screwed. The economy is expanding, poverty is decreasing, basic services are being delivered to rural areas, but Peru is screwed. It is screwed because its politicians are lazy goats, all of them.
  • That Peru has the best food in the world. And, regrettably, “that’s all we have.”
  • That the best thing a young man can do is sleep with two women at the same time. And that if I doubt him he’ll take me to a bordello right now and check in with me again in 10 years.
  • That the only person you can trust less than a thief is a cop.

It would be a pleasure to hang around Lima for a few more months, get fat on tasty food, and write a book about my interactions with taxistas, but I don’t think that’s going to happen in the near or medium term. It does seem like just the book for Daniel Alarcón, however.

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