12 January, 2009

"Volvo was the best car in the world, and you let the Americans have it?"

Being a fan of Khaled al-Khamissiyy (the author of Taxi) and no stranger to journalistic clichés, I just have to share with all readers of this blog parts of a conversation I had with a taxi driver today, on my way to the 'aboud bus station.

A high-spirited man in his forties, he started out by the usual questions to establish my nationality (Swedish) and profession (journalist). He asked me where I was going and I told him Mahalla el-Kubra.

"Aaa.. so you are writing about the workers?" he concluded (Mahalla is a city in the Nile Delta and an important historical centre for the Egyptian textile industry and labour movement.) "They always have problems in Mahalla. But today the whole world is having problems, even Sweden, right?"

I admitted that this was the case, and told him Volvo have been laying of thousands of workers in my hometown Gothenburg since last summer. While this came as no surprise to the driver, he was absolutely chocked to learn that both Volvo and Saab belong to US companies since a few years (Ford and General Motors, respectively).

"yikhrib beit amreeka!" [God damn America!] he shouted. "Volvo was the best car in the world, and you let the Americans have it? I don't believe it!"

"And Saab too," I reminded him.

"Yeah," he replied. "Saab... that was never a good car you know... let them have it. But Volvo!"

He then went on to reprimand me sharply for using a Motorola cellphone instead of supporting Ericsson, "or at least Nokia" (manufactured by our Finnish neighbours). "You Swedes are just like us Egyptians, you sell out your country to the Americans and don't even support your own industry... what's wrong with people?"

At this point the conversation inevitably turned to Israel and Gaza.

"Do you know what I saw today?" the driver said. "I saw a picture of a child cut into two pieces. A small baby, hit by an Israeli rocket or bomb or whatever... It was split in two, just like Palestine! What they are doing is a crime, the biggest crime in the world..."

Here he paused for a while, before suddenly turning towards me and asking in a sharp tone, eyes blazing with rage: "Do you support Israel?! Do you agree with what they are doing?"

I assured him this was not the case, and that in fact thousands of people have been demonstrating against the war in Gaza in Sweden. He shook his head and said: "Yes but they are wrong. They are demonstrating against Israel, but they should demonstrate against the Americans. They are the ones who want this war."

"You have to write about what's happening," he went on. "Write to make people cry. And tell the people in Sweden that they should go to the US embassy and demonstrate, not only to stop the Israeli agression in Gaza, but to give you Volvo back!"

(Pic above from a protest in Cairo during a visit by George W. Bush to Egypt in January 2008).

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