By day 2 in Cairo we were more accustomed to the crowded, cacophonous streets and felt a bit more adventurous, so we decided to forgo the sweatbath-inducing walk and the more expensive taxi ride in favor of the Cairo Metro.
We were duly impressed by how clean and modern it seemed, and especially by the novelty of air conditioning on the subway platform – quite a luxury for a couple of New Yorkers. We made our way down to a less populated area of the platform and awaited the train to Giza.
Inside the subway car it was pleasantly cool and uncongested. I admired the bravery of a woman who had removed het headscarf, and the boistrous giggles of her toddlers. But within seconds we noticed that everyone had begun talking and pointing at us. Then we realized they were talking to us. As the gendered reality set in — “There are no men in this car!” — I suddenly recalled reading something in the guidebook about women-only subway cars. We apologized profusely for the offense and at the next stop made a beeline for a co-ed car.
It was sardine packed, hot, sweaty and smelly. I clung to Max with my life as he manuevered his way deeper into the car. I didn’t see a single other woman. Max, using his vast height advantage, assured me that he saw a few at the other end.
No one seemed to mind my presence and normally I would have insisted on the mens’ in the name of equality. I can’t help but take offense to the sequestering of women (or of anyone for that matter) But, given the heat and sweat level of the co-ed car, the Cairo subway is one place where I can deeply appreciate gendered “special” treatment women on Egypt often receive.