I take the metro every day to get to work. When I enter the station I see the crowded train cars speeding past, but my decision to get on takes quite some time. I draw in a deep breath and then throw myself inside, like something resembling an object rather than a human.
My personal space is often hijacked in the race to find a good spot to stand inside.
I stand staring at the faces that evoke details of stories and I hear the sounds of the people hawking goods, stopping at nothing. It’s a parallel world, with stories and scenes from under the earth. I thank God that my trip has ended and I emerge from underneath.
The metro can also be considered a moving marketplace. It is a space for many to make a mobile living, exploiting the crowded train cars to sell their goods. But it comes with a serious risk: if caught by the police, they pay a hefty fine and their goods are confiscated.
The Cairo metro was the first metro system in Egypt, the Arab world and Africa. It is one of the most important methods of transportation in Cairo. In the Ghamra station you can see the history of transportation in the capital. It was originally established in 1896 as a tramline. The tram began above ground from Ghamra to Heliopolis, with stops in the neighborhoods in between.
The metro system transports 3.6 million people a day. The price of a metro ticket was once one Egyptian pound, but in 2018 the prices increased, ranging from three pounds to seven depending on the stops and stations. Two cars, in the middle of the train, are reserved for women, and men are strictly forbidden to enter until 9 pm. Women, on the other hand, are allowed to use any car they choose.
In January 2011, the metro was an important part of the lives of protesters, as it provided direct access to Tahrir Square. It provided protection from aggressive security forces and was a witness to the revolution’s success. After the January 25th revolution, for the first time metro cars were a space for displays of individualism, a melting pot of political conversation, and a platform for the most important social discussions in total freedom and with enthusiasm.
But the last few years the situation has changed. Any form of expression and ideas have been stifled and fear has entirely taken over the scene. The women-only cars transform into a small, extremely private moving world. In these cars women go about their feminine routines, putting on makeup, adjusting their clothes, fixing their hijabs, and sometimes even breastfeeding.
Despite my daily struggles riding the metro, it has become a part of me.