Up on the Roof

Traveling fourth class in Egypt

| November-December 1996

In Egypt, young people without train fare often “roof,” or bum rides on top of trains. On this roofing journey, reported by Sherif El-Hosaini, our guide is Karam, 16 (and his 13-year-old sidekick, Mohammed).

Do you roof a lot?

This is our first time. What advice do you have?
Watch out for the bridges . . . sit in the middle, between us . . . don’t look around too much . . . stay focused on the train, and what’s in front of you . . . don’t panic.
(We climb on the roof and sit in the gap between the first two cars. The train starts to move.)
Are you ready?

Then do what I do.
(Karam pulls himself up onto the window of the locomotive and then scrambles onto the roof. We follow him and start crawling on the roof. This feels dangerous.)
Just keep your eyes straight ahead. As soon as you take your eyes off the train and you look at the sky or the scenery, it’ll feel like you’re falling. My first time I was just lying down on my back with my eyes closed.

You didn’t stand?
I was on my back. It’s crazy to try to be a hero. The most important thing is to just stay calm, and stay low. Otherwise, you could end up losing it, and taking us down with you. Panicking up here is like drowning.

I heard there's a six-month jail sentence if we get caught.
Yeah, but it’s hard to get caught.