The traffic congestions keep escalating, with roads packed with cars and vehicles blocking one another until they can hardly move. The speed is slower and the trips are longer with boredom and impatience filling up a considerable time range. While we cannot really do anything about the traffic snarl-up, Alef Bookshop attended to the problem of boredom by launching an initiative that allows taxi passengers to read on their way, called “Knowledge Taxi.”
Only one and a half years old, Alef Bookstore has a leading role in today’s cultural and literary scene. With a total of 175 workshops, book signings and panel discussions, Alef still has more to offer.
Wael Abdallah, Alef’s Media and Press Coordinator, says, “We felt that our activities are not enough, because there is still a wide spectrum of people whom we did not relate to.” In order to remedy that, many ideas were put on the table like making book stands at music concerts, but none was innovative enough. “We thought of moving our stores to public transportation, and after thorough planning, we settled on taxis, since it comes midway, connecting the several social levels.”
The research for the project took six months, in which Alef team had some problems. “At first, taxi drivers either totally rejected the idea, or made extraordinary money demands. The utter originality of the project also hindered its smooth implementation – questions of follow up, kinds of books to be presented, and signing up with drivers all came to the foreground, posing some challenges” yet the Alef team was persistent enough.
Since 30 October, a fleet of 50 cabs has been wandering the streets of Cairo, with a collection of books provided by Alef Bookstores. Since books do not appeal to the majority, choices were carefully selected. “The collection includes poetry, and sarcastic literature; these books will attract even those with no interest in reading. We may expand it in the future to have more varieties.”
The two months trial is over now, and the feedback is more than promising. “There are clear signs that the project is doing well. We have continuous media coverage since we started the trial. Taxi drivers are now calling wanting to sign up with us and people are already making suggestions to expand the project and implement it in other means of transportation.”
With the current rate of success, Alef may be encouraged to expand the initiative so that the number of taxis would reach 2000 by 2011. “We also want to take the project to other cities like Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor and the Red Sea.”
Already done with the trial, and proven to be a success, Alef has been receiving offers from state owned and private organizations, as well as publishing houses, to take part in the project and expand it. It might be hard to take the initiative of something that original, but once the first step is done, other parties are more than ready to participate.
But what about the people who are the direct associates of the literary scene? Abdallah says, “We have the support of a lot of writers including Salah Montasser, Belal Fadl, Omar Taher, and Dr. Sahar El Moogy”.
Alef took the responsibility of sponsoring the project; however, some authors showed their support by providing the books. “We are in the process of making a website for the Knowledge Taxi; people will be allowed to donate books, and in acknowledgment of our appreciation, we will grant them a certificate and put their names on the website. We are also making good offers for taxis, by putting their names and phone numbers on the website, so that people can order them.”
The cultural institutes are separated from the public by a huge gap, and most of the literary events – sadly – go unnoticed. Herein lies the uniqueness of the Knowledge Taxi; it reaches for the public in an unconventional way and persuades people to examine books, even if it is out of curiosity for the unusual project. Some people may not actively search for a book, but certainly they would welcome the idea of one thrown on their lap.
Knowledge Taxi offers the opportunity to rise above the emptiness of time and the suffocating problem of traffic. Nothing is more proper to fill that space other than the reading of entertaining books. But reading to pass the time is only the beginning, and the least of all kinds. Eventually, people may discover its other satisfactions. They will read to nourish the mind; they will read for company, to know that they are not alone, until they yearn for the epiphany, and the pleasure derived from it.
Alef has made the initiative of a creative project to increase readership in Egypt. It is your turn now to take the next step by donating books, or offering suggestions on the hotline: 010250031.