As I mentioned in my previous post, Cairo was very frequent stop over on the menu. I don’t know how many times I’ve been there, pacing up and down the departure hall waiting for night to fall, 4AM or whatever other far off time my connecting flight was scheduled to leave.
Once in the early nineties I landed just after sunrise. I was travelling with my three daughters all under the age of 5. The airport was surprisingly empty. Then it dawned on me that it was August, the month in which only a few hardcore travelers visited Egypt since on most days the temperatures were set to reach boiling point before midday.
I could not bear the thought of, once again, pacing the departure hall for 10 hours plus. So I asked my wonderful daughters if they were up for an adventure? To which they, trusting and big eyed as they were, all said yes to. (My youngest was barely a year old and still just nodded every time she saw her sisters do so)
As I had hoped, there was no cue at passport control. We needed visas, which with EU passports were issued there and then. In less than an hour, after landing, there we were standing on the streets of Cairo with beating hearts and no real plan.
Not far from the airport exit I spotted a long row of taxis and “the plan”, which just a few moments ago I did not have, suddenly appeared. With one daughter on my hip, the others on one hand each we made our way to one of the taxis. I greeted them in a friendly way and asked what it would cost to hire a taxi and a driver for the whole day. I was prepared to barter, be outraged about the given price and pretend to leave but to my great surprise the driver suggested I speak to a colleague of his who would be better for the job. He kept saying “good English”, “good English” and then “good sister”, “good sister”. While he called someone, who was going to call someone, who was going to call his colleague Abdul, a whole crowd of taxi drivers and taxi drivers friends had gathered around me. Well, not around me but around my girls. I have never met folk that so passionately, beautifully and openly love children. My youngest was taken out my arms, and my two others found themselves picked up by smiling bearded strangers. One man ran off to buy sweets, the other to buy drinking water and we were led to a shady spot to rest while waiting for Abdul.
When Abdul arrived I understood. His English was perfect! He named a very agreeable price and promised to have us back at the airport in time. Abdul suggested to first drive to his home and pick up his sister. He insisted it would be better like that and I felt that I should not ask why.
As I write I can hear you readers think: “Weren’t you scared?” and “was this not dangerous?” and “what if…?” The answers are “no” and “no”, and “who knows”. Those were good people and it shone out of every pore.
Abdul’s sister Abal was waiting for us at a street corner of a residential suburb not too far from the airport. She was as beautiful as I always had imagined ancient Egyptian queens to be, with an ocean of hair hidden under a blue cloth. And she was lovely. It took a minute and a half and one of my daughters had crawled on her lap.
We were taken to the papyrus museum and of course to the great Pyramids of Giza. I will not go into any details of either place or experience but only so much: Wow! It’s worth a trip may times over.
In those days Europeans were warned to never eat any local food. One was supposed to only eat in stared, western run hotels and even there no raw foods such as salads or unpeeled fruits. But all of us being blessed with strong stomachs and even stronger immune systems I decided to take up Abduls invitation to lunch at his cousin’s place.
On the way there we got a taste of the famous Cairo traffic. Nothing moved and naturally I had visions of us being stuck forever and our plane leaving without us. But miraculously the knot dissolved and we arrived at our destination. Abdul parked his car in a dusty plot at the end of an cul-de sac and lead us on foot, right, left, straight and left again to a small house on an even smaller street. I realised that “his cousins place” was no restaurant or tavern as I had imagined but his families base camp and that we were invited to share the family meal. What kind people they were! Good care was taken that my kids were not mistakenly given food that was to spicy for the European tong and after finishing a delicious meal a carpet was rolled out for the them to rest on.
When it was time to leave for the airport half the family accompanied us to the car seeing us off as if we had been friends for eternity. I never saw Abdul or Abal again. Those were the pre ‘everybody has an e-mail address’ days. But they left an impression on me to this day. Twenty years later I am incapable of reading or hearing anything about Egypt, be it just the tiniest news snippet, without thinking of the one and only day I spent there and those wonderful people who made it so special for us.
Submitted by: HeleneMX, Portugal