Egyptian Hospitality At It’s Best!
The next morning our Couchsurfing host drops us off at a local store called Carrefour (french version of Walmart here in Egypt) on his way to afternoon prayer. We unload ourselves from his beat up old car into a brand new shopping center. Straight for Carrefour we head! We’re feigning to enter a place that we hope to be very familiar to us. It’s just like walmart, just smaller. Oh, and with arabic prices. It’s cheap and we like that! We grab a cart, head straight for the deli and pick up a roasted rotisserie chicken with a plate of white rice (25EGP or $4.40 USD) and we will share this for lunch. Yum!
Minutes after we finish lunch our friend from the hostel calls us and explains that we should take a taxi to the Hayadek el Maadi Metro station and we will be met there by his “brother”, or his “best friend”. We don’t know who this mysterious character is but we trust our friend Mohamed and we feel that 99% of the Egyptians that we’ve met at this point have been extremely kind and friendly so… why not?
The taxi driver weaves in and out of traffic, just missing the children darting across the streets and finally drops us at Hayadek El Maadi station where we are met by our friend Mohamed’s “best friend” also known as Mohamed! Yes, this is the third Mohamed we have befriended in the last few days. He quickly snatches Liz’s bag from her hands and carries it to our newest form of transportation. A Tuk-tuk!
There are no paved roads here in this village, just dirt. There are no trash cans, that’s what the streets are for. We pass by burning mounds of trash as it simmers all day and all night. The roads are built for one way traffic but somehow accommodate two cars, crowds of people, and the occasional motorbike that just barely sneaks through the two foot space between our Tuk-Tuk and the car in front of us. We have no idea where we’re going, who we’re with, or where we are. This is what it’s all about though. You have to take risks in order to truly experience the “local” side of your destination. This is exactly what we had planned.
Mohamed pays the Tuk-Tuk driver and we unload our two 25lb backpacks, 2 day packs, a briefcase, and the two of us. How did we squeeze all of our gear, the three of us plus the driver, I have absolutely no idea.
We step out into a crowd of stares, but we’re used to it at this point. We think to ourselves, maybe they think we’re celebrities? Better yet, maybe they think we’re prime targets. Soon we will find out just exactly how safe we really are.
We head down an alley and step through a doorway as we follow Mohamed up a flight of stairs. He knocks on the door, it swings open and Mohamed says in, in! We glance up as we walk in to see Mohamed’s entire family standing there awaiting us in the living room. They don’t speak much english, if any at all. Luckily for us, Mohamed speaks decent English and he tells us that his family says “Welcome to Egypt!”, a phrase that we’re quite used to hearing.
Mohamed’s brothers grab our bags and drop them into our new home for the night. We’re overwhelmed. Yep, very overwhelmed.
Mohamed’s whole family piles into our new room eager to learn our names. We go around the room exchanging friendly hand shakes and before we know it Mohamed’s mother Mona is handing us freshly squeezed glasses of Lemonade or “fresh limon” as she would call it. it turns out to be the best lemonade I’ve ever had in my entire life. I down the first glass and I’m met with another and another. Twenty minutes later Mona is bringing in dishes and dishes of food for us. Eat!, Eat! she says. We’re not hungry but we are forced to eat our tasty home cooked meals.
We exchange words with Mohamed while he translates into Arabic for his family. We laugh hysterically as we try to explain things about ourselves and try to push the boundaries of this difficult language barrier that we are facing.
After spending some time chatting with Mohamed we quickly learn why should feel safe in his presence. The living room walls are filled with photos of Mohamed dressed in his military attire. At only twenty five years of age, he’s famous in his village. Everyone knows him and it’s quite apparent that he’s well resepcted when we walk the streets. He looks back to us and says, you’re friends with my best friend Mohamed, and that means that you’re my friends. You don’t have to worry about anything, you’re safe here with me. Safe is an understatement of what we’re feeling at this point.
It’s midnight now and we have to get up at 5:00AM in order to catch the Metro into downtown and then take a bus from Cairo to the Bahariya Oasis for a desert tour that we have planned tomorrow morning. BUT, Mohamed says he wants to take us out tonight. Tonight? Before we know we’re at the bowling alley playing a string, and shooting pool for a half hour.
We arrive back at Mohamed’s at around 2AM and everyone is still awake. Once again they pile into our room wanting to know more about us. We chat for the next hour or two and all of a sudden it’s 4AM. We need sleep!
5AM comes quick and we arrive at the bus station in downtown Cairo. My stomach isn’t feeling well to say the least. Something is brewing inside and I’m feeling really weak. We meet with our couchsurfing friends that are coming on the trip with us. Five minutes before the bus departs for the Bahariya Oasis, Liz and I jump off. I trust my instinct and decide that it probably wouldn’t be smart to jump on a 5 hour bus to Bahariya then take another few hours to travel into the desert by 4×4. Not a good idea and I’m glad I trusted my instinct. I call a local friend of mine and he meets Liz & I with some medicine from the pharmacy. I pop the mysterious pill and hope that I caught this stomach bug in time.
I’m weak, we left our main backpacks back in Maadi a 25 minute Metro ride away. I know I won’t make it that far. I need water, medicine, and sleep. NOW. I ring my friend Mostafa and he meets with us to bring us to a hostel (New Hotel Minerva) he knows that has nice beds and is relatively cheap. it’s 9AM and I’m feeling terrible. We check into a hostel in downtown right near Nasser station. I drop my bags, and pass out. Hours later I wake up feeling a little bit better. My friend Mohamed calls me over and over to make sure that I’m okay and to tell me that his family is sad knowing that I’m sick. They want me to come back to Maadi so that they can take care of me.
I check out of the hostel knowing that I just paid 100 EGP or ($ 17.61) to sleep for a few hours. It’s okay though because there was no way I was going back to Maadi this morning. I literally wouldn’t have made it back alive. We grab our bags and head out on the metro back to Maadi. When we arrive back at Mohamed’s home we’re greeted with hugs and kisses from everyone. Mohamed’s little brother Mahmoud (10 years of age) is so excited to see us again. Mona makes me hot tea with lemon (arabic: chai’ with limon). She explains that lemon is very good for your stomach. Within a couple of hours I’m feeling better…