Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kindness of a stranger

This afternoon, I took a minibus from Mohandiseen, where I have Arabic classes, to Midan Dokki, where I catch the Metro to Maadi, the site of Egypt Today’s office. Surprisingly, the bus is not crowded. And there are a few seats in the back. When I sit down, the man to my right begins talking to me. I don’t understand half of what he says, but I smile and nod and say repeatedly “meshee,” which is the Arabic “Ok.”

Soon, I need to get off the bus and the gentleman to my left speaks to me in basic English. He wears glasses, has a beard and is dressed in a sweater. As we get off the bus, he pays for my ride -- half a pound (a dime). I try to put the same amount in his pocket, but he refuses, saying I am his guest. I try a second time. Again, he refuses. He also needs to go to the same Metro station, so we walk together.

As we approach the window to buy our tickets, he walks ahead of me. I suspect he will try to pay for my metro ride, so I cut him off and take out a 10 pound bill, saying I need change, which was true. He says he also needs change. I beat him to it and bought a ticket for him (one pound or 20 cents).

On the train, we talk a little more. He’s traveled to Damascus, Syria and Istanbul, Turkey, but never to Europe or America. He is a lawyer by training and specializes in family and community law. I tell him that lawyers are generally despised in America because they are seen as liars and cheats. He says lawyers have an equally low position in Egyptian society.

After one stop, a seat opens up and he directs me to sit down. I decline as the next stop Sadat station is my transfer point. Another man is ready to sit down, but the lawyer is adamant and blocks the other man from sitting, saying it is for me. I tell him that I will be sitting down for many hours tonight at my office. I thank him and bid him farewell with “Rabina yihaleek” or May God keep you. Egyptians never cease to amaze me with their kind hospitality.

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