Sunday, March 02, 2008

Escorting the blind man in the metro

Sadat Station, downtown Cairo – A middle-aged blind man dressed in a sharp, green suit and tie approaches the platform with an escort. He is wearing dark sunglasses. As soon as they arrive, his escort leaves. Another gentleman grabs a hold of his left arm and guides him a few inches forward, placing him in front of the doors so that he can board the train as it arrives. Once onboard, his new guide stands a few feet away, but cannot get off at the next stop, Nasser station. However, he quietly tells the man in front of him that he should let the blind man get off first. When the doors open, the blind gentleman gets off. He walks slowly toward his left, but the exit is toward the right. Another man quickly grabs the blind man by his left arm and gently, but briskly guides him toward the exit. I follow closely behind them. His new escort exchanges a few words with his walking partner. At the turnstile, the escort inserts his ticket into the machine to exit. He guides the blind man to follow him. However, the ticket only allows for one entry or exit. So, the blind man has to climb over the turnstile, one stretched leg at a time. A few seconds later, he has exited. His escort leaves him, as quickly as he found him. Now, the blind man takes out his cell phone. Perhaps, to call his friend to meet him. A few moments later, a young lady approaches him, offering to help him. His new escort guides him up the stairs onto the street level. I take the other exit to board my microbus to Zamalek.

I share this little vignette with you because it left a very strong impression on me. In my 25 years of living in the United States and one year in China as an English teacher, I never, ever saw anything even close to this scene in public. In the span of only about 5 minutes, this one blind man had about four total strangers guiding him along his way. Sure, I have seen strangers in Washington, DC offering a seat to a blind rider on the metro. But, that’s the law. I have seen strangers offering to help blind pedestrians if they’re lost or about to walk into oncoming traffic. It is quite a different thing altogether to see four strangers help one blind man in succession. And with no coordination. It almost seems like there was an “invisible hand” at work here. I told my Egyptian roommate about this story and he was not surprised at all. In fact, he expects people to do this, especially Muslims. It is comforting. And reassuring to know that there is kindness and a strong sense of community here, even in this metropolis of 20 million plus people. I am very nearsighted, but still have my sight. However, if I ever become blind in this lifetime, let it happen in Cairo and not in Washington, DC. Alhamdulillah!

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