Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An extraordinary day

Cairo-May 16, 2008

As I boarded the metro train yesterday, my stomach began to grumble. I felt very sick and decided to get off at the next stop, Dar El Salaam, which means House of Peace. I found a bench and lay down. I thought I would rest for 5-10 minutes before getting back on the train. No more than two minutes passed when a group of 10 people surrounded me and a man in a shirt and tie asked me in English, “are you ok? Do you need a doctor?”
I replied in Arabic, “I’m ok. I have a pain in my stomach and I am resting for 5 minutes. It’s no problem. Thank you very much.”

With that reassurance, they went away. After another minute, I got up, thinking that I better stay in a sitting position to avoid drawing attention. A few more minutes passed and I felt much better. Just as I saw Egyptians helping the blind man in the metro a few months earlier, I now was the recipient of their compassion.

* * *
-Regib, the doorman, asks me about my family in China and if they were affected by the earthquake. I tell him no, Alhamdulillah.
* * *

In the afternoon, I take the taxi to the Ahly Club to tutor my student Barsoum. The taxi driver tells me that his father is in the hospital with a broken leg. He hands me a piece of paper with a black and white picture of his father and Arabic writing. It looks like a document that perhaps patients receive when they check into hospitals in Egypt. He then shows me what looks like a cardboard cast. “My father has no money.” He says that it’s been hard to pay the bills. Initially, I feel very sympathetic. If this were my first month here, I would gladly give the driver a few extra pounds; however, six months in Cairo have hardened my heart to such stories, even if they are true.

I instinctively think that the driver conjured such a tale. I then ask him if he has heard of the great earthquake in China a few days ago. “More than 14,000 are dead and another 20,000 are missing. I have family who suffered from the quake. Some of them are still under the buildings!” (This is a lie, but I wanted him to know that he isn’t the only one suffering.) He is silent for a few moments, but then returns to his father’s story.

When we arrive at the Ahly Club, I get out of the cab and hand him a few pounds for the short trip. He returns it to me, and in an incredulous tone, asks, “what’s this?!”
I throw it onto the passenger seat and walk off.

I tell the story to my Egyptian roommate, who confirmed my suspicions: this is a typical story taxi drivers use to try to get foreigners to pay a higher fare. He said my response was appropriate.

* * *
After I get off the microbus and climb the stairs to the 26 July Bridge, I pass a 13 year old boy in a yellow T-shirt, carrying a big square piece of glass. He has set it down for a moment to rest. He greets me and we begin talking. His name is Moustafa and he is on his way to work in Zamalek. He asks me if I know Kung Fu. I answer yes and explain that I began learning it since I was small. I ask him, “Do you know Kung Fu?” He shakes his head, saying he never learned. When we reach the other side of the Nile, I bid him farewell as he slowly makes his way down the bridge clutching the big piece of glass. It’s tough to be a kid in this country.

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