As I approached home the other night, an Egyptian man accosted me. “Salaam Aleikoom! Welcome to Egypt. Where are you from?”
“Wonderful. And you speak Arabic. Alhamdulilah!”
He is Ahmed, a 37 year old from Areesh, a border town between Gaza and Egypt. His hair is short, curly and black. He is wearing a short-sleeved shirt, with a checkered pattern that flows over blue jeans and a pair of leather shoes, apricot color. He has a warm smile and a clean look and an unusually upbeat demeanor. He says that he’s been in Cairo for only two days, but that he’s spent that time in a police station. He was in Agouza, the neighboring area when the police arrested him for no reason, beat him and took his money. I notice that we are in the middle of the street, in between the intersections where the police are stationed, out of earshot.
For a man who’s been beaten and suffered from police abuse, there are no visible injuries on his face or neck or hands. He flips his upper lip with both hands and asks me to take a look at his injuries. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to see.
“My bobba died. He’s now in jenna (heaven),” as he both looks up and points above. “Mumma -- she’s old and not in good health. I reeeally need to go home to Areesh,” he explains.
How? By train? Bus?
“There is no train. Only bus.”
The ticket is…he uses his right index finger to trace “55” on the car hood next to us. “You know the trip from Cairo to Alexandria is 30 LE.”
I think back to my trip to Alexandria in December 2007. My ticket was 20LE.
“As you know, prices have increased since the spring!” he justifies his statement.
Ahmed shows me his Egyptian passport, which is oversized and green. Inside is his photo and birthdate. He asks me how much money I can contribute to his return ticket.
I tell him that I am a student and poor, like him. I want to help him, but I have no money to spare.
I ask him, “are you hungry?”
He replies, “yes.”
“Then, come with me!” I command him. “I’ll buy you a sandwich.” We begin walking down the street towards the Cinema on main street.
“Where are we going?” he asks me.
“There’s a restaurant that serves schwarma.”
“And how much is a sandwich there? Five, six pounds?” he inquires.
“Yes. It depends on the size.”
“Mister--Instead of buying me the sandwich, can you just give me the money for my ticket?” he pleads with me. “I really, really need to return home to Areesh to see mumma!”
I stop in the middle of the street and turn to him. “Ya ahm! (Hey Uncle!) Are you hungry?!”
“Ma Esalama! Good bye!” I turn away from him and head back home. About 10 feet later, I turn back again and say “Rabina Ma’ak! May God be with you. Or Good Luck!” Another 20 feet later, I turn back again and he’s still standing there in the darkness. Finally, another 50 feet or so later, I turn back. He’s gone.