The Pedestal Lowers

“What happened to the card I made you mummy?”

“Some water spilt on it, sweetie.”

A pause. The look in his eye. Another hairline crack in the myth of the all-powerful Mother. She who holds every scribble, every participation certificate, every lego invention as precious. She who can protect him from any danger.

I became a little more human today.

Upper Egypt Trip - Part Six - Pickup Truck Tour of the Desert

It was our last day in Luxor. Our host, Mahmoud, offered to take us out to the desert villages in the back of a pickup truck. They’d prepared the truck bed with an assortment of chairs, carpets and colourful cushions. The final look was somewhere between a Maharaja’s palace and a redneck bush party. 

My mother (or her majesty queen of Luxor as she now likes to be called) sat on her “throne” with her hat and fan, waving graciously at the villagers. Most of the Egyptians we passed waved back and seemed delighted and amused by our strange parade. A few kids even hopped on the truck for a short ride. We were greeted with shouts of “welcome” and broad grins wherever we went, a far cry from the “death to infidels” nonsense peddled by the media. I was glad my parents got to experience the generous warmth of these people.

I had a great time observing and capturing little snippets of daily life on camera. Dad was snapping away as well. He seemed incredibly happy during the tour and said that despite the heat, he could have done it all day. I had a similar sentiment. It was one of my favourite experiences of the entire trip.

Dusty and windblown, we stopped for a quick tour and cold drink at El Moudira, a beautiful and tranquil hotel in the desert. We all tried to behave around the posh people. Then we were back on the road.

Our destination was St Tawdros (St Theodore's) Coptic Orthodox Christian Monastery, in the desert near Medinet Habu. We removed our shoes and stepped reverently in the quite, peaceful chapel. The walls contained both carvings of Coptic crosses and hieroglyphs from recycled stone originating in nearby temples.

Afterwards we visited the gift shop where a variety of goods could be found. It was a strange mix of religious items and cheap plastic toys. We bought some frankincense and locally made honey. One nun demonstrated plastic cross that came apart to show it was also a pen. She seemed to think it was the best thing ever, but sadly there were no takers.

That night, back at Nile Compound, we sat on the balcony, smoked shisha and played cinquante-huit (a french card game). I was slightly concerned about Aswan and my next budget hotel choice but I didn’t let it bother me. Que sera sera.

Upper Egypt Trip - Part One - Train to Cairo

It was a long wait at the train station, and now I had found my row, son in tow, but there were people in our seats. I’d heard of this happening in Egypt. I squared my shoulders. 

“You’re in my seat,” I proclaimed, in what I hoped was an authoritative tone. 

My tone had approximately zero effect. The interlopers trying to steal my way to Cairo stared resolutely ahead. More passengers were pressing in from behind me. 

“Look!” I said, brandishing my tickets which clearly stated these exact seat numbers.

“I have the same seat numbers,” said a voice behind me. It was one of those matter-of-fact no-nonsense sturdy Egyptian ladies that you do not want to mess with. She was wearing a jaunty pink hijab, somewhat at odds with her stern demeanor.

Oi, is it possible they triple-booked these seats? I pictured my parents arriving at the Cairo airport early the next morning with no one to greet them. I trembled.

“Let me see those tickets,” said the not-to-be-messed-with Egyptian lady. Of course I handed them over, a split second after she snatched them from my hand. My 6-year-old son Oscar started getting a bit twitchy, sensing my tension. I could feel sweat starting to sprout from my pores. I glanced desperately towards the other end of the carriage where my husband was waiting with the bags.

“This is the wrong date,” the lady informed me, indicating the tickets. I stared at the Arabic numbers on the paper but my brain stubbornly refused to translate.

“I can’t read this,” I said to myself.

“It’s in English here,” said the lady dryly. “See, it says Apr 4, and it’s Apr 14.”

You know that sinking feeling, the dread, when you realize things are about to go horribly wrong.

Yeah, I had that.

The next few minutes are a bit of a panicked blur. I remember looking over the heads of the passengers trying to get past me, towards my husband, who couldn’t see me. At some point my son’s twitchiness turned to distress as we got pushed into the treacherous space between cars. Richard managed to make his way to us as I tried to explain our situation to various people, hoping to find someone who worked there or knew something. Oscar started crying in earnest and attempted to flee the train despite my iron grip on his slippery, sweaty hand.

Then the train pulled away.

Oscar screamed, I sweated, and Richard fumed.

“You will have to pay a fine and there will be no seats,” a man said.

Great, three hours standing on a train with three suitcases and a screaming child. Richard and I looked at each other in despair.

Then, the pink hijab lady came and saved the day.

“There are lots of seats here,” she said, regarding the ill-informed man disdainfully. “Come with me.”

She sorted out seats for us, checked on us during the journey, booked us a cab to get us to the hotel and even directed us out of Ramesses station, waited for the car and made sure we got in. All while wrangling a large family group with small children, pulling her luggage with one hand and carrying a baby in the other arm.

She brushed off our thanks saying she knows what it’s like, having been lost in Europe before.

As we piled into the car while issuing additional profuse thanks, I wished I’d gotten her name, but it is nice to know there are good people out there.