THE LAST 24 HOURS©
The trainís steward, Hussein, woke us at 5 AM and brought breakfast to our compartment. The sun came up. Out the trainís window, as we traveled through rural areas and small towns, along canals and by railroad crossings,I saw what occurs around the world everyday: people were going to work. Many were farm workers. Donkey powered carts and dirt roads were almost as plentiful as motorized vehicles and paved roads. There were lots of palm trees, acres of dark green vegetation, and in the distance, glimpses of the Sahara Desert.
At 6 AM we got off the train in Giza, a suburb of Cairo. It was a 1930ís small train station made of light brown stucco and poured concrete. It looked like a set from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with Harrison Ford. Lots of men were standing around in Egyptian dress, maybe to be of service, but no one offered to carry our suitcase. Within a few minutes our driver Sammie arrived. He was very apologetic about being late but I hadnít noticed because I was occupied looking at the early morning commuters.
Today was our last day in Egypt and by now we had overdosed on magnificent temples and beautiful artwork. Lynne and I decided that today we would do something different. Sammie drove us to the Hotel Indiana where we had arranged a room for the day. Our plans were to shower and change, and then go with Sammie to the Cairo Aquarium and botanical garden. He called it the "Fish Museum" and said he had never been inside. It was not a tourist destination.
We were ready to go about an about an hour before we were supposed to be picked up so we went onto our patio. No one was around. Then we heard sirens. The lights in the room went out. After a few minutes I decided to see what was happening, got my small flashlight, and walked into the dark hallway.
Immediately, I heard the sound of rushing water, then smelled a little smoke. It was the smell of electrical insulation burning. I turned the corner to the main stairwell. Right in front of me two firemen with hoses were pouring water down an airshaft and an employee of the hotel was watching. Simultaneously, a women further down the hall, peering out her cracked open door sees me and starts yelling "help" and "save me".
She couldnít see them. They couldnít hear her. The firemen were smiling at me. The employee was repeatedly saying, in perfect English, "itís no problem". I felt like I had left Egypt and returned to the states. To shorten this three minute event, I saved the day for this women from Atlanta, got Lynne, and we and several hundred other people from around the world watched the local fire department tie up traffic on a beautiful morning in a densely built up, wealthy Cairo neighborhood.
As far as I was concerned the adventure rating for this trip had just gone to the top of the scale.
The fire was put out. Ahmed stopped by the Hotel Indiana to pick up the last payment for services rendered; Sammie arrived and left with Lynne and me in the mini-van. Cairo was as it was when we left, fascinating. The Aquarium was closed so we walked around the gardens together. Then we visited a large fortress built during the reign of Muhammad Ali in the 19th Century. It surrounded a 13th Century Mosque built in the era of the Crusades and Saladin. We took off our shoes to enter the Mosque. There were shawls available for visitors who were dressed "immodestly" so they wouldnít distract people praying inside. The woman behind us was adamantly refusing to cover her bare arms. She said she was just starting her vacation and sounded very offended by the request. I think she was not going to have a good time in Egypt. She left upset and here she missed seeing a mosque that was beautiful inside.
On the way to the airport, for lunch, Sammie drove us to a steakhouse in Heliopolis. This is an old city next to Cairo that is definitely off the tourist trail. It had many blocks of nice apartment buildings, offices, stores, and wide streets. It appeared very middle class. I went in to order food to go and Lynne sat on a bench outside the restaurant. The sidewalk was busy with people going about their business and no one seemed to pay her any attention. Sammie took me into the kitchen where I watched the cook make our meal. This was very special. Sammie said the older man behind the plexiglas window/cash register was the owner. He began the business by serving food from a pushcart on this same corner over fifty years earlier. (Only in EgyptÖ) I returned to the cashierís station to buy soda and a younger man there said that since I was Sammieís friend they were on the house-immediately the old man banged on the plexi and the younger man said the drinks were one pound each.
Too soon we got to the Cairo airport and flew to Athens, then Amsterdam, then Philadelphia. I was sorry our trip was over but very glad to be home.