Saturday, March 7, 2009


Friday was an amazing day for me. The story begins 13 years ago, on my first visit to Egypt. During that month, I was a relatively independent traveler. Perhaps a little adventurous. And young and male which helps in these things.

I met a few people during that time, often by riding public buses. Everyone was always willing to help and extremely kind, which is very common here in Egypt. On one occasion, I struck up a conversation on the bus from Giza to downtown with a young man who paid my fare. Nady was headed to work as a cook in one of the downtown hotels, and I was leaving the pyramids. We really hit it off. He told me that he also worked the night shift at a locally well-known neighborhood restaurant in Giza Square (not so near to the pyramids), and that I should stop by some time. This was all on the fly as there were no cell phones, and land lines were a luxury. At some point during my trip, I took him up on the offer and rolled over there at 6am for some fuul, but he was not there. No trouble. He lived nearby and a coworker took me to his apartment. He wasn’t there either, but I met his flatmates. Nady was with his family in a village near Beni Suef, a city about two hours south of Cairo. His friend Gerges, who was also from the same town, suggested we ride down there.

It was a memorable day. The transportation itself—from a local train where foreigners were forbidden from riding to the back of a pickup—was an adventure. He was excited and surprised to see me. I met his mother, who graciously fed me. I met his 9-year-old sister who I gave a toy car that she recalls fondly. We walked down by the river. A bunch of little kids who were excited to learn that I was from the US asked me if I knew Van Damme. We took lots of photos.

When I returned to the US, we exchanged letters for a couple of years but then they stopped. A combination, I suspect, of unreliable postal services and correspondents. Fortunately, I saved his mother’s address, along with those of a few other friends, who I met. Soon after I arrived here, I copied some old photographs and sent them along by mail with letters telling them that I now lived in Egypt. A few weeks later, I got a text message from Hadi, a friend I met in Alexandria. He now lives in Qatar. Then I went five months without responses from anyone else so I assumed that we had permanently lost touch. Then, last week, when I was touring Amr Taz Palace in Islamic Cairo, my mobile phone rings with a number I did not recognize.

“Hello Ira. This is Nady, your friend from 13 years ago.”

Nady lives in the Emirates, working as a chef in a hotel restaurant. He was back in Egypt for 15 days to have minor surgery. We talked a few times by telephone trying to figure out when we could meet, and on Friday, the day after he got out of the hospital, I went out to visit him in his flat. (Getting there involved one taxi, two metros, a microbus, and a “tuk-tuk,” which is a converted moped that is used to navigate some narrow, unpaved backstreets.)

We caught up on the past 13 years. I saw his mom (in black) and sister (in the middle of the bottom photo). I met his wife Nadya (who has a degree in geology from Cairo University), his 7-month-old son Johnny (who are together in the bottom photo). We drank mango juice and feasted on good eats. I brought some photos to share. It was great.

He returns to the UAE this weekend. He will probably be back to visit at the end of the year, though it sounds like he is aiming to move back to Egypt in the not-too-distant future. He recently purchased the Cairo flat where I visited him. His aim by working in the UAE is to save enough money to have a nest egg, since the economy in Egypt would make it very difficult for him to afford things like buying a flat or paying private school tuition for his son.

To describe it as the highlight of my weekend is quite a claim since on Saturday I visited Tanis (where Harrison Ford found the ark in Raiders).

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