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[RC] Egypt: Changing Donkeys in Mid-Stream - Merri Melde

...After all, my dream of galloping in the desert happens tomorrow
AM. Although, the thought of Shoki driving 120 km/h in the dark (I bet
you a pyramid he drives with his lights off) for 6 hours was, even for
me, a little daunting. 

Oh well - just don't think about it - insha'allah. God willing, we'll
get there.

So we started off ripping along the winding road toward the west
coast, at 100, 110 km/h, Shoki'e eyes darting in both mirrors at all
of us, staring at Jackie testing her blood and giving herself an
insulin shot, not watching the road, driving in the left lane.
Hortense finally told him to stay in the right lane. 

I got to work on my journal while I had a little light.  Then I got a
tap on my shoulder. Tracy leaned up to my ear (Nabeel sat beside me)
and said: "Merri. Watch the driver's eyes. He's falling asleep." Oh,

That's one thing that gets the adrenaline firing through me - a driver
whose eyes are closing. Hortense said, "I've been watching him. His
head nods and his eyes close."  Well, this is bad. Insha'allah's not
going to get us home in this situation. 

Tracy and Hortense talked, then Hortense asked Nabeel how far it was
to the nearest hotel: 100 km (already!) back to St Katherine; 250 km
to a place on the coast. More talk, and Tracy & Hortense & I decided
to make our drivers turn around.  

This wasn't going to be easy, or pretty, but then none of us wanted
particularly to die that night in a nasty car crash in the Sinai

My Egyptian transmissions would've ended abruptly. They may still,
whenever your number's up it's up, but here we had a choice in the
matter. (Jackie was asleep in the front seat so was unaware of all

Hortense started speaking Arabic to Nabeel and it went something like
this: I've been watching our driver, he is tired and falling asleep,
we want to go back to stay in St Katherine for our safety. Nabeel said
something like this: Only 1/2 hour to the coast, then several hours to
Cairo yes - which had nothing to do with our point.  

Hortense's voice became a little stronger, saying the same thing, but
with Nabeel interrupting her constantly. She switched to English:
"Stop interrupting me!" and back to Arabic... Shoki is now wide awake
and has slowed down (!)... Nabeel raises his voice and interrupts
again and Hortense erupts in her commanding Mother Voice in Arabic
STOP INTERRUPTING ME! Nabeel is turned backward in his seat and
gesturing in HOrtense's face with both hands and yells in English this
time, "You watch how you speak to me. I am not your father!" 

Hortense responded instantly with a soft but very forbidding voice -
she knew just how to pitch it - that seemed to cast a spell on Nabeel
because he didn't open his mouth. She sounded like a patient mother
explaining something blantantly obvious to an errant stubborn child,
and it ended in creschendoing thundering English... "because we are

Nabeel was shocked into silence for a moment. "I hear you but I want
to hear what THESE women have to say." He turned to me. I said "We
want to go back to St Katherine and spend the night, leave early in
the morning." N "Ah - no, not possible, I have many things to do
tomorrow." Me "OK you turn around, take us to St K, and you can still
go on to Cairo tonite." 

I could see dollar signs in his eyes and he started to speak, but I
interrupted him in my best imitation of a patient mother voice. "We
will still pay you. Just take us back to St K. We'll feel safer. Drop
us off and you can go to Cairo." Tracy said "We're paying you, and you
need to respect our wishes." 

By now Shoki had heaved a sigh, and actually put the car in park, and
turned off the motor! He looked about ready to beat his head on the
steering wheel. N "How you get back to Cairo?" I shrugged - who knew?
We'd find something, no big deal. I made something up. "Morad will
come pick us up - it is not a problem. You go to Cairo, after you drop
us off in St K." I was going to jump out of the car if he didn't agree
to take us back. 

Nabeel couldn't believe us, but he told Shoki to turn around. Shoki
REALLY couldn't believe it. Like one of the resigned Egyptian donkeys
that accept their lot in life and do as they're told, Shoki sadly
started the car, put it in drive, and turned aorund (almost pulling
out in front of a car).  This time he drove about 80 k/h - and guess
what: he does drive with his lights off. 

Hortense kept talking to Shoki to make sure he wouldn't fall asleep.
She called Ali and spoke French to him about the driver falling
asleep. I knew then he'd drop whatever he might be doing, and come
back to St K's. 

We got back to St K at 7:30; they dropped us and our bags in front of
the pharmacy and shook our hands and said "Thank you," a civilized
gesture when we were both probably thinking, You DOnkeys Asses. I
don't remember who brought up the payment issue, but I said I had no
US dollars on me (I didn't). Tracy and Jackie had enough for all of us
but we wanted to think about this. I said "Is it OK to pay you
tomorrow in Cairo - we don't have US dollars on us." He said

After they left we debated. 2 of us thought we should pay them the $50
apiece we agreed on, 2 of us thought we shouldn't. We concluded - let
MA decide! She'll know the proper thing to do. ONe of our group was
really worried about where we'd stay tonight, how we'd get back to
Cairo; she didn't want to bother or impose upon MA or Ali or
Morad... Me, I felt quite at peace and totally unconcerned with
anything at all in life.  

Ali was on his way and would take care of things. If he hadn't been
around to call, I still would have been totally unconcerned. I've
learned in my travels to just accept help from someone when they
offer. You'll pay them back in kind one day, and if you don't get the
chance, you will help someone else. Just go with the flow and don't
worry - things will work out, and almost always work out the way they
are supposed to. 

I will miss my ride in the desert tomorrow, c'est la vie. Tonight and
tomorrow morning I am meant to be (alive!) in St Katherine in the
Sinai. A Bedouin came up to us, "Welcome. Welcome to St K. If you need
anything, guide, taxi, good place to sleep not so expensive, I will
get it for you." Several taxis stopped to ask if we needed a ride. "La
- shukran."  The muezzin started singing in the mosque across the

People walked by greeting each other, "Salaam wa aleikum." The
almost-full moon was overhead, it was the perfect 75* night, I had no
idea where I'd close my eyes tonight, or when or if I'd leave
tomorrow, and I didn't care. It was so natural, and it was so peaceful
here. I really really wanted to sleep at Ali's place out in the desert
under the moon and a warm thick camel hair blanket - but it was not to

A hotel was decided on. Ali picked us up and drove us to several
motels that wanted only US $ (~$58 for a double), and at the first
place the bank card machine was broken. They wouldn't accept Egyptian
pounds unless you had the bank exchange receipt (who carries those
things?). Same thing at 3/4 other hotels, so Ali said, "I'll take you
to this Bedouin camping place.  The guy hates my guts but it's a nice
place and very inexpensive." 

The guy hates Ali because this guy took a tour group out on Ali's land
and trashed it, so Ali made him clean up not only the area he trashed
but the whole wadi. But the guy welcomed him/us in, showed us a couple
of rooms with 3/4 sleeping matts on the floor in each - 15 pounds a
person (like $2.50). Oh, I just love these places. 

This is how I love to travel - staying at these neat, simple quiet
little traveller's places - and this one was clean and had several
toilets that were clean. We tossed our stuff in 2 rooms, then went
outside and sat in the little short-walled enclosure filled with matts
surrounding a fire. Ali was also there - he was calling around, trying
to find us a ride to Cairo for the morning - and was going to stay the
night to make sure we were OK. 

He was unable to drum up a driver this late - no problem we said,
maybe we will find one tomorrow - whatever. We had tea, cigarettes,
and talk under the moon in the Sinai. Steph would have just loved it.

Does it get any better than this?


Locks do not prevent theft, they only deter those in doubt.
~ Robert Morris

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