Things had happened too fast……from the time that it suddenly got confirmed that I’d be flying to Cairo, Egypt for a couple of weeks on an assignment with MobiNil – the Egyptian Telecom Company ; I had just a little under 2 days to get everything set and ready. Some last-minute shopping and last-second packing later, I was almost set. After managing just about an hour’s sleep that night, early next morning, I boarded the ‘Jet Airways’ flight to Mumbai and from there, the ‘Egypt Air’ to Cairo.
The prelude to the journey however was a major disappointment ! ! ! ……..blame it on my bloated high-hopes of expecting every Egyptian air-hostess to look like CLEOPATRA ! 🙂 Instead, what awaited me at the ‘Egypt Air’ check-in counter at Mumbai airport looked more like aunties who had taken a retirement from the ‘Indian Airlines’!
However, the flight wasn’t too bad. The 5 and a half hour journey was fairly uneventful, and I was able to steal a couple of hours of pending sleep in between. When I woke up, and looked out of the window, the sight was breath-taking…….Far below, was an amazing spread of endless plain yellow desert, replete with huge sand-dunes , stretching all the way up to the far horizon ! The live-map on the TV screens showed me that we were somewhere over the Arabian peninsula.
Shortly later, we were flying over the Red Sea……I could clearly spot 3 to 4 ships making their way north towards the Suez Canal. Soon, we were over the lands of Egypt – yet more stretches of endless desert and not a speck of vegetation anywhere in sight!
And then, I saw it !!!
Sort of like haphazardly left on the face of the empty desert was something that looked like a thin, blue ribbon …..it didn’t take me too long to recognise it as this majestic river, that we had all studied so much about in Social Studies back in school – the river NILE !
As we approached closer, a thin belt of greenery appeared to be visible on either side of the Nile…… it was simply amazing – just how, in spite of having such a big river flow right in between, the land around was still a desert, except for these negligible odd pockets of greenery !
Shortly before landing in Cairo, was when I first spotted the Pyramids of Giza ! My initial reaction was – “That’s it ???” ……from the altitude that I was in, they appeared merely like sand structures built by some kid on the beach …..
We landed at Cairo at 5:30 PM local time and I quickly moved towards the immigration counters ………. Just when I thought that everything was fine, was when I got the SHOCK of my life !
Standing there waiting, was this huge man holding a placard that read “KILL KOMMADATH” !!!
I just stood there frozen in my path , thinking what to do ….my initial reaction was to turn and run back into the plane ! But it was too late. The guy had spotted me, and was now walking towards me ….Silently, I said my last prayers …….
The big guy came up to me and asked “Your name KILL ???”
“No”, I replied nervously, “…. Its more like AKHIL !”
He grinned, exposing his irregular and badly maintained teeth and introduced himself as Hameed, sent by my Hotel to pick me up. [ I sighed in relief ] …..he explained that he was not responsible for the placard […though I guess he genuinely found it amusing to be still holding it up for the whole world to see ! ! ! ] ……..I could sense the odd stares from my fellow passengers, imagining which rotten-idiot on earth, could have a name like “KILL” and still keep it ! [ My boss Raghu later joked that had this been UK, I’d have been shot by now 🙂 ]
Out of the blue, Hameed asked me, “Do you smoke?”
“No” , I replied…. [was that why he wanted to KILL me ?]
“Well ….. kind of….but just socially.”
“Aaah!”, he looked surprised, “In Egypt, people who drink also smoke!”
[Right….but back in India, we are not mandated by the constituition to do that !]
He took my Passport and papers and pro-actively filled the Immigration forms for me…. also went over to the counter and executed the formalities, while I just had to stand and watch….he seemed to be having quite a clout among the airport officials, and that saved me a lot of hassles.
Once we were done and walking towards the exit, he quitely handed me a $5 note ….. [ Huh ??? Is this the way it works here in Egypt ? Do “tips” go the reverse way ? ]
Before I could ask, he pointed towards the Duty-Free shop and asked me to buy him a box of a particular brand of foreign cigarettes …explaining that it was his brother’s marriage the next day, and only genuine passengers could shop there…..
Ok …..so this was why he wanted to know if I smoked ! The picture was clear now….Neverthless, I agreed and he seemed quite grateful.
He took me to my supposed ‘LIMOUSINE’ , which turned out to be nothing but an ordinary Mitsubishi Lancer!
[Here in Egypt, normal taxis are these cranky, noisy, 20-30 year old, junk cars that seldom have their basic functionalities (brakes, horns, lights …..) in place; that any relatively new car, with a functioning Air-Con , is termed a ‘Limousine’. While a ‘normal’ taxi would charge about 25 Egyptian Pounds from the airport to downtown Cairo, a ‘limo’ would cost 110 ! ]
After bidding goodbye to Hameed, I got into my limo and began my 45-minute ride towards Hotel Conrad in downtown Cairo ………