Close Call

Egypt. Hot, dry, and the color of sand—the streets, the buildings, its people, and even the Nile. For a visit to the pyramids, our friend, Pericles, picked us up at our hotel. My husband sat in front, while I kept order over lunches, water bottles, sun hats, and cameras in the back.

The streets of Cairo were already jammed with people, cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and donkey carts. By contrast, it was strangely quiet at the pyramid site. We three were the only ones around, except for one old man who gave us a tour and told us, in a mixture of Arabic and English, about the great stone mountains.

While having lunch in the shadow of one of the pyramids, we decided to visit Saqqarah, a short distance away. Our fascination with its Third Dynasty chapel was interrupted by Pericles saying it would soon be dark. At 30O N. latitude, there is no dusk. Only daylight. Then darkness.

The road to Cairo had steep embankments and the night was now pitch black,. Even with headlights, it was difficult to see. Egyptians do not use headlights at night, except to flash them on, then off again, when they pass another car. It was one of those times an oncoming car illuminated a donkey cart, without reflectors, right in front of us. We were going slow, but still could not stop from slamming into the heavy two-wheeled cart. Several young boys flew off the cart before it, and the donkeys, rolled down the embankment.

None of us was hurt, only shaken. With no signs of habitation along the road, we were surprised when surrounded in only a matter of minutes by angry men carrying dim lanterns and shouting loudly. Pericles and my husband got out of the car while I stayed inside with the doors locked. Attempts to explain what had happened, and inquiries about the boys and donkeys, were futile. The growing crowd became more and more agitated by the lack of communication.

"Just pray this thing will start," Pericles yelled as he turned the ignition switch. The men began pressing grotesque faces against the windows of the car and others flung themselves over the fenders, trunk, and hood. I shuddered to think what they might do to us if the car would not start. We were lucky it started, but as we drove away, the crowd began rocking the car, pounding it with sticks, and hurling stones. We only drove a short distance before the car overheated. Pericles knew the Arabic word for water, so while my husband and I waited nervously in the car, he walked toward faint lights of a saw mill and returned with a bucket of water.

Since the car’s headlights were broken, we were in pitch darkness except for one small flashlight., Perecles pried open the damaged hood of the car with a tire tool, and somehow managed to pour the water into the radiator.

The next problem was unexpected. Now the hood would not stay closed. Without rope or wire to secure it, my husband sat on the hood of the car for the remaining miles to Cairo. I prayed all the way

. As we approached the city, we again found ourselves surrounded by a noisy crowd and uniformed men with guns. A young man, in broken English, ordered us to open the car doors, then jumped into the seat beside me. After directing us to drive to the police station, he said the boys on the cart had been hurt, both donkeys were dead, and the cart wrecked beyond repair.

On the way, we stopped at a hotel and Pericles made two telephone calls: the first to an Egyptian friend saying we would be late for the party he was giving in our honor. The second to my husband’s company accountant who spoke English and Arabic and had access to company funds. Assuring us he would handle the matter from there, Pericles insisted we take a taxi back to our hotel. He then met the accountant, filed a police report, and paid a fine for the damages caused to the boys, the cart, and the donkeys.

Later, at the party we told our Egyptian friends about the accident.

"How much did you pay?" they asked.

When we told them, hey laughed and said, "For that amount of money you could have bought all the donkeys in Cairo."

However, they were the only ones laughing.

C Rhodes

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