In 2010, I lost my job and decided to travel the world. I was adventurous but naïve, a fact that finally became clear when I went to Egypt.
I was traveling with a group of about ten Americans, none of whom I knew, led by an Egyptologist. It was a busy first day, capped off in the evening by a visit to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. We rode our tour bus through Cairo traffic and then we all separated to wander through the museum. We were supposed to meet back at the front at 6 p.m. At 5:50, I wandered into the gift shop. After thumbing through a few books, I headed to the front. I looked around for my group, squinting in the dusk. I couldn’t see anyone I recognized, so I walked around the whole front courtyard. I looked at the tour buses, and then it hit me: Our bus wasn’t there.
My group had left.
I was naïve. I’d imagined the tour group leader would do a headcount, that somebody would remember the shy, quiet blond girl who was traveling alone in the group. At that moment it hit me that I was in trouble. I spoke no Arabic. I had no real idea where I was. And as I contemplated my next move, I realized in horror I had no idea what the name of our hotel was.
I stood there for a few minutes, hoping that suddenly my group would appear. And I had no idea, but two weeks later I left, the very place where I stood- Tahir Square- would erupt into the Arab Spring. But at that moment I felt a sense of fear quickly overtaking me. I knew with dark coming I needed to have a game plan.
I walked up to some security guards. Most ignored me. Most didn’t know English. Finally, one guard with broken English told me he was “tourist police” and I explained my situation, and, to my horror, began crying. He said he’d walk around and ask the guards if they knew anything. Maybe our group leader had called to ask about me. Maybe one of the guards knew him. Maybe…
It was dark now, and I felt vulnerable. I was scared enough that I began to wonder how I would ever get back to the hotel, or home. My passport was in the safe, I remembered. And the group would leave the next morning to travel to Sinai.
I pulled out my iPhone and turned off airplane mode; I googled until finally, finally I found the hotel I was staying at. I showed it to the tourist police, who sighed and pointed where to get taxis. He gave me specific instructions on which taxis were legal, and then wrote down my hotel’s address in Arabic after smirking, “Lady, not everyone reads English.”
I prayed the whole taxi ride home. Please let this be a legal taxi and let him drop me off safely. Please let this actually be the right hotel. No one in the world knew where I was. It was a disconcerting feeling, and I was so relieved when I recognized the front of my hotel that I threw the taxi driver an astronomical tip and leapt out.
It was only then, back in the relative safety of the hotel, that I realized my tour group had gone without me on the Nile night cruise. I was crushed. My relief at being safe dissipated when I realized that I’d missed the event I’d looked forward to most. I tried to explain to the hotel receptionist; she called the cruise company, and then shrugged that the night cruise had already left the dock. I started to sob. The fear and disappointment caught up with me in that moment. This magical world trip I’d envisioned was quickly crashing and burning.
I finally made it up to my room, after having to return back down to the lobby to fix my key. I skipped dinner and crawled into bed, emotionally drained. I had tremors of wanting to go home. I sobbed and sobbed, feeling so alone. I wanted to be anyplace but there.
I awoke at 3 am, lying in bed until the call to prayer sounded at 4:45 am. I jumped out of bed and stood on my balcony, looking down at the city beginning to wake up.