I was late.  The Air France plane that I was on from London to Paris was delayed, and despite half of the other people on my flight having booked onward passage on the flight from Paris to Cairo, Egypt, the airline refused to hold the plane for the ten minutes more that it would have need to escort us to it and onward to our respective journeys.

As a result, I got a whirlwind tour of Paris, as the airline made us all stay overnight in the capital awaiting the next possible flight to Cairo the following morning.  However, my misadventures in Paris that first time that I saw it (see:  trying to find the Bastille, even though it no longer exists) are a topic for another time.

I write this, because I recently re-found the object that triggered this memory for me.  Since I was booked on a group tour, compromised mostly of fun Australians, a Kiwi and one lone other American, and since the tour was meant to be kicked off in the south of Egypt and work its way north via felucca, missing that connection that day meant that I was forced to catch up to the rest of the group by taking a series of interesting “planes, trains and automobiles” literally.  First, the day-late connection from Paris to Cairo, packed with other people just as frustrated as I was, along with my first visions of women completely clad in black, but for their eyes, seated next to stern-gazed gentlemen.  Then, the hired car (from the tour company) whose driver I swear never took anything like a driver’s test to get his license, and who managed to narrowly avoid knocking over a bevy of pedestrians on the way from the airport to a temporary hotel (I was there only a few hours until the night train was scheduled to leave) and then to the night train.

Ah, the night train in Egypt.  First of all, the trains allow nearly anything to be accompanied onto the cars by those that had purchases a ticket, from goats to chickens to leaking packages smelling of spices and day-old meat.  I was lucky enough to have had my tour company find a space for me in a higher-class section, complete with *almost* reclining seats.  I say almost, because there was the assumption that at one time they perhaps did recline, but over time and with neglect of upkeep, they no longer functioned properly.  Instead, they were stuck somewhere between upright and slightly forward, making any position uncomfortable.

I was already tired, having been travelling for a day and a half at that point, and having tried to make the most of my unplanned layover in Paris by getting only a few hours of sleep and walking too much around the city I so easily got lost in.  Now, after being shepherded around Cairo by a crazy car driver, being held in a makeshift hotel in  a dodgy part of town for a few hours, all alone, and having to have complete trust in the people who had told me that they were part of the tour company, I was now swiftly (as the train was about to leave) escorted to a broken seat in this car for an eight-hour ride to the south of the country, through dead-black night; the desert seeming to suck up all light into its endless darkness and silence.

I made myself as comfortable as possible for where I was forced to sit and attempted to try to get at least a few hours’ sleep.  However, that was not to be.  Although there was another woman and her husband (?) next to me, the real problem came from the gentleman sitting directly across from me.

I should state right now that I am from Minnesota and that the phrase “Minnesota Nice” has many meanings; one of which is that we have a tendency to not be able to say no to a conversation when it comes from someone who seems well-meaning.  This a severe illness that I happen to suffer from terribly.

The gentleman, noting that I was obviously not from around there (how much could one woman possibly stand out?  Well, I am a head taller than even the taller men, so white that I glow in the dark and of course, I was wearing khaki trousers and a tank top, due to the heat – not exactly traditional Egyptian women’s wear), started to speak to me.  First in German (huh?  really?  German?  Okay…) then in English.  When he realized that I understood what he was saying in English he pounced on the opportunity to talk to me.  Endlessly.

Now, this happens to happen to me a lot, actually, but more on that later.  Normally, though I get people telling me their entire life story (this just happened again on my way to Finland).  This time, though, the gentleman was not interested in telling me about himself.  Instead, I was forced to spend the next roughly eight hours listening to him tell me about the advantages of Christianity (assuming for some reason that I had never heard that from anywhere before…being raised Lutheran and all), how wonderful Jesus was and how I needed to be saved.

Okay, I was alone, at night, in a foreign country, not being able to speak more than a handful of words in Arabic, and I was stuck in a small train car next to a couple that clearly weren’t going to come to my aid in getting me out of this conversation, and I was at a loss as to what to do.  I couldn’t pretend to sleep because no one could pretend that in the positions that we were forced to sit in, and I couldn’t run away, since it was a train.  I was forced to listen to this, nod my head and attempt to at least drift my thoughts away as much as possible, and dream of the sights that I would see once I connected with the rest of my tour group.

Near the end of his speech (how did he get the energy to talk that long?), he handed me something.  That’s the something that triggered the memory.  He handed me a small, business card-sized laminated picture of a Saint.  I still don’t know which one it is, having been raised in a faith that didn’t think much of Saints or icons.  But, out of Minnesota politeness and niceness, I took it, smiled and thanked him and slipped it into my wallet, where it fit snugly.  It was the wallet that I had purchased while in Florence, Italy and the one which I have used ever since (Italians really know how to make leather goods, I have to admit).

I don’t know why I chose to leave in there, or why I have never taken it out, no matter how many times I have cleaned out my purse and wallet.  Maybe it’s a desire to have a reminder of a trip that I took so long ago.  Maybe I am secretly afraid that God will smite me if I discard it.  Maybe I fear that he will somehow know that I discarded it, wherever he is now, and be sad and upset at me or all Westerners to whatever.  I know honestly know.  What I do know is that, I put it back.  Back right where it has always sat.  On it’s own, in it’s own slot in my wallet.  Just like it has for the last twelve years and likely where it will remain for at least another twelve.  Sometimes you don’t know why you do things, like talk to strangers on a night train, or keep seemingly random, meaningless tokens.  But sometimes you just need to.  At least, I do.

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