I took a quick shower to become sober after the full day’s exploration in Luxor. Then I ran downstairs where a man about the same height as me was waiting for me. We started our journey in a local vehicle packed with people. We hoped into a human hauler. I knew why I am going but I did not have any clue about the name of my destination. I settled myself among people wearing long clothes. They were gossiping in Arabic. Most of them are coming back home to their family after work. I tried to look outside my van. It was stopping periodically to drop people. The seats were never unoccupied. Whenever someone got down, a new passenger made it up for him. At one stage, my companion asked the driver to stop.
We got out of the vehicle.
I was in an unfamiliar village in the West Bank of Luxor, 500 kilometers away from the capital city of Cairo with a practically unknown man in the cold and darkness.
All my concentrations got focused on the single person moving through different alleys in the pale light. I can’t afford to lose him now. He started talking to me in English with an Arabic accent hard for me to figure out. Slowly and steadily, I was becoming used to it. He has wrinkles in the face, two day’s growth of beard in his cheeks, and was wearing a greyish dress named – Jellabiya. I am a swift walker but found it tough to maintain pace with him.
“How far are we?” – I couldn’t resist but asking.
“We are almost here” – he responded.
I have been receiving this response for the last 20 minutes.
He seemed least worried about reaching the destination and keener towards telling his stories. We were taking shortcuts, or that’s what I assumed, passing through the passageway of other people’s homes. At times, the darkness engulfed us and I had to lit up the light of my mobile to see the pathways. If you ever wondered, why on earth do they put a torchlight at the rear of a phone, ask me – I now have the answer.
Today is my fifth day in Egypt, and I had a mixed feeling about the country. As much as I admired this remarkable country, I absolutely despised the relentless nagging of individuals in the streets for selling something or offering something whenever they saw me. I wish to spend a lot of time there to see the country. Unfortunately, this continuous mental worry of having approached by people was not a pleasant thing to encounter. It kept me on my toes most of the time. So, when I received an invitation of having dinner from Ismael in his home, I was doubtful. You can consider me mean or dispute about my openness, but I am candid with you. When I look back, I feel embarrassed about it, too.
Earlier, I found Ismael through Airbnb. He runs an apartment in a village in Luxor. Marion, an Irish lady who came to Egypt once and subsequently fell in love with the country, set the property up for Ismael in Airbnb. I rented his apartment, was enjoying a wonderful time there, and suddenly I got this invitation.
Now, I am on my way to Ismael’s actual home (not the one where I am staying) with him in this darkness.
I finally arrived at his home – a modest house, cramped with objects. Two baby girls of Ismael greeted me with the purest smile. They were wearing head scarfs like most of the Arab people. Islam does not encourage girls or women to show their hair. I was happy to meet those kids – I had been away from home long enough to miss mine. They were shy at first but very inquisitive. Once they became comfortable with me, they started asking me a lot of questions. Besides, I became a trial ground for them to practice their English. They go to the local school. Marion was a mother figure to them, she teaches them English regularly.
Marion joined with us during the dinner and inquired about the progress of their housework. I also showed my skills in Arabic. Here is a silly tale to share with you. I am from Bangladesh, where the official language is Bengali. We learn English at school. So, we know two languages – Bengali and English. But that’s not all. Here, most of the people are Muslims. Our holy scripture, the Quran, is created in Arabic. So, during our childhood, we learn Arabic to read the Quran. When I said, “we learn” – it means we can read them so we can read the Quran. We do not understand it. So, we understand the alphabets of a language, and thus can read it but don’t know the explanation of it. We memorize different verses from the Quran in Arabic. So, I recited some verses to them. The result was dangerous. They ceased speaking English with me and started to talk in their own language with me, the Arabic!
We got sat on the floor on a rug. I did not notice any chair or table in the dining room. It is a custom to dine on the floor. After a while, Ismael served us the dinner. Instead of having it on an individual plate, the family provided us with an enormous plate. It not surprised me as I learned about it before. It’s a culture in Arab to eat food together from a big plate. It increases bonding among the family members and teach them to share the foods. Instead of using cutleries, they use their hands to eat just like me. We started eating together.
There were lentils, baked bread, french fries, pumpkins, fresh cucumbers, and tomatoes. I started devouring the bread with lentils with them. I am not used to eating such big bread, and my host, being gracious enough, served a lot of them. I did not want to leave them disappointed; I tried to eat everything.
I had been dining in the restaurants since I landed in Egypt. I thought the food in Egypt means kebab of lambs, rabbits, and pigeons. Now, I realized what a typical family in the village of Egypt takes during their dinner. It’s modest but diverse from what I usually have.
We had a cheerful discussion and laugh together during dinner. It was me, Ismael, his two kids, and Marion. The clock didn’t stop ticking, and Ismael has to come back home after dropping me to my place. So, although I hated to leave, I had to.
I took some pictures with the Angels and with Ismael. I gave them Salam and left.
Will I ever meet them again in my life? Maybe, maybe not. However, I must tell, I was indebted to their generosities and hospitalities. Something I did not foresee in Egypt.
I ate more expensive, tastier and exquisite foods than what I had that day. I don’t remember about taking all of them. However, I will never forget the dinner I had that night.
It reminds me again that humans all over the world are kind-hearted. It doesn’t matter how different we look, which language do we speak, whatever we wear, deep beneath somewhere, we are all the same – friendly, kind, and mortal.
I experienced many wonderful places in Egypt, the only thing missing there was love. Egypt did not deprive me of it, too.
I found love in Egypt that night.