Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Around the World: Welcome to Cairo

February 21, 1992

I discovered the airport coach to Delhi International Airport.  While I am waiting for the bus to arrive, I hear the same familiar voice that has become a stay of comic relief through my last days in India.

"Can you spare 5 rupees?"  I don't know what this guy's purpose in India is, but he always seems to appear when my last bit of patience is teetering on the edge of the shredder.  In a few hours, I'll have no use for Indian rupees and to be honest, I kind of admire his persistence.

"Here," I say, handing him a 20 rupee bill, "It's all I have left."  He thanks me with a blessing of peace and safe travels before leaving.  In a way, he is India anthropomorphized.  Brightly coloured, distracting, respectful, unrelenting, sincere, annoying, introspective, unpredictable, benevolent, bizarre, and for the most part, harmless.

Shortly after the bus was loaded and driving toward the airport, I look out the window to see Delhi and India for the last time and find the bus is being followed by naked man riding a large white horse.  What strikes me as odd is the fact that I don't find this spectacle at all strange.  This is India.  Strange is what she does best, and she does it very well.

The public area of the airport has the typical covering of perma-grime on everything.  It doesn't matter how often surfaces are treated with soapy water, they remain permanently dirty.  Much like the state I am in currently.  I wonder if I'll ever be clean again.  Nothing to do but try to stay awake until 3:30 am, when I can check in.

Once through security, the condition of the airport changes dramatically.  Surfaces are sparkling and reflective.  After scrubbing my hands to a tolerable state of sanitary, I bought a samosa and the largest coffee I could find.  I sat down on a very comfortable padded bench to eat my snack, and promptly fell asleep.

I am stirred into a disoriented state of consciousness by a sari-clad airport employee shaking my shoulder, calling me by name.  When I acknowledge that she has indeed found who she was looking for, she says in a panicked tone, "You're flight is leaving!"

Now I remember what I was doing!  I grab my bag and run after the woman.  She hurries me through security and to the plane.  Despite my late arrival, the stewardesses are exceptionally kind to me.  In Muscat, Oman, the passengers are led down a portable staircase, across the taxiway and up another staircase to another plane bound for Bahrain.  I got to see the inside of the airport in Bahrain before boarding the flight to Cairo.


While in the queue for immigration, I am told I need a Visa to enter Egypt by a plain clothed man approaching various people in line.  He asks for $15USD and hands me a red postage-type stamp to put in my passport.  The immigration official stamps it and welcomes me to Egypt.  Outside the airport, I find a taxi and ask the driver if he knows where the New Moon Hotel is.

"Oh yes, I know it well." I said a little prayer, and got in the car. 

The driving is very civilized, and true to his word, the driver knew exactly where he was going.  On arrival, the driver opens the door for me and helps me with my backpack to the lobby of the hotel.  When I complete the check in process, the hotel clerk asks me for my passport.  It is law, he explains, to register all tourists with the police.  It will be returned to me tomorrow morning.  Skeptical, I hand the clerk my passport.  I already have a photocopy in my money belt and the address of the Canadian Embassy, should it not be back in my hands tomorrow morning.

The hotel clerk leads me to the elevator, the kind where you have to shut the door yourself and hold the button until you arrive.  Deja-vu.  This elevator is very familiar.

On the second floor, he shoves the elevator door open, revealing a dark hallway.  Only one light in the distance flickers with the intermittent buzz of flowing current.  This isn't going to end well.

He guides me down the hallway to my room.  Oh, no... oh good lord, no.  He opens the door.  I close my eyes, expecting the disappointing sight of a concrete slab, covered by a thin white mattress.  Bravely, I peek out of one eye.  Inside, it's dark.

The urge to turn and run is overwhelming, but I muster up enough bravery to actually see the room before I panic. This is so much like Bombay.  Too much like Bombay.  Please don't let anything scatter, wriggle or move when...

... the light turns on.

I gasp so loudly, it startles the clerk.  "Is everything okay?"  He doesn't realize that this room is the equivalent of paradise.

The room is huge!  Tastefully decorated like grandmother's bedroom.  The queen-size beds require a running leap to get into!  The clerk pulls back the curtain to reveal french doors that lead to a balcony, overlooking a sun drenched, city view of Cairo.

The room is absolutely perfect, but what I want most of all is in the bathroom.  The massive shower is well stocked with towels.  The second the hotel clerk leaves the room, I turn on the shower and step into the stall, fully clothed.  Wonderful, blistering hot water falls from the over-sized shower head.  The water going down the drain is black.

Happiness consumes me and I cannot control the overwhelming urge to sing.

• ¤ •

"I'm singin' in the rain, 
Just singin' in the rain,
What a glorious feeling, 
I'm happy again....
...I have a smile on my face.
I'll walk down the lane, 
With a happy refrain
Just singin', singin' in the rain."
~Singing In The Rain, lyrics by Arthur Freed

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