A Day To Remember
It was a hot afternoon on the last day of our trip in Egypt, and my friend and I were sitting hunched over inside an empty taxi, deep within the dangerous slums of Cairo – trying to avoid eye contact with any passerby on the streets – per the request of our local taxi driver.
This was during my week long trip to Egypt during spring break of my first MBA semester in 2010. One that I will always remember.
Throughout that week, we immersed ourselves in the full Egyptian experience. We travelled across the Nile on a river cruise, visited the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, and of course checked out the Great pyramids of Giza.
We smoke hookah on the city streets, devoured the Egyptian national dish of molokhiya, and experienced our taxi being checked for bombs – everytime we rolled into our Cairo hotel.
But that last day in Egypt will be the one that I will remember the most.
And it was mainly because of our taxi driver. For simple reasons, let’s just call him John. You see, prior to our experience with John, we encountered many other drivers during our trip, that kept us on the edge and gave us a bad impression of the locals.
One driver purposely dropped us off a couple blocks away from the Pyramids of Giza, trying to entice us to ride the camels, which are always a huge rip-off in Egypt.
We had another cab driver, who took us for a full-day trip from Cairo to Alexandria, and got pulled over by local police multiple times. Every time, we were the ones that paid the bill (not the driver).
But John, our driver for the last day, one whom we randomly picked out in the morning, was amazing.
Right off the bat, we could tell that he was genuinely excited and happy to service us. He talked about how he loved learning about America and practicing his English.
He chatted about anything he felt to be American - from baseball, to apple pie, to taking out his girlfriend to see Hollywood blockbuster movies.
That morning, he drove us to Dahsur, an ancient Egyptian city south of Cairo, home to some of the most unique pyramids you’ll ever see.
There was the “Red Pyramid” made originally of white limestone, but now a deep hue of red from the centuries of influence under the elements.
There was the “Step Pyramid”, shaped like steps from top to bottom.
And there was the “Slanted Pyramid”, which worked its way up like a regular pyramid, and then angles further in halfway up – giving it a very awkward looking shape.
As morning turned to afternoon, he drove us back to Cairo amidst the terrible street traffic, and took us on a taxi tour into the Cairo slums – partly because he needed to “drop something off” at his uncle’s place.
The Cairo slums were a dangerous place to be – in the day or in the night. And as my friend and I glanced out the window, we could see that this wasn’t exactly the nicest of neighborhoods.
Trash of all kind littered the narrow, unpaved, streets. We saw nothing but dirty, un-renovated sheds on both sides. And vendors barked at each other along the sidewalks.
Once John arrived at his uncle’s place he warned us specifically not to get out of the taxi, and to keep our heads down. He went one step further and mentioned that “it’s not the adults you need to worry about, but the kids”.
And with that, my friend and I looked at each other, nodded confusingly and crumpled as low as possible within our seats, as John got out and locked the door behind him.
After 10 to 15 minutes of tense waiting hunched over, we saw John eventually come back safe and sound, and even gave us Egyptian yogurt as a treat for good measure.
As night-time came, John took us on a walking tour of the Cairo city center, arriving at the beautiful Al-Azhar Mosque – located right next to Cairo’s premier Islamic learning university.
Before entering the mosque, the security guard sitting outside gave us a quick stink eye, and questioned John about my friend and I. Eventually, John convinced the guard to let us in and showed us around the mosque – which dates back all the way to the 15th century.
Immediately inside, we saw lines of people praying on their knees, in a beautifully carpeted room, supported by long wooden columns. And as we moved further inwards, we came across a huge open courtyard, with white marble flooring.
Above us was nothing but the clear night sky, and to the right were three beautiful minarets glistening next to street lights.
I took a look at my camera’s battery lights flickering, and quickly snapped a picture of the three minarets from the courtyard. Fittingly, it was the last picture I took on that trip before my camera ran out of batteries.
John finally drove us back to the airport and the taxi reached its final destination. The meter for the entire day read 420 Egyptian pounds (the equivalent of around 70 dollars).
My friend and I tipped John an extra 50%, and told him to treat himself and his girlfriend to a nice movie. Because he certainly deserved it. And with that, we bid our goodbyes to himself and to Egypt.
So whenever you have the opportunity, please remember that it’s always important to give a little bit of yourself to others. Because when you give a little, you have a big opportunity to affect other people’s lives for the better.
Just like how John - the Egyptian taxi driver - affected my life, and made my last day in Egypt, a true day to remember.