As the afternoon wound down, we made our way back to the city of Luxor and found ourselves seated in a small cafe promising to offer us ‘Local prices. No big prices for tourists” Sold. Three orders of Koshari, please. We were looking forward to a full bowl of noodles, fried onions, garbanzo beans, rice, tomatoes and spices as our final meal in what was once Egypt’s Ancient City of Thebes.
Joining the clean plate club was much harder than any of us imagined, despite it being the day’s only true meal. Each of us left with full bellies and a look of amazement as our bill was set on the table: 10 Egyptian pounds each. Less then $1.50 USD for all that! We were promised to be charged the local price, and though I can’t read Arabic letters I can read Arabic numbers. Without a doubt, every menu item was less than 8 pounds, meaning we were in fact charged an inflated price. But honestly, who can complain about a meal being too expensive when already the price is less than a cup of coffee back home?
While shoveling in each last noodle and onion, we exchanged stories and the beauty of traveling relationships unfolded amongst us. The American was next traveling to Jordan. The Aussie was off to India. And I would soon be heading back to Kuwait. Each of us offered the others advice about his or her next destination.
As conversations progressed, we discovered that while the two of them had arrived together on the same overnight train to Luxor, the Aussie and I would both be departing to take that night’s train to Cairo. Knowing that they’d both experienced the joys of train travel in Egypt, I shared with them my experience on the way down to Luxor from Cairo. Boarding the train at 11pm, I had set my backpack on the floor in front of my seat, swung my legs over the top, and covered myself and it with a blanket in preparation for the night’s travel. Just as I got comfortable, two men approached me and asked for my passport in English. I glanced at them without speaking, and questioned their authority with only a look of rude speculation. A collection of four letter words ran through my mind as one of them pulled back his coat to reveal of gun tucked away in a belted harness. So many had warned about traveling to Egypt alone and I figured this was exactly the reason why. I kept quiet and turned away. Onlookers’ eyes darted between me and the men yet no one said anything. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” I thought. I expected someone would say something to them – they’d just showed me their gun! I glared when they repeatedly asked to see my passport and tried to comfort me by saying, “We’re here to help you if you need anything. Just let us know.”
Too many times I’ve heard of similar situations: men acting macho to gain the trust of women. I shot one more look in their direction, the best scowl I could muster without making eye contact, and covered my head. Walking away, the men verbally came to an agreement that I was Russian and just couldn’t understand English. With my head covered, my mind raced over possible scenarios that might play out throughout the night. I barely slept, and when I did was quickly greeted by the gun carrying man, who again tried to tell me he was here to protect me. “Liar,” I thought. Turns out, through sharing my story with Mr. American and Ms. Aussie, the same thing had happened to them. My heart began to unclench as they told me this. Egyptian trains do in fact hire undercover tourist police to help out as needed. I laughed but wanted to cry. Why hadn’t anyone told me that before? My how things would have been different! Well, now we know, and it was just in time to take another Egyptian night train, this time heading in the opposite direction.
That night, as I boarded the train to Cairo, I was again approached by two men offering their help. While I still didn’t speak in English to them, I calmly responded “Shukran” and sat in my seat for a peaceful night’s journey back to the big city.