Goodbye from the Hotel Longchamps
Days Seventeen And Eighteen
by Jimmy Dunn
Yesterday was my last full day in Egypt. As some of our regular readers may have figured out by now, calling this "Days Seventeen and Eighteen" is not exactly accurate. I've been in Egypt almost three weeks now, and somewhere along the way, some days were lost. That happens in Egypt. Perhaps because Egypt is rather timeless, it is easy to loose track of time and indeed, somewhere I seem to have lost a few days.
This is a day of goodbyes; a day of sadness and of happiness. Leaving Egypt to me must feel similar to what a man feels with a familiar wife he loves, but also a beautiful mistress that he also loves. Every time I leave Egypt, I wish there was some way to pull her next to my home in Texas. Some of my best friends live in Egypt, but of course my wife, mother, daughters, and a grandson, and many other friends are in Texas. Its difficult and sad for me to leave Egypt, but I also look forward to getting home.
I began the day by visiting our partners in the Virtual Khan el-Khalili, and saying goodbye to Antoine Riad and his son Maged, along with Medhat and Samir, who have also become very good friends. We wrapped up a little business and then I met my Cairo manager, Ahmed. We headed to the Tour Egypt offices in Heliopolis, but along the way he had to show me a most amazing place. Here, in Cairo, is a Cactus farm, and I do not doubt its claims as being the largest in the world. It is run by a lady named Nawal who's husband, Tharwat, is an Egyptian Judge, and who travels about the world bringing back cacti from every region. Growing up in West Texas, I am not unfamiliar with cactus and in fact my wife and I have collected a few samples for our backyard. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and elsewhere in the states have many varieties of cactus, which many people transplant to home gardens.
But this place in modern Heliopolis was truly unique, and a nice find for my last day in Cairo. Furthermore, I found out that they ship all over the world, though I am not so sure about the US (I bet they will try). I found no email but there phone number in Cairo is 010 568 1917. Everywhere I looked there were cactus, with no two alike. This was really a showroom for their larger cactus farm elsewhere. Cairo is such a huge city, diverse in every way that a city can be, and one of the reasons I love it is that it so often offers up surprises.
After leaving the cactus farm, we finally arrived at Tour Egypt's office. There, for the first time, I met his assistant, and we visited for a brief time. I had to make a few purchases and together with Ahmed and his female assistant we, purchased a few things I would need for the trip home. This included a suitcase for the books that I purchased and some jewelry, of course, for my wife (sorry Joanie if the ring is not a surprise now). Later we had some ice cream at a very fine shop in Heliopolis, before heading to Ahmed's home to have, I think we called it, "a late lunch" with his family.
Many travel professionals who visit Egypt are pampered and coddled by the tour operators, and this is something that I have really always tried to avoid.
Though I most always can have a driver, I elect instead to take the black and white taxis and mostly do things on my own. I try to experience Egypt outside of the framework of organized tours because it is very easy for anyone to lay their money out and be ushered through Egypt by a good tour operator. I attempt to experience as much of Egypt and as many different flavors of Egypt as I can. But in having a late lunch with Ahmed's family I discovered something that I had missed.
Sure, almost every time I have traveled to Egypt, I have been invited to someone's home for dinner. I've written about the grand tables full of food, but frankly, because of my position, these dinners typically evolve into business discussions, if they are not planned that way from the outset. Most of the time, the women of the household are relegated to the Kitchen, and while I may briefly meet a wife, and sometimes the male children, rarely are daughters seen, and most of the time the male children are quickly ushered away to make way for business talk.
When I accepted Ahmed's invitation to dinner, my initial thought was, "oh well, another home dinner". Been there done that, but of course he is a friend and our manager in Egypt so I should accept the offer. I found out what I had been missing.
Ahmed's father had been a general in the Egyptian Army and was a commando who was wounded in action. Now he works as a manager in the Coke plant in Cairo. His mother is a high school physics teacher and it surprised me when both set down at the dinner table, together with Ahmed's younger brother. There we ate, while his youngest sister, actually a 20 year old young lady, hid in shyness around the corner in a hall. She was invited to the table, but would not come. At the time, I imagined her to be perhaps a preteen. However, after some time, Ahmed's other sister, who is 22 and is to be married in August, arrived home and perhaps this encouraged her little sister to finally join us. By then, the dinner was over, but with the women on one side of the room and the men on the other, we had a nice visit, with no talk of business. With the whole family present, what began as just one of many invitations to dinner I have had in Egypt became a joy. I had been intending to leave early so that I could say my goodbyes to other friends, but I ended up regretting that I could not have stayed for many more hours with this family.
Though neither of Ahmed's parents were fluent in English the kids interpreted, and loving the culture of Egypt, we were both curious about each other. I enjoyed meeting Ahmed's father, who's adventures were impressive, but I must admit that I particularly enjoyed his mother, who was so very, very warm and kind, and obviously devoted to her family and children. Talking about them lit her eyes up and animated her and it was clear that this was one of the most loving families I had every had the honor to visit. Everyone opened up, and I found myself wanting to stay longer and longer, as Ahmed's mother scolded my unmarried manager about wanting grandchildren. As the oldest son, she apparently thinks that its time he delivers! Finally, in a mad rush, Ahmed drove me back to the Hotel Longchamps where I had to retrieve my laundry from Canada Cleaners before they closed. I wanted to make one more stop at the AUC bookstore, but alas it was already closed.
Then it was farewells all around. Goodbye Stephen Harvey, who will undoubtedly someday earn a nickname for being such an open and sincere scholar. He was visiting with a Japanese Egyptologists named Manami Yahata and a "Travel producer", named Fumiaki Konno, who doesn't do films about Egypt but rather produces tours. I will miss you. I will miss the staff of the Hotel Longchamps, who coddle me whether I like it or not, and of course, I will miss Hebba; sophisticated, worldly, loving Hebba, who it is such an honor to call a friend. Medhat came latter, and only then did I really understand what a friend he had become, and how much I will miss him. He bought me some Arabic protestant Christian tapes that I had admired when we first got together in Cairo.
Regrettably, I did not get to meet with some of my very oldest friends in Cairo, due to my late arrival back at the hotel, so here I have to say goodbye to Diaa. I really believe that if the world were made up of Diaa's there would be no war, no suffering and no hardship. He is a gentle soul who I so much admire and who displays all the characteristics of the very best of the Egyptian people. Goodbye to Nancy, Diaa's good friend and an American who is "living her dream" in Egypt. And goodbye to Karen, who I have known from our BBS but only now have finally met in person, and to Gogo and some of the other gang who I had the misfortune to completely miss. Hoose, you are too busy and we should have had dinner and many more meetings, but goodbye for now and we will always be brothers. In leaving I find myself already planning my next return, because I love you all and the Egypt that I leave behind.
Sadly, this morning I awoke at 5:00 am and solemnly packed a few remaining items, knowing that it would be at least some months before I could see these good friends again. But the morning was not without adventure. Hebba supplied me with her driver who whisked me away to the airport at 6:15 for a 9:00 flight to New York. We arrived at Terminal One, where I and everyone else normally departs for New York at about 6:45. After arranging my baggage on a cart, he drove off and I headed into the terminal, as I have done many times before, and were I was now told no longer served the JFK flight. I would have to go to the "New Airport". I began to think of my options were I to miss the flight, which of course would have not been as bad as a more casual tourist. My primary concerns were how far this "New Airport" was from the old one and how I would pay a taxi driver, for my driver, who I had tipped most of the remainder of my Egyptian Pounds, had already left. Besides large American bills I only had a few dollars and a few pounds left. Luckily, the "New Airport was a terminal not too far away, and while the taxi driver took every advantage, charging me 20 pounds for what in Cairo would have been no more than a three pound ride, I actually overpaid by giving him four US dollars.
I made the airport in plenty of time, made the flight and now while most of the passenger sleep aboard EgyptAir's 777,, I say ma salaam once again to all of my friends, the Hotel Longchamps, Zamalek, Cairo and Egypt.
As a final note, and before I forget, there are several things that non-tourist class travelers need to know, or might be handy to know about EgyptAir's 777s. Certainly, the best service is in First Class, but to me the real advantage in such a long flight are the seats, which are a little wider than in Business Class. They consist of two rows with two seats to either side of the aircraft, and a center section with two seats. However, the first row of seats are far superior to the second row, which sits back against a wall. These seats have the ability to completely recline just about into a bed, with a lazy boy style footrest, which of course is very handy on an eleven hour flight. However, the customers in the back row don't exactly get their money's worth, because these seats are two near the wall to completely recline. Hence, if one is going to pay the price for first class, try by all means to get into the first row.
Business class, on the other hand, has a small surprise. While there is much more space then in tourist class, and the seats are larger, they do not recline very far, as in some European Airline business sections, and there are no foot rests as in First Class, EXCEPT in the first row. However, even in the first row, these footrests do not rise very far, unless you know a little trick that was taught to me by an aging and very king stewardess. In fact, if the business class is relatively empty, for the price of a business class ticket one can just about have the comfort of First Class. Within the compartment that houses the pull-out table, there is a small switch inside at the back. By lifting up on this switch, one can manually raise the footrest, and providing that no one is in the seat in the next row back, one can also push back while holding this switch so that the seat takes almost a completely reclined position, making into a bed. The seats to either side of the aircraft are better than the center seats because there is slightly more leg room. Most stewards and stewardess will not even acknowledge the existence of this switch, but provided that its use does not inconvenience fellow passengers, they usually will say nothing if it is employed. For this reason, the very best situation is to obtain the first row window seat, as otherwise it might block a fellow passenger from leaving his or her seat.
As a final note, I would like to thank the Holiday In Martinique in Manhattan. I am uploading from here after the long flight, and they have been very accommodating to a tired old traveler trying to get a story on-line after a very long day. Thanks Linda, for keeping the business center open a little later than normal.