Friday, February 12: I arrive in Cairo in mid-afternoon and have to go through an extensive customs inspection because I am carrying two huge suitcases for my upcoming year in Korea. It takes quite some time for them to inspect my luggage; they ask me why I’m carrying so much for a 4-day stay. I explain that this is just a stopover on my way to work in Korea for a year. I’m worried Ahmed will grow impatient with the delay and will give up waiting for me.
I’m also nervous that Ahmed won’t turn out to look like he does in his photos and on the webcam; I’m also afraid I won’t recognize him in person. Another thing is his voice. When I’ve spoken to him on Skype or by phone, I didn’t think his voice matched his body and face; it was so quiet and soft-spoken, even slightly effeminate, while he looks like he’s a bit of a tough guy, especially in one video he sent of himself working out at the gym. But as I pull my two stuffed suitcases into Arrivals, I pass all the waiting Egyptians, searching for his familiar face. Only when I reach the end of the line of people do I see him standing off to the side by himself, his arms crossed over his chest, smiling away at me.
It’s a little awkward meeting for the first time someone who you have chatted with extensively every day for months. I have developed feelings for him online and so of course I’m afraid he won’t like what he sees. I’m also afraid I won’t like him in person. But I find he looks just like his photos. He’s wearing glasses and a lopsided grin and he gives me a big hug. Then we go out to get into his decrepit Volkswagen; it’s quite stuffed with junk and we have a hard time fitting both of my suitcases in the car.
As we drive along, he tells me I’m much better in person than in my pictures, though he’s always loved my pictures. I feel relieved, but also a little awkward around him. He is also better in person, with his charm and cute sense of humor. Surprisingly, he also seems quite serious, which is so different from the impression he gave in our chats.
It turns out he has found an apartment to rent outside of the city. The apartment doesn’t have a doorman, which is the reason he rented it. Inside it’s fully furnished but rather shabby. The kitchen looks much like the kitchen in our Muquttum apartment when I was studying Arabic at Al-Azhar University in 2007. It’s just full-out disgusting. Oh well, hopefully we won’t stay much in this dump of a place.
We put my bags into the apartment and go out to grab some chicken schwarma for dinner. We take a drive through parts of Cairo where Ahmed shows me one of the hospitals where he works. Then we come back to the apartment and relax and talk. It’s so lovely to finally meet him. Since I missed out on arriving here Thursday night and having the whole of Friday to spend with him, I won’t have much time with him. He will have to go to work tomorrow and I’ll have to find something to do to occupy myself during his long workday.