second day in cairo: lunch with a flight steward from egypt air, whirling dervishes & a nightmare in al azhar hospital

Saturday, February 13:  Today, Ahmed has to go to work.  He drops me in an area of Cairo called Zamalek, near a phone store so I can get a SIM card with an Egypt number.   After, I walk around the neighborhood and take some pictures.

Zamalek is an affluent, and exclusive district of central Cairo encompassing the northern portion of Gezira Island in the Nile River.   The island is connected to the river banks with three bridges each on the east and west sides of the island.  (Wikipedia: Zamalek).

hot and sultry Cairo

hot and sultry Zamalek in Cairo

view of the Nile

view of the Nile

Streets of Cairo

Streets of Zamalek in Cairo

Streets of Cairo


the Nile

the Nile

I text Alaa, the Egyptian flight attendant I met on my Egypt Air flight, asking him if he’d like to meet for lunch in Zamalek.  I’m surprised that it’s so hot and sultry in Cairo in early February, and, when Alaa arrives,  I’m even more surprised that he is wearing a heavy wool sweater.  He is very serious and it is quite awkward to be around him.  Of course I keep thinking of Ahmed and wishing he wasn’t at work.    He walks with me to the Cairo Marriott Hotel, where we sit and talk for a bit in the lobby.  Alaa wants me to spend more time with him, but I get bored and impatient quite quickly and tell him I have to go to meet Ahmed.

After I leave Alaa, I find an internet cafe, where I write to two of my girlfriends back home, regarding Ahmed:  He’s very sweet.  In person, his voice doesn’t bother me at all.  He’s much more shy in person than in his chats; that takes a little getting used to.  He really is so sweet and is looking out for me so nicely.  He’s also very serious and prone to long political, historical (Arab world), and religous discussions.   I’m very attracted still, but I’m also having a little trouble reconciling his playful chat self with his real shy and serious self.  I’ll write more later; my time is running out..

When Ahmed gets off of work, he picks me up near the Egyptian Museum and we head out to do various things in the city.  It turns out to be quite a traumatic night.

Ahmed and I are exhausted, him from work and me from jet lag, etc.  After work he drives me out to a new city where his family has a house under construction.  We go to a papyrus gallery where I end up buying a beautiful papyrus to take home.

We then drive into the Khan al Khalili Bazaar area where we get stuck in sweltering traffic for nearly 2 hours.  During this whole time, I have to go to the bathroom desperately but there is nowhere for me to get out and go and no possibility of escaping the traffic jam.  I’m sweating and miserable, and more than a little panicked, until we finally are able to escape the traffic jam a bit and find a bathroom in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

We then head to the Citadel to see the Whirling Dervish show.  At the show, Ahmed, keeps falling asleep; I say, come on let’s go home, I’m tired too.  But he keeps saying,  No!  I think he is just being determined that I should see the whole show from beginning to end.  But every time he says that, he falls back to sleep. When the concert is over,  I can’t get him up.   He is all groggy and losing his balance and I have no idea what is wrong with him.  I lead him outside and keep asking him what’s wrong, but he can’t say; he is out of it and disoriented.   I make him sit at a cafe, and he falls asleep again.  I hail a taxi to take us to the nearest hospital, Al Azhar Hospital, which is horrible.  The sheets on the bed are disheveled and filthy.   The doctors (if you can call them that) listen to his heart and take his blood pressure.  They say he is “well;  it must be a psychic event.”  This is the only doctor who speaks English.  I am terrified.  Ahmed is curled on the bed in a fetal position.  I look on his phone and try to call one of his family members, but I don’t recognize any names except Sophia, his sister.  I call and try to tell her what’s going on, but we can’t understand each other.

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes

Finally, I call Basim, the neurosurgeon I met when I was in Cairo in July 2007, and the docs tell him in Arabic that Ahmed is fine, it is a” psychic event.”  Basim wants to come pick me up immediately, but I don’t want to leave Ahmed.  Though I know the address of the flat,  I have no idea how to get there.  Also, he has a lot of keys in his pocket and I don’t know which is the key to the flat.  I keep crying and I have no idea what to do.  I can’t leave Ahmed because my two bags for my whole year in Korea are in the flat and I don’t want to lose them.  Finally, after a couple of hours, Ahmed finally starts regaining awareness. He wanders to a little juice shop and buys a bag of oranges and starts eating them one right after the other.

When he finally becomes more aware and coherent, which is still some time after he eats the oranges, he explains that he was having a diabetic attack.  He is diabetic and takes insulin every day.  I don’t know if I should believe him because the doctors kept saying it was a “psychic” event.  He begins to seem more normal.  We seek out the car and when we finally make our way out of the chaotic city, Ahmed drives us like a maniac back to the flat.  When we finally return, he shows me the kit he uses to give himself insulin.  The whole night is incredibly traumatic.  I am so upset and afraid because I didn’t understand what was happening.

Back at the flat, we talk and talk, and I begin to feel more comfortable with him.  I can’t help thinking during all of this night’s fiasco that he is trying to scam me in some way, but I can’t figure out how he stands to benefit in any way from this incident!

The Whirling Dervish show was fabulous, except for the fact that when this evening was said and done, I felt like a Whirling Dervish myself.


Filed under Cairo, Citadel, Egypt, Khan el-Khalili, Middle East, Whirling dervishes, Zamalek

7 responses to “second day in cairo: lunch with a flight steward from egypt air, whirling dervishes & a nightmare in al azhar hospital


    LOVE the Whirling Dervish!


    We are brave women! Let’s be positive in hind sight !

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