Monday, July 23: This morning, I wake up in a different hotel than the one where I slept last night, and I wonder where on earth Basim is. I try to relax and just wait to hear from him, hoping he is okay. Finally, he calls from his hotel and asks me to meet him outside my hotel with my bag at 9 a.m. After last night’s fiasco, I am anxious to get out of Alexandria.
Basim pulls up to the curb, opens his trunk and puts my bag in the trunk. I hop in the front passenger seat of his old Mercedes. As he pulls away from the curb, a policeman standing a few yards along the sidewalk motions for him to pull over. He asks to see Basim’s driver’s license and then walks around to the front and the rear of the car to inspect his license plates. He is pointing and gesturing and speaking animatedly in Arabic. The policeman proceeds to cite him because his license plate has white letters on a black background rather than the “required” black letters on a white background. He takes Basim’s driver’s license away from him and then dismisses us summarily.
I’m more than a little baffled by this, as is Basim, since the license plates on his car were issued by the Cairo government in the first place. How can the color of the lettering and the background be wrong?
Basim believes, and I agree, that the police pulled him over and charged him with a bogus violation simply because he picked me up near the door of the hotel. I’m a Westerner and a woman, and for an Egyptian man, that is simply not acceptable.
So. Basim has to head to the police station to sort out this business because he cannot drive all the way back to Cairo without his driver’s license. He cannot take another day off work to come back to Alexandria. So he drops me off near the little cafe where I sat yesterday and takes off to the police station. When he leaves, I have no idea how long he will be.
This is where I sit, sweating and dripping for an hour or more in the damp oppressive air of Alexandria, Egypt.
After more than an hour, I get bored of sitting here, so I decide to take a walk down the corniche. I take some pictures of some colorful fishing boats.
I walk past the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, an historic mosque. It was built primarily in 1775 over the tomb of a Spanish scholar and saint, Abu El Abbas El Mursi (1219-86), and stands on Mosque Square overlooking the eastern harbor.
The cream-colored Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque stands 23 m high, with a minaret on the southern side rising to 73 m. Situated near the shore of the eastern harbor, the mosque and its neighbors can be clearly seen from the sea. The minaret has an Ayoubids design, with four sections of different shapes. The main part of the mosque is an octagon, with internal walls are dressed in artificial stone except for a 5.6 m-high mosaic (Sacred Destinations: Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, Alexandria).
After my walk, I return to the cafe along the corniche and sit some more. When all is said and done, Basim has been gone for four hours!!
Upon his return, he tells me there were hordes of people at the police station and it took him forever to sort out the matter. I am so hot, damp and miserable from this debacle that I’m ready to return to Cairo. We begin our long drive back to the capital city.
As we’re driving down the highway in Basim’s old Mercedes, we suddenly hear a loud clatter and the sound of metal dragging along the road. Basim gets out of the car to inspect. He finds his exhaust pipe has broken and is dragging along the road. He spends a great deal of time trying to rig it back up so that we can make it back to Cairo. After he finally does this, we head down the road again. There is so much tension in the air coming from Basim, I feel certain I couldn’t even cut through it with a chain saw.
Trying to lighten the atmosphere a bit, I say, “See what happens when you get involved with an infidel? You’re being punished because of being with me.” Of course I’m joking. However, he, dead serious, says, “Yes, you’re right.” And then he continues to drive in determined silence. This infuriates me and I say, “I was joking, you know.” He doesn’t laugh but continues to stare ahead. I am by this time about to boil over, but I determine that I won’t speak to him the rest of the trip. I simply sit and stare out the window with total absorption, as if he doesn’t exist in the car beside me.
When we get back to Muquttum, he drops me at my apartment building with hardly a word. What a weekend! A fiasco of epic proportions.
After getting settled in to our Muquttum apartment, I head downstairs where I write this email to R:
Hello dear R,
I have returned from my adventure in Alexandria. It was a fiasco of such grand proportions that it can only be told in person, over a glass of wine, at the Tavern on the Lake at Lake Anne. Suffice it to say that it was surreal, not unlike far-fetched things I’ve seen in movies. You simply will not believe it.
But that’s all on that for now. I don’t think I will be seeing Basim again as I believe he thinks Allah is punishing him for seeing an infidel. I think he’ll be afraid to get anywhere near me ever again.
I hope you are well. I totally wasted both days of my weekend sleeping and studying (Fri and Sat). Sunday and Monday of course I went to Alexandria. It’s quite lovely, like a sad version of Nice, right on the Mediterranean. Women were bathing in their hijabs and long gelabayas.
I am so sick of being hot and sweaty; I am now taking 2 showers a day as it is so miserable. I think I’m going to go somewhere tonight with Abdul Basit, one of the Muslims in our group. I think he needs to get away from the more serious Muslims. And I need to get my mind off of the happenings in Alexandria.
So, I hope you haven’t deserted me. Since I haven’t heard from you, I have to wonder. Maybe I am a hopeless cause. All I know is I am dying to see you in another week and all I can hope is that you feel the same. I have so much to share with you. I hope you will find me a changed person; I don’t know if it will be evident. Of course, I have to face the reality of my life upon my return.
Take care and write soon,