I am taking an undergraduate English unit for funzies, and this week I had to write a story about a character travelling to a place for the first time and experiencing a change or realisation by the end of the story.
Of course I have written a story about myself, and my first night in Cairo, when I fainted and vomited on the floor of a dingy bathroom in a dingy pharmacist somewhere in Cairo. I have included a photo of myself at the end of this adventure, not feeling so hot.
Liesel has been quietly excited about her trip to Egypt since she got the email that she was accepted on the dig. An archaeological dig in Egypt! She hadn’t even graduated yet! In hindsight she would realise that anyone with the $5,000 participation fee was readily accepted onto the field school, and that this money made up a large part of any field school’s funding. Still, she had squirrelled away the $5,000, and the money for the plane as well, and a few hundred for spending. Overall, about a third of her yearly income.
While the archaeologists arrived from all over the world, the excavation put everyone up in a hotel near the airport. It was air conditioned and comfortable, but Liesel wouldn’t be touching the tap water! She was to share a room with the only Egyptian student on the dig. Her name was Hala and she was just the right amount of Egyptian to whet Liesel’s appetite. Born and raised in Cairo, she was studying in America now, and was thoroughly westernised. Egyptian, but not too Egyptian. Hala invited Liesel to meet her friends for dinner, she was getting picked up in 15 minutes. Feeling brave, Liesel decided this was an incredible opportunity to see some of Egypt that tourists wouldn’t usually see, with a real Egyptian. Besides, as a foreigner, with her long blonde hair, Liesel would doubtless be a big hit amongst Hala’s friends.
They alternately sped and shuffled through Cairo’s streets until pulling up at an Italian restaurant. They talked about the Egyptian revolution along the way, Hala’s friend Khaled (Liesel had to have his name repeated to her several times, and settled on calling him Hairnet) had protested and had been knocked unconscious during the big revolution. He had woken up with strangers, fearing for his life, but instead had found himself with the local mechanic applying ice to his head. Liesel was disappointed, it was kind of an anticlimactic story, especially for the facebook status update she was planning for when she got back to the hotel wifi. She had also wanted a photo of some authentic Egyptian food and was a little disappointed with the Italian restaurant. But considering how delicate her stomach was feeling from the flight and lack of sleep, she decided the authentic Egyptian food could wait.
On the way back to the hotel, Hala was getting worried about her gum, which had been bleeding since dinner. She had just had braces put on and they had been troubling her. Liesel was not surprised, how good could Egyptian dentistry possibly be? Hala wanted to stop at a pharmacy to ask for advice. Liesel insisted that it would stop bleeding soon and they should go back to the hotel. Hairnet said he knew a pharmacy nearby. Liesel desperately pointed out that it was getting late and it would be shut. Hairnet said it would be open. Liesel started to panic. She didn’t want to leave the car or stay in the car, she was running out of options.
They pulled up and all trooped into the tiny pharmacy. Liesel noted that they kept shampoo in locked glass cabinets along with the drugs while everyone else talked in Arabic about Hala’s gum. Did they think shampoo was dangerous? She suddenly became aware of everyone looking at her and held her breath. Maybe they hadn’t been talking about Hala’s gum, maybe they were discussing how much Liesel and her blonde hair would fetch on the black sex market, or wherever Egyptians sold people. She was going to get raped and murdered and cut into little pieces, she would never see her friends or family again, all because she wanted to be friends with a real Egyptian, how could she have been so reckless!?
“Liesel, the pharmacist says Hala should look at her gum in the bathroom out the back, you have to go with her” explained Hairnet.
“Out the back? Out the back where? Why do I have to go? You go, she’s your friend.”
“I can’t be alone in a bathroom with her, we’re not married, somebody has to make sure she’s OK.”
What a ridiculous culture. Liesel squeezed into the dingy little bathroom behind Hala, who was holding her mouth wide open, inspecting her gum. Liesel looked around in distain. This Egypt was a little too real. She wondered if they’d make it back to the hotel in time to leave for the pyramids in the morning. She ached to do touristy things with tourists. Liesel glanced at Hala’s reflection in the mirror, half-heartedly doing her job of making sure everything was OK. Hala’s mouth, pulled forcefully into a wide grin, was full of blood. All her teeth were red.
Liesel opened her eyes, her hip hurt from where she had hit the toilet on her way down. Hairnet was leaning over her with tissues, “Are you OK?” Someone had vomited on her. She recognised the pasta she had for dinner all down her skirt. She gratefully took the tissues from Hairnet, wiped up as much vomit as she could and flushed them. “No!” Hala and Hairnet cried in unison, “you can’t flush toilet paper in the toilet!” Liesel shut her eyes, wishing to be anywhere else, anywhere where toilet paper could go in the toilet. She didn’t even want to ask where you could put toilet paper. “It’s OK, we just won’t tell the pharmacist.” Hairnet suggested. “We’d better get you two to a clinic, there’s a free one not far from here, it’s open all night.”
No. Absolutely not. Liesel was not going to a free clinic in Cairo. She had experienced free clinics back home in Australia, and they were dodgy at the best of times, she couldn’t even begin to imagine the horrors of a free clinic in Cairo. She suggested that Hairnet drop her at the hotel, and then take Hala to the clinic if she wanted to go. Hairnet dithered. The hotel was far from the clinic, he had to take Hala first, but he couldn’t leave Hala at the clinic by herself, and he couldn’t leave Liesel by herself, but on the other hand, he couldn’t be alone with either of them. He needed them to stay together. Liesel put her foot down, she had to think of her own safety. She was tired, she smelled and she had had enough Egypt for one day.
They compromised. Hairnet and Liesel escorted Hala into the free clinic until she was safely in the doctor’s office. This involved waiting for an eternity in the waiting room, with the who’s who of the lower echelons of Cairo staring at Liesel, blonde, groggy and stinking of vomit.
Hairnet reluctantly took Liesel back to the hotel. She insisted on sitting in the back. He was now a threat. She was happy to be dropped at the door, but Hairnet insisted on walking her to her room. They both insisted. This was it, rape, murder, cut into tiny pieces, after the evening she had just survived! In the elevator Liesel tried to think of ways to defend herself against his attack. He opened the door for her, ushered her in, and hoped she would feel better in the morning.
Liesel felt horrible. She already had the hotel kettle in her hand, ready to hit him over the head with. Hairnet said he would send her a facebook friend request and started to walk away.
He turned, worried, probably thinking about how he had to get back to Hala before her consultation was finished.
“Hairnet, how do you spell your name? So I know it’s you when I get the friend request.”
“K-h-a-l-e-d.” He said, smiling.
“Oh..! It’s Khaled, I couldn’t tell with your… I mean in English we would say it more like… um, anyway, thanks for your help tonight, sorry if I stunk out your car!”