Just finished up watching Lawrence of Arabia and I just have to say it makes me long for the days we spent in northern Africa on our trips to Egypt and Tunisia. While I’m glad they are fighting for their freedom as they rightfully should, I can’t help but feel sad that I can’t pick up and go back. I hope that, in time, I’ll be able to take Maya to Egypt some day. I always think back to our taxi driver in Cairo, Mahmoud. He had two children and spoke often of them. He treated us like family for the week we were there. I don’t know if we would have made it without him. Being Bedouin, he did not want his picture taken so I only have a glimmer of a memory of his face. Hopefully he is safe and well.
I also think back to the young man who piloted our feluca one balmy night in Luxor. In the distance, past the trees lining the river, you could see the rocky valleys containing the tombs of pharaohs past. He told us about Luxor and where to go. But mostly, we just sat quietly and enjoyed the calm ride on the river as he navigated. We were only there for three days but we saw him every day. The last day we were there we had to leave very early and, yet, he still wanted to say goodbye. So, we met him at dawn and shared one last tea. Sunrise tea on the Nile. What a memory.
In Tunisia we had another taxi driver, Wahid. I think we got off to a little bit of a rocky start with some tense negotiations about price but in the end we walked away from Tunisia with a new friend. He took us to the glorious El Djem the first day. The second day was a marathon of sites to but he stuck it out and ferried us wherever we wanted to go. We had a life changing lamb feast outside of Medenine and at the end of the day he insisted we meet his family. Thankfully, he and his family have stayed in touch and we were able to contact them during the revolution there. Although we only met for a brief time, they are part of my worldly family.
I often dream about the places we visited in Egypt and Tunisia. They had a beauty all their own. There is something so amazing about the desert. The way it looks when the sun hits it at sunset. The way the rocks sound as you walk over them. The imposing dunes off in the distance. I remember driving to Dougga and seeing acres and acres of olive trees followed by the rocky expanse of the desert. It seems so forbidding to the naked eye. And yet, when you are there, life abounds. There is the clatter of metal trays carrying hot tea in glass cups. There are blessings of those you meet saying “Inshah’Allah we will see you again.” And, of course, there the are amazing edifices left over from a forgotten time.
It’s like being in another world. Sure there are things that can be annoying like the people wanting to “help” you or trying to navigate transportation when you can’t hope to speak the language. And, yet, there are moments when you forget everything. You forget your troubles and worries. It all melts away and you are just left with the desert and the quiet breeze. And most of all, the silence. It’s not like silence when you are in a big city and you relax. It’s a deep silence. A calming silence. The kind you don’t want to let go of. That’s what I miss the most.