First Class Train Cairo to Aswan

We spent the day ironically drinking alcoholic cocktails poolside as the boys relaxed and swam and ate.

The jet lag has truly set in, although excited, I am happy to sit back at our table and observe all the Egyptian families and the odd couple of European tourists swimming.

People make a day of it. They have their food, drinks, toys for the kids and hotly contest the sun loungers. Most of the loungers were ‘reserved’ by the time we poured out of breakfast at the hotel, ie hats and bags and towels sit on top saying ‘taken’.

It’s 2pm and the heat is oppressive, of course we did come at the hottest time of the year so no complaining, but I am happy to be covered up and sitting in the shade in the 40 degree heat.

Men sit smoking  sheesha..heard about it, had a desire to try it, but having given up smoking figured probably not a good idea. The pungent smell of scented tobacco and the sound of the water whirling at the base on each inhale is strangely hypnotic.

What time do we need to leave the hotel again tonight?

Mark sits back relaxed and looking immovable.

I think Ahmed said we have to leave here at 8pm bags all packed to get to the train station by 9 or so, you know the traffic.

It’s insane. Last night was bizarre, I’ve never seen so many cars on the road in every direction and not one traffic light!

I laugh. That’s what I like about Cairo, no nanny OSH state here. It’s every man for himself in this kind of organised chaos. But it kind of works..

I sip my daiquiri, still surprised perhaps naively you can get alcohol in Egypt, but I guess at a tourist hotel it’s different.

We are the constant subject of friendly stares and interest from all the Egyptians around us. I don’t feel uncomfortable, but it is odd to be of so much interest because of your skin and hair colour. Kind of reverse racism.

Our mini van threads its way through the cacophony of Cairo at night.

Where is Tahrir Square Ahmed?

Ahmed looks at me with some concern

Don’t worry, we are not going anywhere near there, we are going around it

I had studied a map of Cairo and its streets to understand where we were going.

Tahrir Square, isn’t that where everyone goes to protest the government? Jeff asks gingerly.

Yes, you know there is an election soon, and the parties are making statements, the military is closely involved in everything in Egypt he says cautiously.

Is it likely Morsi will get elected?

He’s the one from Muslim Brotherhood, Jeff notes

Ahmed says little, other than ‘I can’t tell the future my friend’ with a wide smile to change the subject he talks in rapid fire Arabic to a nearby security guard.

Here we stand at 9.50pm on the crowded, dirty platform of Cairo’s main train station; whatever few seats there are are already taken up by families and men or groups of women sitting together.

Everywhere I look there are food stalls, merchandise offerings, tourist items like camel key rings, sweets, some like the Greek sweets with pastry and honey. Others are biscuit types, exotic, different.

The boys look around somewhat overawed by the dirtiness of the station, the scale, the ‘oldness’ of it all. We look through Western eyes, so used to having everything either new, modern or refurbished, not in this state of perpetual decay and under funding.

Ahmed chats with Russell whilst I proprietorially hover around the boys. I am still not used to the staring which is undisguised and all this interest in us. Trying to melt into the background like a chameleon is not an option unless I wear a burqua which is probably not quite my style.

Eventually the train pulls up, I look at the dirty old exterior, it looks like it’s from the 1950’s.

img_sleeper-train-to-cairo-egypt

 

You can’t be serious! Jeff remarks as he sees the train.

This is the first class train Ahmed?

Ahmed laughs, Yes, Welcome to Egypt!

He flashes his brilliant smile, efficiently ushers our baggage to the handler and moves us to the front to get on the train in front of hustling women dressed head to toe in black. We are again the only Westerners I can see on the entire platform.

 

We enter into a dimly lit train with faded green lino on the floor that has clearly seen better days, and the smell of stale cigarette smoke, the corridor is lined with cabins, the numbers are in English and Arabic. The boys and I are starting to learn numbers and a couple look familiar.

Look Mum! Sebastian rushes into one of our rooms on the train, I feel a pang of disappointment..

This is first class? He appears to be in some shock, which I find amusing.

Oh how Western of you honey!

I laugh disparagingly to hide the exact same thought.

Ahmed laughs and says, well this train is due for a renovation, but in Egypt, you have to wait, everything is ‘bokrah’.

Bokrah? The word seems familiar to me, I try and scan the few Arabic words I have learnt

Tomorrow! Sebastian laughs.

Exactly my friend..tomorrow. Now look here, this door opens into the other sleeper.

The boys are distracted as they hurtle next door with Ahmed and start arguing about who will sleep where on the top bunk.

I look at Jeff and smile..Well this will be an adventure!

He laughs good naturedly, thank God he’s pretty laid back and doesn’t get stressed by these sorts of things.

We settle ourselves down and soon the train clatters into midnight. I grab the bottom bunk after having had a pretty poor meal of chicken and vegetables served to our room on a tray similar to  airplane food. I decide to stick with the juice.

I can smell cigarette smoke as men smoke further down the passageway at the junction between train cars. Here you can smoke pretty much anywhere I am still staggered to discover, it really is stepping back in time before any health and safety, nanny state interventions. It literally is every man and woman for him/herself. There’s something I like about that. You are responsible for your own life, and if you can’t manage, then the family will step in to help you.

There is a basin in the corner, I try to get to it between the ladder connecting up to Jeff’s bunk. The train lurches to the left for some reason and I twist awkwardly, trying not to let the bottle of water I have go flying.

I curse as I quickly scrub my teeth and rinse from the bottled water, I have it etched in my brain if I drink any water in Egypt I will likely die ha ha.

The boys have had it and are already in their bunks on their ipads. I kiss them good night and gently close the door between our cabins. I wonder irrationally if they will be safe on their own in there, but of course the door is locked and I remind them to open it to no one.

They look so young and innocent and I wonder what the hell I am thinking dragging two young children in primary school to an Egypt in apparent revolution.

What the hell have we gotten ourselves into Jeff?

Who knows? But it will be an adventure that’ s for sure.

I laugh. Good night.

I look through the pale olive thin venetian blind to the darkness out the window and the ubiquitous palm trees looming as we chug through the countryside. I wonder how long till we pass along the Nile, I have been studying the map with the boys.

I feel a strange sense of life will never be the same again, without any sense of logic as to why.

The train horn blows and we carry on into the night.

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