3am. My eyes open to an unfamiliar ceiling, and in the darkness I blindly salvage the little of what’s left of my short term memory. I glance around: I think I’m in Cairo. Memories slowly reemerge to prove that I’m not merely dreaming. The echoes of last evening’s adhan still reverberate within the space between my ears.
5 days ago, I made a bet with 2 friends that I would join them on a last minute trip to Egypt, on the condition that we could find roundtrip tickets less than a ridiculously low amount. I was half-serious about going; the serious part was realizing I hadn’t used any of my vacation days all year and I was about to let them go to waste, the non-serious part was that we all knew that flight prices were around $3000 at the time. But I joked that if I found tickets less than a third of that by the time they left, I would go.
To make a long story short, I checked the prices on a whim a few hours later: $650 roundtrip. Damn.
Within less than 72 hours I was on a plane to Amman, Jordan to catch a flight to Cairo.
When I landed in Cairo, I paid the $15 visa-on-arrival and was greeted by my friends who had arrived in earlier. One of them showed off his new tattoo he had just got on the trip. The other wanted me to meet her cousins from Egypt. My senses were assaulted; I still was overwhelmed by the fact I had agreed to this trip in the first place. After eating a small dinner, they told me to sleep in a little while giving me directions to meet them at the back of the Oberoi Hotel in Giza by 4am. Like I knew what that meant at the time.
After being dropped off at a random hostel I sat down in my new bed and passed out.
3am. In Cairo: I wake up and we’re back to where we left off.
We quickly gathered our stuff and snuck out into the darkness of the city.
We found a lonely cab and made our way from Tahrir Square to Giza in 20 minutes. We then walked to the back of the hotel as directed and then met up with the rest of my friends. From there we approached a group of bedouins, a predominantly desert-dwelling Arabian ethnic group who live off-the-grid in Egypt.
And they happen to own a couple of horses:
I asked for one of their horses. They in return asked if I’ve ever rode one before.
I lied: “of course!”
And with a sound of a whip breaking through the cold air, my life would change forever. My horse raced off and so did my heart, and I held on for dear life. The poor bastard I was sitting on was galloping away as if we were trying to outrun a jaguar: we were outrunning fate. From the sound of crackling pavement to that of rustling sand, I slowly caught on that I was in the middle of the Sahara desert: Just my horse and I in the blind.
The darkness also overwhelmed me; I couldn’t see anything but the color black under a cloudy night sky. I’m not sure if I could brag that “I was riding that horse with my eyes closed!” but this was close enough. And I knew in my bones that if I had let go for a second, I’d fall and break something: my camera, my limbs, my head, my dignity. So I held tighter. I channeled prior experience on riding mechanical bulls back home. It seemed as if every gallop would be the last thing I would ever hear. I remember there was a little voice in my head telling me that I *really* wasn’t in New York anymore (a little slow, a little late).
Then with a high-pitched whistle in front of me I saw a fire burn in the distance. Shadows in the light of the fire pointed. I turned my head over my shoulder:
As if the muezzins were telling me to look alive, the morning adhan was beginning to resonate among the distant city lights of Cairo. The sun was beginning to rise.
Best bet I ever lost.
We would watch the rest of the sunrise at the bedouin encampment, enjoying shisha and hot tea with them as we communicated with them in smiles and appreciation.
They made us some breakfast. We wouldn’t care what we were eating at this point.
After an hour relaxing at their camp we got back on our horses and rode towards the pyramids.
A word of warning, though, The Sphinx is actually much smaller than you may have been led to believe.
The Pyramids themsleves, however, won’t disappoint.
Take it all in. You’re here.
And those were just my first 12 hours in Cairo. Little did I know that a life-changing surprise was about to befall me. . . .
. . . In the meantime, I’ll break off with a tangential story on my flight out of NYC to Amman:
While on my transatlantic flight to Jordan, we experienced a minor scare where one of the passengers was suffering from what seemed to be a heart attack. They were about to turn the plane around until 2 retired nurses and myself (2 years of emergency medicine volunteering counts!) offered our assistance. His eyes were rolled back, he was unresponsive and he seemed to be semi-conscious. We gave him some aspirin and as we prepared the onboard defibrillator, he immediately awoke and reassured us that he was feeling much better. He could not remember anything.
Whether it was low blood sugars, a seizure, a vasovagal response, or some cardiopulmonary event, he ended up being okay for the rest of the flight; I offered to sit next to him and measure his blood pressure every 30 minutes while forcing myself to stay awake by watching He’s Just Not That Into You twice. In return I was offered my choice of unlimited caffeinated beverages. I guess that’s when I realized I wanted to be a doctor.
- At time of posting in Cairo Airport, it was 18 °C - Humidity: 63% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clouds and visibility OK