I arrived in Egypt on four hours of bad sleep. I had slept a couple of hours pulling two couch-like chairs together at Starbucks in the Amman Airport and I slept a little on the plane. I was preparing to navigate the Cairo Taxi system when an accented English voice asked me if I was here for the Arab Organization of Disabled People’s Conference (“AODP”). His name was Darryl, Australian and from Handicap International. The HI people had a driver and offered to drop me off at my hotel “Happy City.” The people working there did not look particularly happy. And no wonder when I tried to use the toilet there was a metal tube sticking out of the middle of it. It definitely made me unhappy until I bent it out of the way.
I tried to nap for an hour or so, but it seemed crazy to be in Cairo and sleeping. So in uncharacteristic Tiana fashion, I decided to see if I could figure out where I was going for the conference the next day. The conference was at the Arab League of Nations in Tahir Square, the same square that houses the famous Egyptian museum. It took me about 45 minutes to find the square. When I thought I had found the Arab League of Nations, the guard told me there were two, the old and the new. I gave up and decided to try and find the Cosmopolitan Hotel where Darryl was staying. That took some more broken Arabic, lots of walking and 45 minutes, but I found it.
Darryl was keen on finding a beer, he had been drinking tea, I ordered a water. However, I only had two sips of my water when Darryl’s colleague from Egypt reached over and took a swig out of my glass. My water drinking was over. The communal food sharing here in the Middle East caught me off guard the first time and this was the first time I had ever had anyone drink out of my glass without asking permission.
Darryl is about 5’9, blond hair, glasses, Australian and he does regional work for HI so he travels all over the region. His Arabic was pretty decent, he had worked as a occupational therapist in Saudia Arabia. We sat on top of the Nile Hilton, with a great view of the Nile, and tapas. We left to find our hotels, which were in opposite directions around 10:00 p.m. I didn’t find mine until after being accosted by several men who were trying to “help,” having an empty soda can thrown at me by some unruly boys and then finally I received some help from a man who had lived in America. He was also trying to pick me up, but he got me back to my hotel and when he offered me his phone number, I told him my phone doesn’t work in Egypt, which is true. I think the reason I was lost is because when I walked down the street the first time none of the shops were open and when I walked home, all the shops were open and it seemed like everyone in Cairo was out. I went by groups of men sitting out, smoking Seeshaw, playing dominoes, chess and backgammon. It was like there were hundreds of these little Sheeshaw, tea shops that spilled out over into the streets.
In addition, just crossing the street was a challenge, you just have to pick a time and go for it, at one point this car got so close to me I was able to put my entire hand on the hood. No wonder they have a large disabled population in Egypt.