When we touched down at Cairo International at 12:06AM, we had not slept in over thirty hours. Russian airplane food, a blur of movies, and an absurd amount of excitement got us through our travel from LA to Egypt. We assembled our bikes in a corner of the airport into the wee hours of the morning. From the airport we rode with the rising sun, glowing orange and deceivingly gentle behind the morning haze. Hectic city riding through dusty, glass filled roads welcomed us to Cairo. Cars zipped past in every direction as we tried to balance navigating from our phones with not ending our trip as Egyptian road pancakes one hour into the adventure. Only forty kilometers separated us from the Pyramids of Giza and our place of rest. It was going to be a long forty kilometers. A wrong turn put us through a tunnel less than equipped for bicycles. We emerged back into the increasingly sun-smothered city to find that our next mapped turn did not exist as a road. We lifted our bikes over a partition of sand and walked them through a construction zone. Back on the road, and now hiding behind the shelter of a semi-truck, we used our lead blocking vehicle to make a shockingly unprotected left turn. As we peeled onto a relatively quiet street, our adrenaline waned, and the hunger of 24 hours of airplane food careened down on us in synch with the exhaustion of not truly sleeping in over thirty hours. Breakfast time. As if our stomachs and minds had aligned with the interworkings of the universe, the next sight we had was the fulfillment of our most base cravings. Imam stood beside his food cart, and waved us down with a broad smile on his face and warmth in his gestures. Imam stood proudly behind mountains of falafel, salad, french fries, eggplant, and pita bread. “Welcome to Egypt”. A small crowd was gathered around the cart when we arrived. Evidently, Imam was as popular for the people of Cairo as he was immediately popular with us bedraggled travelers. We had not yet obtained our current Arabic vocabulary, so when Imam asked in Arabic what we would like, we were left defenseless, yet also thoroughly self-assured. We wanted everything, and we conveyed that with sweeping hand gestures. Imam acknowledged our request with a beaming smile and got to work preparing the perfect breakfast. The anticipation and pleasure of being handed our food matched the intensity of our weariness. We devoured the first three rounds of pita stuffed with beans, falafel, salad, and fries barely after he had turned around. Imam’s daughter, perhaps six years old, kept a bemused eye on us as we fell voraciously onto our meal. After our first gorging, Imam swooped up his daughter, jumped into his car with her, and took her to school. He was back within five minutes and made another batch of food. He sent his assistant to get our first Egyptian tea from an alleyway vendor across the street. The tea was a nectar of life that morning and since then has manifested itself into an addiction (we had seven cups each on day 19). Satiated, and overwhelmed with gratitude we finished our meal and tea and approached Imam to pay. With a laugh and a firm shake of the head, Imam dismissed our offer for payment. This, he said, was a welcoming gift to Egypt. Rather than pay he wanted us to take photos with him, spread the good word about Egyptians, and thoroughly enjoy our experience in his country. As we prepare to leave Egypt tomorrow, the feeling of welcomness that Imam bestowed on us has not subsided. His kindness shattered our desperate feelings at the time, and shifted our perception of the city on our first morning. Wherever you are today, take a moment, and find a way to share some of your warmth with someone like Imam did with us on that beautiful day.
When we did arrive to the pyramids, we stared at them for an hour and a half in a drunk-on-life stupor and then proceeded to sleep for thirteen and a half very happy hours.