This was going to be a moment of truth.
Yes, I had found us a place to stay for the night and arranged for the morning's suhour. I had managed to find the largest pyramids on the planet. We had negotiated through the Land of the Dead in a carriage. I had been able to carry my sleeping son out of the heat and back into the cool of the hotel.
But like some two-parter "Amazing Race" episode, I had another challenge. I had to find iftar.
Finding food in America is soooooooooo easy. Want something to eat? Any place! Any time!
In Egypt, during Ramadan, everything closes. BAM! the aluminum shutters roll down like so many garage doors and the stores are locked up. If you want food, you had best find it before sunset.
So, even though I was dead tired beyond any fathomable level, I had to stop napping, push myself out of the bed and head back downstairs. I thought to check out the hotel restaurant. That would be easy!
Sure enough, the hotel manager showed me the menu with a special iftar dinner for only...WHAT?! 50 pounds?! Are you freakin' joking? I knew that 50 pounds was a ridiculous amount of cash. Yes, if I stood there and calculated the amount in U.S. dollars, then it was only $10. But, I was determined to keep my spending down and to think of the pounds as stand-alone currency; not in reference to a place I no longer lived.
I walked away. I wasn't going to pay it.
I had felt the inner resolve to walk away. At the same time, I faced the frightening fact that I didn't know where I was going. Where should I go? I had a short time and a big city. Where was the food?
This tourist location had thousands of real people so where were the real shops? No, I didn't want papyrus, T-shirts with camels or King Tut statues. I wanted bananas and grapes. I wanted chicken and bread. Where was it?
I walked out of the hotel, crossed the crazy-busy street and started on a mission to feed us. There was the sweet shop and I thought about loading up on basboosa. No! Iftar had to be healthy or I really couldn't get myself to break my fast with it (as I knew from past experiences).
So, I kept my head looking all around as I walked further. There was a shop in a little sidestreet. I could see it was a hole-in-the-wall shop. I starting walking towards it. I tried to talk to a man...or was it a woman? I tried to talk to someone and they gestured towards that shop. I could see someone working there...a man in galabiya.
We walked up and I did my best Arabic to ask for "moses wa aynab". Alhumdulillah, it only took four tries to be understood. The man explained that he didn't have any but he called over a girl and talked to her. He then explained that the girl would help us find food.
Now, in writing this story for the whole wide world, I can sense how many people might be reading this and feeling fear. A woman in a foreign country has to trust many people she doesn't know. Hey, I know how it scary it sounds and it feels even scarier when you are living it! Sizing up people has to be within seconds and trust has to be established immediately or else the person has to be dismissed immediately.
For me in that moment? I decided to trust these people and I let this girl walk with us. She was tall and lanky with a pony tail that swung as she walked--no hejab and she wore jeans. To a lot of people, she was dressed like a "bad" Muslim. However, if you are determined to get help from only the "good" Muslims in the world, then be prepared to spend a lot of time alone and helpless.
We backtracked on the main drag. This girl helped us cross the street as if she were the mom and I was the kid. She took charge of us as if our lives depended on it---and it probably did!
Like the scenes from, "Aladdin" we entered into a narrow street; really more like an alley. Finding the hide-away world would have been nearly impossible. We walked a little further in from the main road and the local's stores began appearing on either side. Yes! We were nearing success.
She brought me over to a man with a donkey cart---a far cry from the posh restaurant. There was the fruit I'd asked for. I did my first transaction by the kilo. I didn't want so much piled onto his scale and the girl tried to help mediate. She took the money out of my hand and talked to the man. I had that hesitation in my head. Was she really helping me or was she scamming me? I decided that it didn't matter as long as I got dinner.
Buses were zooming past us. People were hurrying by. It was time for everyone to head home. Cars clogged up the road with drivers honking. This was a happen' spot! There was a juice stand. There was a snack stand. There were chickens turning on a spit---jackpot! We headed over there.
At first glance, the restaurant owner saw an opportunity to do business with a tourist. You could see that in his eyes. I tried to explain to the man that it was just my boy and I, so we didn't need so much food. His eyes softened and he accomodated our needs and put together a dinner fit for a queen: chicken, bread, tahina, salad and pickled vegetables. Price? 14 pounds.
Even with the cost of the fruit, our dinner came to under 20 pounds. I had saved our money and come up with a healthier, tastier evening's meal. What's more, I proved to myself that I needn't be beholden to the tourist trade. I could mix with the locals and buy from them. Truly, that was priceless.
I was going to buy a phone card (since mine had quickly been used up making a call to the school principal). The girl stopped me. She told me that I could buy one from her uncle back at the shop. I agreed. After all her help, I had not bought a thing from her family.
We walked back and I bought the phone card to recharge my minutes. As I was getting out my money, Mr. Boo was trying to ask me for a little bag of "Jelly Cola" candy. Normally, in America, gelatin-based candy is filled with pork but I knew this was halal---what a change! I was going add the candy to my bill, but the girl's uncle gave it as a gift instead.
Her father helped me recharge the card. No, I didn't always know what I was doing but I did know how to ask for help. Alhumdulillah, I was getting help and it was from Allah.
We went back to our hotel room as the night's sky began to fade. When the azan sounded, we were safely inside with our meal. Alhumdulillah.
Later, I would look back on this first day in Giza with so much amazement. Like a birthing experience, I went through some really trying times but after all was said and done, I was stronger for my courage to enter into a new and unchartered world.
Little did I know, but one of the men from that first day would become a major figure in
Alhumdulillah for all the people we meet; some we help and some help us. Everyone is exactly right for us at that exact moment because God's plan is amazing.
Subhanallah. God's plan's is the best.