Friday, November 30, 2007

Every bear that ever there was

The closest I have ever got to Sudan was a trip to Egypt when I was 18, with three other girls of similar age whom I'd met while we were all volunteering together on Kibbutz Yagur . We found ourselves in Luxor, a city in the south which is home to the Valley of the Kings. We found ourselves being chatted up by a young man called Ali just after we got off the train from Cairo. He asked us if we'd be interested in seeing some of the temples at night. We said we might be. He said he had a friend called Mohammed who lived on the west bank of the Nile, where all the tombs and temples were, and that if we caught the ferry over the river that evening they would meet us there.

Two of us decided that this was a terrible idea. I was one of the other two. As dusk fell, we went down to the jetty, and got on the ferry that all the other tourists were just getting off. We crossed the river feeling excited and scared and fearless all at the same time, the way you only can when you're 18. I look back now and I can't believe I got on that ferry, but neither one of us was going to be the first to back out.

We got off on the other side to find no one waiting for us. There were loads of men milling around, and we found a place to stand where we were visible but not in the way. Gradually, a crowd formed round us, not a hostile one, but not a friendly one. One of those crowds that just stands and stares. There must have been twenty or thirty pairs of dark, dark male eyes on us, and not a woman in sight. Almost none of them spoke any English, but one of them had a few words. He wanted us to come into his tent for some tea. He had a smile that indicated it might not just be tea he had on his mind, but it was difficult to tell. It was getting a bit tense.

Look, I said, we're not coming with you. We're waiting for someone.

What is his name? he said. Mohammed! I said.

He smiled wider, opened his arms wide and said 'every man here is Mohammed!'

I looked at Kath, and mouthed 'oh shit', but at that moment a car screeched up. The crowd parted like the Red Sea, and a man jumped out saying 'Salamu Alaykum! I am Mohammed!' He grabbed each of us by the hand and ushered us into the back seat. The doors slammed and we zoomed off.

The rest of that night is another story altogether. Mohammed turned out to have largely honourable intentions, which is more than can be said for Ali, and had also seen a lot more of the world than downtown Luxor. He was some sort of local aristocracy, as far as I can tell. And I survived intact to tell the tale, but it could have ended very differently. It probably was a terrible idea, basically, though not as terrible as poor Gillian Gibbons's. But you can see how it happened -- what *else* are you going to call a teddy bear in Sudan?

*My* teddy bear is called Christopher, incidentally. I call him Christ for short.*


*I don't really.  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to call my dog 'Jesus Christ' just so I could shout it at the top of my voice at the park. Needless to say I was overruled.

Vernon x

10:10 pm  

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