“I don’t want to go.”
“You’re going.” Dad placed my pink suitcase on my bed, while I crossed my arms and rolled my eyes. The suitcase was an embarrassing thing I still used when I traveled, something for a much younger girl. Bad enough, but this vacation was the worst idea I’d ever heard of.
“I can stay home by myself for a week. I’m fourteen years old. I can look after myself.”
Mom came in the room and glanced at Dad. “I don’t understand why you don’t want to go, Emily. You were always fascinated with Egypt, the pyramids, and the tombs when you were in elementary school.”
“Just watch the news!” I was getting really frustrated. They were acting like they didn’t know anything at all, like how dangerous it would be to go to Egypt on vacation. “The place is full of Muslims. Al Queda. If we don’t get killed as soon as we step off the plane, some suicide bomber will walk into our hotel.”
“Tamar said to pack a variety of clothes so you can wear layers. The desert is hot in the day, but very cold at night. Do you want some help?” Mom said, smiling at me. Dad wasn’t smiling.
“I don’t like your attitude, Emily. I know you may be worried or even scared because of the things we see on the news, but everything is going to be fine.” Dad walked out of the room, but not before reminding me to set my alarm clock for 5am if I wanted to have a shower before we left for the airport.
Well, it was set. Like it or not I was going on a family vacation to Egypt.
“Fasten your seatbelts; we’ll be touching down in Cairo International in just a few minutes.” The Captain’s words woke me out of my 11-hour daydream. The plane banked sharply to the right and I tilted my head to look out the window to the desert below, and there they were, the pyramids of Giza. Tiny, toy-sized, desert colored pyramids. This was the wonder of the world I’d always wanted to see? Even though I felt a chill of fear about our arrival in Cairo, I also felt a thrill of excitement that brought goose bumps to my arms and legs.
The day we went to Giza was our second day in Egypt. The first day, we were too exhausted to even think about going sightseeing. Mom and Dad gave us a choice, we could go to the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo, or we could see the Sphynx and the Pyramids. My little sister Liz was jumping up and down repeating, “Pyramids! Pyramids!” so we pretty much had no choice. She was only ten years old, and she never watched the news, so she didn’t know a thing about the dangers we would face once we left the hotel. She didn’t think about terrorists when she thought about Egypt, she only though about temples, Pharaohs, King Tut, Pyramids, and camels.
I wanted to go straight to the pyramids themselves, but Dad had other ideas. He’d visited Egypt ages ago when he was my age, back before there were terrorists, and he had some sentimental idea that involved all of us riding around on horses in the desert all around the pyramids, “To get a better view!” he claimed. I wanted to ride a camel, but he said we could do that later, so off we went to the stables. An Egyptian man in a robe and his young assistant brought us four horses and helped us to mount them. I pretended to know what I was doing, but my legs and hands were shaking. The last time I’d ridden any creature was some little country fair pony when I was five years old. The Egyptian man, Mahmoud, patted my horse and smiled. “She will give no trouble,” he assured me, “She is a good one!” And with that, we were off, Dad in the lead.
Mahmoud was wrong. My horse was stubborn and did not want to follow the others. It stopped at a water barrel and drank for a long time, then trotted slowly after the others. Suddenly, it spotted a group of three riders galloping in the distance. Instead of following my family’s horses, she took off at a gallop towards the three horses in the distance, and I clung to her mane for dear life. I screamed, “Daddy!” but this only seemed to make her go faster.
It was painful and scary. Going full speed across the desert, away from my family, not knowing if I had the strength to hold on. The mare changed her mind and raced away in a new direction, and though she slowed down eventually, I felt my muscles failing. As she trotted around, sometimes speeding up and sometimes slowing down, I slid right off hitting the rough desert sand hard enough to have the wind completely knocked out of me. The last thing I saw was the heat of the desert rising in wiggly waves all around me before I fell down a tunnel of black oblivion.
I awoke under the shade of trees, propped up against the side of a mud hut. Two women sat beside me, watching me, and one of them got up as soon as she saw my eyes open.
“Where am I? Where is my Mom? Where is my Dad?” I tried to sound stern, but tears were coming to my eyes. She smiled shook her head at me.
My heart beat fast. Who were these people and where was I? Were they dangerous? Would I ever see my family again?
The other woman returned with a man, who gave me an unopened plastic bottle of water. Smiling, he stooped comfortably beside the woman.
“My name is Hamal. My wife, she can speak no English. She saw you fall from the horse, so we brought you here. You are safe, and we know that horse. It is Mahmoud’s horse. Is your family visiting with Mahmoud today?”
“Yes,” was all I could say.
“Then we will bring them to you as quickly as we can. Are you in pain?”
I closed my eyes. I moved my arms and legs slowly. Bruised, but nothing broken.
“I am okay. Please, I need my Mom and Dad.”
Suddenly, the air around us was filled with an echoing song from the distance. Hamal stood up and smiled again, gesturing to a tall spire in the distance. “Our call to prayer,” he explained. “But now, we must find your family. What is your name?”
“Emily,” I whispered. I felt safe, comforted by the beautiful voice that soared across the desert.The song sounded beautiful to me, and I must have been in more pain than I thought because I fell into darkness again.
Voices woke me, and as I opened my eyes I realized it was twilight. I was covered by a wool blanket, and the women still sat beside me, one singing softly to herself. I heard the voices of my parents and started to struggle to my feet; Hamal’s wife quickly stood and helped me up. Taking my hand, she led me to the side of the hut, where my parents were seated around a little table. Overjoyed, we clung together in a group hug and I didn’t hide my tears of relief.
On the table were foods I’d never seen before, but I was so hungry that they looked delicious. Hamal’s wife guided me to a chair and said, “Eat, eat!”
“I thought, no English?” I asked her. She smiled and sat beside me.
I noticed that she wore a pendant, a cross, a Christian cross. I didn’t mean to stare, but both Hamal and his wife noticed me looking.
“Ah yes, Tamar is Christian. I am not, I follow Muhammad. It can be hard for us sometimes.” Hamal smiled. He spoke some words to his wife in Arabic, and she gestured at her husband, speaking rapidly in Arabic as well. She took off her cross necklace and placed it in front of me. Hamal smiled and turned to me.
“Tamar would like you to have this. You needed it earlier today, but still you are safe. She says you must wear this always, and you will always be safe.”
I looked at Mom and Dad, not knowing what to say or even if I should accept the gift, and Mom nodded at me.
Taking the necklace and looking at it in the light of candles, lanterns, and a single electric bulb, I then placed it around my head. Tamar nodded at me, smiling broadly.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling bad that she could not understand my words. I turned to Hamal. “How can I say thank you in Arabic?”
“Sho-’kran,” he said.
I turned to Tamar and said, “Sho-’kran.” I never saw anybody look so pleased over being told thank you.
In the starlight near Giza I sat with Hamal, Tamar, and my family and felt safe and thankful and happy and glad we’d come to Egypt after all.