In Cairo, I met this wonderful man named Gamal. A few friends and I became good friends with him. I continue to write him letters, but I don’t know if he receives them. I don’t know if he can afford to write me back. I also can’t call him because I don’t have his phone number. But I tell everyone about him, and if I ever return to Egypt, it will be to see Gamal.
It was a hot day at the beginning of Ramadan, and my friends and I decided to visit Islamic Cairo. We wandered and toured and met some very nice people. We came across the Blue Mosque with a sign that said “free.” We were skeptical, since things in Egypt are rarely free. We went inside anyway and we were greeted by a quiet gentleman who invited us into the minaret and told us to stay as long as we pleased.
As we looked over the city, I began to feel faint. When we reached the bottom, I had to sit down while the man gave the rest of my friends a tour of the small, deteriorating mosque. Afterwards, we gave him a 100 pound tip (a little less than $20), and he began to cry. He said his daughters needed new school outfits, and deeply thanked us. He asked us if we could all take a picture. I tried to stay standing, but eventually I had to sit back down and sit still.
The man, who had introduced himself as Gamal, asked me if I needed anything. Since it was Ramadan, I knew it would be very difficult to find any food around. He left and returned with a small mango juice. While I drank, he asked my friends if they wanted anything. Although they all politely declined, he insisted on buying us Cokes. He returned with a Coke for everyone, and a Sprite for me. He told me that it’s sweeter, and so it will raise my blood sugar. We talked with him for a while, repaid him for the beverages, and promised to return.
Three of us out of five did go back. We visited him twice, and he came to us the night before we left. Unfortunately, he was about to lose his job because some Lebanese construction company was going to renevate the Blue Mosque. And while the Egyptian government put him there, they would not find him another job. As an older man with poor eyesight, he was having trouble finding a job before we left. And even though he went to Cairo University and studied history and Arabic, he couldn’t get a high paying job because he was poor.
He has a wife, two daughters, and a son. He can only afford meat maybe once a month. He has two meals a day, and traveled 2 1/2 hours one way to work at the Blue Mosque. A friend comes by once a year to test his vision and give him his glasses. He is the kindest, most gentle person I know. And it absolutely sucks that this is all he knows. Before we left, he told us how desperately he wants to travel and see Europe. He wants to see the art and the monuments. He wants to give his family a better life.
So, if you ever get the chance to visit Islamic Cairo, go to the Blue Mosque. Even if it’s under construction, ask around for Gamal. Someone might know where he is. And mention my name. Ask if he got my letters.