I remember this from a few years back. June 2007 to be precise. I had flown to Cairo to join the ship which was supposed to cross Suez Canal in a couple of days. Since the ship was to arrive at the canal in a few days I was put up at the Grand Albatros hotel, in the hearts of port said, the entrance to the suez canal from the mediterranean sea. I had been married just a few months back, and was already feeling home sick. And upon that those boring days alone at the hotel.
The very first day, I started out of the hotel, early at 8.00 a.m. in search for a phone booth to call back India. But to my disappointment, all the shops were closed. I had an inclination towards calling from hotel phone, but when the receptionist informed about the rates, I cancelled the plan. I was carrying a very few dollars, since that was the first time I was joining a ship that was not running the India coastal route, and I had no idea I would need some more money.
I went out again at 9.00 am but found the shops still to be closed. I was surprised to not find much people on the streets, and those few I came across, didn’t speak english to guide me properly. Back at the hotel, the people informed me that the market opens at around 11.00 am, since it goes through almost past midnight in that part of the world. I was amused, but had to stay patient for that call to home.
So I finally went out after 11.00 am, to find few of the shops opening up. But again luck was against me. Almost none of the people knew english, and few kids who knew a bit, couldn’t understand what kind of phone I was searching. I was sent 3 blocks down the road, and 3 blocks back up the road, and across to the parallel streets, and God knows where. No one was even able to guide me to a vendor who stocked mobile sims. The only phone I managed to find was a coinbox, accepting egyptian currency, and connecting to egyptian numbers. I knew no one in egypt to call.
During my search, I happened to browse through a mall that had just opened, and luckily I saw the universal sign proclaiming it to be a phone booth, on one of the shops. I entered, knowing well that it was going to be difficult to communicate with the person attending. To my surprise, he started the conversation in fluent english. I was jubiliant!!
I made the call home, and came to know that there had been a theft and murder in our area. I was tensed by the news, and as I came out of the phone booth, the person saw it on my face. He made some small talk with me, and then enquired about the problem. As I told him about the incident, he calmed me down with assurance and said I shouldn’t worry. And then he asked me about my family and where in the world I lived.
As I told him that I lived in Mumbai, he became very enthusiastic and and told me that he used to work in alexandria previously, and he worked under a man from Mumbai. And then he told me his ex-managers name. It sounded familier. I enquired further, and he took out a diary giving out that persons address. I was amused to find out that the person lived somewhere in my area. We continued talking to each other, like we were friends through a mutual friend. It was a good feeling, in a country so far from my land, to be able to feel at home. Incidently, he himself was a german, who had made egypt his home.
As I was leaving, he even refused to accept the payment for phones, but I felt it improper, and persuaded him in to taking it. I visited him again the next day, and he was quite helpful in guiding me around the city for that day.
Of course, I didn’t meet a very close acquaintance that day. But I would dare say, Its a Small World.