05 January, 2013

Tout with a mission

I had finished my very late supper last night and was heading home, close to Midan Tahrir (Revolution Square). Many touts linger in this area, but they stop bothering you after the three first days. The old man who came up to me could be one of them, as they are very imaginative.

His hair was thin, his name Adam and his age near 70. He had noticed me eating, and asked about my trip and home country. They usually do that. He has relatives in Scandinavia. They usually have that. He did not say: "God dag, god dag!". They always do that...

Adam had been to Århus and knew details that made me believe that story. He wanted to offer me a Shaleb (a hot, milky drink). I love Sahleb and went along, as I found no reason to reject him.
    I did not have much to loose, really, as I only were carrying my small camera in my bag.

He bought me a hot drink of red berries, as the first cafe was out of sahleb, but we continuet until we found an old, typical bar (if I can call it that, with no alcohol) where he made sure the owner mixed a shisha (water pipe) to my liking (soft), and ordered to of the milkydrinks we were looking for.

Adam is a Copt, and claims there are 17-18 % Christians in Egypt. That is a bit exaggerated. He is optimistic about the political situation, even though he voted no - and lost in the previous election. He also do not believe in rumors of corruption. Adam is a strange fellow, and it is one o'clock at night.
    I want to go home.
    "I will show you something very old," he then insists.
    "What?"
    "It will be a surprise, come."

I do not know these streets, they are rather like a labyrinth, but people are out even at this hour and fruit vendors attend their stalls all night. I am told the history of specially old coffee houses and details on old heavy doors are pointed out and marveled at by both of us.
    Adam has two sons, both doctors of some reputation. And he has two adopted sons as well.
    "Really?"
    "Yes. I found them on the street, very poor. I even took them to the television station to show their faces, but no one knew them. They now use the clothes from my first sons, and they eat well. Have a look here!"
   We step into a coffee shop with four flatscreens of different makes and size on one wall, each showing a different channel, and a dozen guys siting on wooden chairs watching a bit of this and a bit of that.
    "You have never seen that before, have you?"
    Nope.
    "Wait here two minutes, please."

Adam leaves me on the corner. I look at some enormous potatoes for sale at 01.30 AM. When he comes back, he tells me that he had to go alone, not to scare an old man up in a building, but I am very, very lucky, as he had the powder to make sahleb for sale. Plus leaves to cure stomach ache and a bag of leaves that should be minced with a blender and diluted in water, very good for all kinds of pain in the body.
    "Really?"

This was not for free, but as I had been so incredibly lucky (his words) to get my hands on these seemingly invaluable goods, I was unable to let the compulsory offer down and gave him 130 pounds. He insisted in returning the change to me, not to loose face, so I got two pounds back. What a guy.
    "Now I must return, it is almost two o'clock..."
    "But you will see the 800 year old thing, right?"

Incredibly, it finally appears, just around two more corners, an impressive old building with an original metal railing, facing a mosque from which a piece of the minaret fell down in an earthquake 30 odd years ago. Added up, these sights are almost make straying narrow alleys after sleeping hours worthwhile.
   We turn back, but soon head on in the opposite direction of what my GPS tells me.
    "I am sure you would like to contribute to feeding poor children," Adam states. "I am doing a voluntary project for street kids. My sister cooks for them, and we can buy some food here."
    And sure enough, several grocery shops are open - at this hour. We get the guys in there to dig around in a freezer in order to find the most economic - biggest - packet of chicken meat and hotdogs.
    Then Adam fetches a bottle of milk and a couple of other basic provisions that seems perfectly sensible as foodstuff for hungry children. I am simply totally baffled, but pay 111,- pounds for the lot. It is pocket money to me, and he knows it.

Baba Adam is happily posing in the middle, with the desk full of child-feed...
It has been nothing short of impossible to avoid this whole thing. Our conversation has been interesting, we have laughed and discussed, smoked and drunk. He now wants to drive me back in a taxi, but I tell him I really love walking in darkening streets in an unknown part of a city of 20 000 000 people talking a language I do not master. And so I do, walk, passing a number of ragged street sweepers and the ministry of interior on my way, where riot police are half asleep by barricades of barbed wire.
    I pray they do not ask what the plastic bag full of white powder actually contains.

This is just one of those evenings that will not be forgotten. It seems I have met a kind of local Robin Hood, a tout with a mission. Nobody bothers me along my way back to "Golden Hotel".

What a night. What a city. I love it.