A few weeks ago when I was back in Cairo, I had an intense encounter that nearly ended my life. More so than being a terrifying experience, it forced me to make a difficult decision. That being, whether to stay true to my beliefs and risk death in the face of a home made gun in the hands of a crazy old bigot or to give in and comply with his prejudice ideals for the sake of saving my own skin.
It was a typical morning in Cairo, a cacophony of deafening honks and shouts from all directions, and a palpable amount of pollution in the air. As usual, the first thing I did that day was walk to my favourite sugar cane juice bar near Nasser subway station. After two cups of cane juice I was ready to commence the mission of the day, that being to find a bicycle for purchase.
Just as I left the juice bar, a group a three kids surrounded me. “Here we go,” I thought irritably, “time to pay the toll.” However, to my surprise, the little buggers didn’t ask for money. And it appeared that all they wanted to do was hang out. Although my Arabic was lacking, I managed to tell them that I was looking for a bike to buy. Upon hearing this, the kids, happy to be useful, took me by the hand and briskly began leading me towards what I hoped would be the bike district of Cairo.
After checking out a multitude of bike shops and not finding anything suitable for the 700k bike trip to Aswan I was planning, I was ready to return to the comfort of Talaat Harb, the familiar district of my hostel. The sun was beginning to set and we still had a ways to go before exiting the maze of alleys and dirt roads that the kids had led me into.
Suddenly, and out of nowhere, an old, small, and sparsely haired and toothed man appeared.
He pointed at me with his left finger and yelled accusingly, “Israeli?!?”
As I have had quite a few encounters with crazy racist people, I was more amused than startled. Despite an urge to confront him and his ignorance, I bit my tongue and continued walking.
Around ten feet away, I heard a gasp from one of the kids. I swiftly turned around and immediately froze.
With little time to think, I went with my instinct. My instinct in this case was poorly thought out and a little absurd. I decided I would match his craziness and charge him.
I walked aggressively towards the man, rolled up my left sleeve, and revealed my Norwegian flag tattoo while simultaneously making a muscle in front of his face. For those of you who don’t know, the Norwegian flag is essentially a Christian cross.
Then I said to him in a condescending tone, “No Israeli, Norwegian,” while pointing at the cross.
At this act of bravado, his temperament completely changed and he mockingly made a slight bow before me.
I was astonished and unbelievably relieved that it had worked.
Still full of adrenaline I began to walk away, my confidence dissipating with each step. Around 10 paces away, I heard the gasps of the kids and onlookers. I glanced back and saw that he had his gun leveled at me once more. But this time, his eyes shone an even more sinister glare.
Not wanting to lose face and run, I merely quickened my stride, all the while fearing that at any moment I could take a bullet in the back. To my relief, one of the kids grabbed my hand and said, “ run, run, yala, yala.” “The hell with it,” I thought, “I’m getting out of here!” and sprinted away like a cheetah (the animal I always envision when I sprint).
That night and in the days following, I continued to play the encounter through my mind. I began to feel more and more ashamed.
Although I had survived, I had done so at the cost of my morals. I myself had acted prejudice. I validated his anti-Israeli anti-semitic sentiment by taking the effort to prove that I was not Israeli. I had survived but had done so by lowering myself to his bigotry.
Was it wrong of me?
What would you have done?