Human Kindness: When I Was Stranded Alone at Egypt’s Borg El Arab Airport

When I arrived in Egypt, I soon found myself in a precarious situation: I was alone and stranded at the Borg El Arab airport. How did I end up in this predicament? Well, I had made a series of very foolish mistakes.

I had arrived in Egypt without a functional debit card and with currency from three other countries. I was planning to exchange my foreign currency for Egyptian pounds at the airport. Unfortunately, I had not anticipated that, just like any other commodity, the value of currency changes depending on where you are. I soon discovered that nobody was willing to buy my money as all three types of currency I had were considered completely worthless. My only option for money would be to scout around the city to find someone willing to pay for it. So, for all intents and purposes, I was completely broke.

I had scheduled an airport pickup when I arrived. I was expecting my ride to be there – or at the very least to show up shortly after I landed – but it was nowhere in sight. The big problem, though, was that I had no way of contacting anyone. My phone was dead; however, I had no SIM card or internet connection, so I still couldn’t use it even if it was charged.

I soon found myself sitting on the sidewalk outside of Borg El Arab airport, which serves Alexandria, Egypt. I only knew a few words and phrases in Arabic. I had no money for a taxi or even a bottle of water. It was getting late, I was exhausted because I had taken a flight from New Delhi earlier that morning, and I couldn’t even re-enter the airport because I wasn’t allowed back in without a boarding pass.

To top it off, Borg El Arab is a very isolated airport. It is at least an hour drive past sand dunes and collections of dilapidated houses to get from there to the city.

What do you do?

I sat on my suitcase, by the water fountain, and in the small café at one point, waiting for my ride. Hours passed, nobody came for me.

In my mind the panic began to grow, but even more than that was the bitter self-loathing for being dumb enough to get myself into this situation to begin with.

The physical exhaustion from traveling all day and night began to set in as did hunger and thirst. At one point, I was so desperately thirsty that I drank water from the fountain across the street.

Finally, completely and utterly drained both physically and mentally, I laid down on the sidewalk like a homeless person, put my head on my smaller suitcase like a pillow, closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep. Yes, I knew about Egypt’s reputation for petty theft and sexual harassment, but I didn’t know what else to do, my body simply had nothing left to give.

The night was mild, my senses were caressed by the soft desert air and the gentle murmur of the Arabic language all around me. My body was grateful to finally be horizontal and in a position to rest. I actually started to get a little comfortable and even nod off a bit, when I felt someone nudge my leg. I opened my eyes and looked over to see three younger-looking Egyptian men standing by me.

“Ma’am,” the tallest one said almost frantically, “you musn’t sleep here. Your things will be stolen.”

Already feeling overwhelmed and in no mood for a safety lecture, I snapped, “Well what else am I supposed to do?!”

Slightly taken aback by my shortness, but still visibly disturbed by my situation, he replied, “At least sleep in the corner, you’ll be a little more protected that way.”

Sleep in the corner, I thought, okay, fine, if it makes them feel better.

I dragged my things into the corner and positioned myself in front of them, laid back down and tried once again to get some sleep. But it was not to be. I soon felt someone tap me again. I opened my eyes to see the same three men stepping back from me, careful not to get too close once they had achieved the goal of rousing me from my attempted slumber.

The tall one, whom I learned was named Ahmed, spoke the best English. It was he who, to the best of his ability, simply asked me why I was in that position.

The exhaustion was not the only thing that was wearing me down. The sense of total isolation and helplessness that I had been trying to suppress finally came bubbling up.

I stood up and poured my heart out to this complete and total stranger, explaining all the details of how I had ended up in this predicament. The first thing he did was try to assure me everything would be okay. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you can find someone who will trade your money. You can go to a bank in the city.”

He asked me some more questions about why I was stranded. When I told him I had no way of knowing if or when my point person was going to come get me, Ahmed invited me over to their car in the parking lot so we could try and get in touch with my ride. His two friends carried my bags for me as he escorted me over to their vehicle. They opened the door and invited me to sit in the back seat.

Had I been in normal state of mind, I might have been apprehensive and questioned the intentions of these men offering me the back seat of their car, but the gratitude I felt for the presence of other human beings who could speak my language and offer me a soft place to rest drowned out any other thoughts or feelings.

I welcomed the invite. Just the feeling of being in an enclosed space was a great relief. Once I pulled out my power cord, my three new friends plugged my phone into a USB port in their car and waited for it to charge. I sat in the back seat and, while his friend stood by my door like security guards at the entrance of a government building, Ahmed swapped out his own SIM card with mine in an attempt to call my contact person. Ultimately, he switched on his phone’s mobile hotspot, allowing me to connect to Whatsapp and discover that my ride was indeed on its way to the airport.

I thanked the three men for their assistance and said I should go wait in front of the main entrance for my ride. “No, no,” they insisted, “you’d better stay here with us.” They were adamant that they didn’t want to let me out of their sight, and I had so little energy to refuse, so I relented.

At one point, when I wanted to walk to the entrance to see if my contact person had arrived and was waiting, Ahmed accompanied me. He helped me look around for a bit before insisting, “Let’s go back,” and guided me back to the car and into the back seat.

Another time I needed to use the restroom. One of the other two silently accompanied me to the bathroom by the café, waited for me by the entrance, and escorted me directly back to the backseat of their car. “Sit,” was the polite but assertive command I was met with every time.

I attempted to make small talk to pass the time as my three friends stood next to the door while I sat. Ahmed made another attempt to phone my ride but with no success. I practiced what little Arabic I knew with the other two.

After some time waiting, Ahmed expressed that he and his friends would be willing to take me into the city if my ride never came. When I told him that was very kind of him but unnecessary, as I thought it best to wait for the person I had arranged to pick me up, he said something I’ll never forget.

“Ma’am, we are Egyptians, we can’t just leave you here.”

Finally, the person that I scheduled to pick me up arrived. Ahmed walked me over and checked to make sure that the man approaching us was indeed the person we’d made so much effort to contact. Once that was verified, he approached him, shook his hand, and had a brief conversation in the local language. Then, they handed me my luggage and passed me off to the driver with a short, polite farewell.

I will likely never see those three young men again. To this day I have no idea who they were or what they were doing at that airport. However, I will forever carry the experience with me as a valuable lesson and a thankful reminder of human kindness. So often we hesitate to extend a helping hand to a stranger because we don’t know who they are, but these three men made it clear to me, it wasn’t about who I was, it was about who they were.

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I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and went to California to get my first bachelor's degree. I am currently living and working as a teacher in China while studying the University of North Dakota's online bachelor of Communications/Journalism program.

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Human Kindness: When I Was Stranded Alone at Egypt’s Borg El Arab Airport

When I arrived in Egypt, I soon found myself in a precarious situation: I was alone and stranded at the Borg El Arab airport. How did I end up in this predicament? Well, I had made a series of very foolish mistakes.

I had arrived in Egypt without a functional debit card and with currency from three other countries. I was planning to exchange my foreign currency for Egyptian pounds at the airport. Unfortunately, I had not anticipated that, just like any other commodity, the value of currency changes depending on where you are. I soon discovered that nobody was willing to buy my money as all three types of currency I had were considered completely worthless. My only option for money would be to scout around the city to find someone willing to pay for it. So, for all intents and purposes, I was completely broke.

I had scheduled an airport pickup when I arrived. I was expecting my ride to be there – or at the very least to show up shortly after I landed – but it was nowhere in sight. The big problem, though, was that I had no way of contacting anyone. My phone was dead; however, I had no SIM card or internet connection, so I still couldn’t use it even if it was charged.

I soon found myself sitting on the sidewalk outside of Borg El Arab airport, which serves Alexandria, Egypt. I only knew a few words and phrases in Arabic. I had no money for a taxi or even a bottle of water. It was getting late, I was exhausted because I had taken a flight from New Delhi earlier that morning, and I couldn’t even re-enter the airport because I wasn’t allowed back in without a boarding pass.

To top it off, Borg El Arab is a very isolated airport. It is at least an hour drive past sand dunes and collections of dilapidated houses to get from there to the city.

What do you do?

I sat on my suitcase, by the water fountain, and in the small café at one point, waiting for my ride. Hours passed, nobody came for me.

In my mind the panic began to grow, but even more than that was the bitter self-loathing for being dumb enough to get myself into this situation to begin with.

The physical exhaustion from traveling all day and night began to set in as did hunger and thirst. At one point, I was so desperately thirsty that I drank water from the fountain across the street.

Finally, completely and utterly drained both physically and mentally, I laid down on the sidewalk like a homeless person, put my head on my smaller suitcase like a pillow, closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep. Yes, I knew about Egypt’s reputation for petty theft and sexual harassment, but I didn’t know what else to do, my body simply had nothing left to give.

The night was mild, my senses were caressed by the soft desert air and the gentle murmur of the Arabic language all around me. My body was grateful to finally be horizontal and in a position to rest. I actually started to get a little comfortable and even nod off a bit, when I felt someone nudge my leg. I opened my eyes and looked over to see three younger-looking Egyptian men standing by me.

“Ma’am,” the tallest one said almost frantically, “you musn’t sleep here. Your things will be stolen.”

Already feeling overwhelmed and in no mood for a safety lecture, I snapped, “Well what else am I supposed to do?!”

Slightly taken aback by my shortness, but still visibly disturbed by my situation, he replied, “At least sleep in the corner, you’ll be a little more protected that way.”

Sleep in the corner, I thought, okay, fine, if it makes them feel better.

I dragged my things into the corner and positioned myself in front of them, laid back down and tried once again to get some sleep. But it was not to be. I soon felt someone tap me again. I opened my eyes to see the same three men stepping back from me, careful not to get too close once they had achieved the goal of rousing me from my attempted slumber.

The tall one, whom I learned was named Ahmed, spoke the best English. It was he who, to the best of his ability, simply asked me why I was in that position.

The exhaustion was not the only thing that was wearing me down. The sense of total isolation and helplessness that I had been trying to suppress finally came bubbling up.

I stood up and poured my heart out to this complete and total stranger, explaining all the details of how I had ended up in this predicament. The first thing he did was try to assure me everything would be okay. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you can find someone who will trade your money. You can go to a bank in the city.”

He asked me some more questions about why I was stranded. When I told him I had no way of knowing if or when my point person was going to come get me, Ahmed invited me over to their car in the parking lot so we could try and get in touch with my ride. His two friends carried my bags for me as he escorted me over to their vehicle. They opened the door and invited me to sit in the back seat.

Had I been in normal state of mind, I might have been apprehensive and questioned the intentions of these men offering me the back seat of their car, but the gratitude I felt for the presence of other human beings who could speak my language and offer me a soft place to rest drowned out any other thoughts or feelings.

I welcomed the invite. Just the feeling of being in an enclosed space was a great relief. Once I pulled out my power cord, my three new friends plugged my phone into a USB port in their car and waited for it to charge. I sat in the back seat and, while his friend stood by my door like security guards at the entrance of a government building, Ahmed swapped out his own SIM card with mine in an attempt to call my contact person. Ultimately, he switched on his phone’s mobile hotspot, allowing me to connect to Whatsapp and discover that my ride was indeed on its way to the airport.

I thanked the three men for their assistance and said I should go wait in front of the main entrance for my ride. “No, no,” they insisted, “you’d better stay here with us.” They were adamant that they didn’t want to let me out of their sight, and I had so little energy to refuse, so I relented.

At one point, when I wanted to walk to the entrance to see if my contact person had arrived and was waiting, Ahmed accompanied me. He helped me look around for a bit before insisting, “Let’s go back,” and guided me back to the car and into the back seat.

Another time I needed to use the restroom. One of the other two silently accompanied me to the bathroom by the café, waited for me by the entrance, and escorted me directly back to the backseat of their car. “Sit,” was the polite but assertive command I was met with every time.

I attempted to make small talk to pass the time as my three friends stood next to the door while I sat. Ahmed made another attempt to phone my ride but with no success. I practiced what little Arabic I knew with the other two.

After some time waiting, Ahmed expressed that he and his friends would be willing to take me into the city if my ride never came. When I told him that was very kind of him but unnecessary, as I thought it best to wait for the person I had arranged to pick me up, he said something I’ll never forget.

“Ma’am, we are Egyptians, we can’t just leave you here.”

Finally, the person that I scheduled to pick me up arrived. Ahmed walked me over and checked to make sure that the man approaching us was indeed the person we’d made so much effort to contact. Once that was verified, he approached him, shook his hand, and had a brief conversation in the local language. Then, they handed me my luggage and passed me off to the driver with a short, polite farewell.

I will likely never see those three young men again. To this day I have no idea who they were or what they were doing at that airport. However, I will forever carry the experience with me as a valuable lesson and a thankful reminder of human kindness. So often we hesitate to extend a helping hand to a stranger because we don’t know who they are, but these three men made it clear to me, it wasn’t about who I was, it was about who they were.

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