Last weekend, three of my friends and I decided to make our way out to Wadi El Rayan, a beautiful nature preserve in the middle of the desert, about two hours from Cairo. This preserve is home to a gorgeous oasis, complete with waterfalls, and I was excited to spend some much-needed time away from the cramped streets of Cairo. We took a microbus from Cairo to the city of Fayoum where we picked up a feast of food and then hired a taxi to take us out to the preserve and spend the day with us.
We got to the preserve—an endless expanse of sand with a stunning lake in its center—and began making our way toward the waterfalls on a nicely paved road. Then quite suddenly, for reasons I still don’t understand, our dear taxi driver Mohammed slammed on his breaks, backed the taxi up about 10 yards or so, and took a sharp right—into the dunes.
We were all fairly surprised by this decision; I had certainly never thought of taxis as off-road vehicles. But if there is one thing I’ve learned in my time in Egypt so far it is to never underestimate what public transportation vehicles are capable of. So I laughed and cheered him on as we slid and fishtailed through the ochre colored sand. But about 100 meters off the road, the inevitable happened.
We got stuck.
After a few minutes of revving the engine, it became clear that no forward motion would be happening anytime soon, so we piled out of the vehicle to find our front tires half-buried in the sand. We then spent the next half hour digging, pushing, pulling, propping, revving, and spinning our way deeper and deeper into the sand until it was clear that we would not be able to get out of this on our own.
We were now very stuck.
And I felt positively giddy about it. I looked around at all the space around me, mounds of fine, soft, Sahara sand in all directions, birds flying overhead, the crystal blue lake on the horizon. Aside from my three friends and our very frazzled taxi driver, there wasn’t another person in sight, and aside from our sad, stuck little taxi, there wasn’t a car to be seen. No high-rises stood between me and the beautiful sun, no smog and exhaust choked my lungs, there were no offensive horns to pierce the silence. And there was no car that could take me away from here for the forseeable future. I was jubilant 🙂
I took off my shoes and proposed that we leave the car for now and go down to the lake to enjoy our lunch. My friends, who thankfully seemed to share my glee with our current state of affairs, readily agreed with this plan. Dear Mohammed, who was not nearly as amused with our situation (perhaps because his livelihood was currently half-buried in a sand dune), declined and headed off toward the road to seek help.
And just like that, we were completely alone in the vast expanse of desert. I wasn’t sure how long we would be stuck. All I had with me was a little bit of water, some food and my camera. My plans for the day had definitely been derailed. And yet, I was utterly joyful. Instead of fretting about the uncertainty of the situation, I was just reveling in the beauty of my surroundings and the companionship of my friends. And though I had no idea how we would be rescued, I had complete faith that Mohammed would sort something out eventually so I was completely at peace.
Lesson learned: Occasionally in life, we find ourselves unexpectedly stuck in a desert with no clear path out. We can either choose to fretfully try to dig ourselves out, which will usually only leave us dusty, frazzled and more stuck. Or we can choose to have a picnic and seek out what beauty there is to be found in our surroundings, resting in full confidence that there is One who is sorting out the situation.
Sure enough, Mohammed pulled through. Just as we were finishing up our lunch, an enormous army truck came lumbering over the dunes and out jumped five soldiers in camouflage pants who got straight to work digging the car out with their shovels and hooking it up to the truck with a large chain. Within a half hour, our car was out—and within 2 minutes after that, as Mohammed attempted to drive back toward the road, the car was stuck again. This time, the truck couldn’t reach it to pull it out and it would come down to pure man power that even all the army men couldn’t provide.
Luckily for us, at just that time, a band of Bedouins came flying across the dunes in a pickup truck. The soldiers began waving their arms and shouting for them to come over, which they did. The scene in which I now found myself was so odd that I had to laugh out loud: five Egyptian soldiers (two of whom had now removed their boots), four Bedouins in traditional galabiyas and turbans and one mournful-looking taxi driver all pushing and pulling at a white taxi buried in the sand as four Americans watch on.
And as I watched, it dawned on me that out of the group of 10 men hard at work on our rescue, nine have typically be labeled as “bad guys.” Five were members of the Egyptian army, an institution accused of oppressing the Egyptian people and committing a number of different human rights violations, and four were Bedouins, a people known for kidnapping foreign tourists such as myself in Sinai. And yet, here they were, hard at work in the sun and the dust to help us for no benefit to themselves.
And so, even though the horror stories about the Egyptian army and the Bedouins are many, I have the privilege of telling a different story. A story about how 10 kind-hearted Egyptian men took over an hour out of their day to help a group of tourists stranded in the desert to dig their car out of the sand. The stories of injustice and violence must be told. But the stories of cars pulled out of the sand must be told too. And as a journalist, I want to do a better job of seeking out both.
Lesson learned: We should be wary anytime we are only being told a single story. While all the stories of ruthless Somali pirates, Muslim Brotherhood radicals and Wall Street moguls are undoubtedly true, I’m willing to bet there are other stories to be told. So we should seek them out.