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Cairo: Without Reservations

HathorHathor
Hathor is the daughter of the sun god, Ra, the goddess of joy and love, and the protector of women and travelers. She is depicted wearing cow horns, between which sits the solar disk. She also wears a manait, the symbol of joy and pleasure.

I actually thought I had reservations when I arrived, tired and alone, in Egypt. Four nights at the swanky Nile Hilton and from there, I would figure out my trip as I went. It was not to be that simple.

Finally, finally, at 9:30 at night, after five flights, a proposition in Greece by a traveling salesman, a scam in the Cairo airport, and a van ride into the city that scared the living shit out of me, I stood at the reservation counter at the Nile Hilton.

"Name?"

"Merwin, Kyla Merwin."

Tap-tap-tap on the computer. The hotel employee was very handsome: perfect teeth, dark hair, skin and eyes, with fabulous eyelashes. I began to wander in my thoughts. Can good looks elevate one's position in Egyptian life? Why not? Isn’t the fate of the lucky and the beautiful always intertwined?

"Your name again, please."

"Kyla Merwin. M-E-R-W-I-N."

Tap-tap-tappety-tap.

"Your passport please." Every time I was asked for my passport I had to reach up under my sweater and unzip it out of my super-secret, hidden money-belt, which Those-In-The-Know insisted I wear.

Tap-tap-tap.

Eyelash Man at the reservation counter said something in Arabic to the manager on duty, who came to look over his shoulder.

Tap-tap-tap.

"When did you make your reservation?"

"About a week ago." I knew exactly what was happening.

"Who made it for you?"

"Mt. Bachelor Travel Service in Bend, Oregon. In America." As if that would help.

"Do you have a confirmation number?"

Damn. How did I forget that little mundane detail? "No... I don't."

Tap-tap-tap.

"We don't have your name here," he said finally. "So sorry."

Let's cut to the chase, I thought. "Well, do you have a room?"
"No. The hotel is sold out. So sorry."

"You don't have a room? Not one tiny little room, somewhere in this big hotel?"

"No." Again he asked, "You don't have a confirmation number?"

"No, but I'll get one." I didn't have a room, but I had a plan. My best hope was to reach my sometimes boyfriend, Mike, immediately, who could call his agent at Mt. Bachelor Travel, and email back my confirmation number.

"Where can I access the Internet?"

"At the Business Center, that way." Eyelash Man pointed. He handed me back my passport. "So sorry."

During the 30-second walk to the Business Center I started to cry. Shaking from the inside all the way out, and staving off a full-on sob fest, I plopped down in a chair in front of a computer.

I typed my message to Mike, Subject: Urgent from Cairo. Words make things real. Writing somehow unlocks the barriers of propriety and my quietly leaking tears suddenly started racing each other down my face. "I'm off to a rough start," I wrote. There it was. The truth. Not The Truth. But how could I know that? I was off to a rough start. I flat-out bawled into the keyboard.

Mike, I suddenly realized, was in Seattle at that very moment. Smartphones hadn't been invented yet, and he wouldn't be checking his email for days and days. He was – as signified our relationship at the time – unreachable.
This was my best plan, and it was worthless. I understood in that moment why people have international cell phones. At that time in my life, however, I still had a rotary dial telephone by my bed in Bend. The importance of technology in a modern world had yet to dawn on me.

I had done all I could do about my room at the Hilton. Game over. I unwrapped a leftover cookie from my backpack, ate it, and blew my nose in the paper napkin.

Bad news has a way of multiplying. The Business Center was closing and the hotel staff wouldn’t let me sleep in the lobby or check my suitcase with the bell captain. What was I going to do for the next nine hours?

I slogged my suitcase and leather backpack to the most reasonable place I could think of: the bar. I dragged myself and all my crap through the bar, twice, over the thick carpet, righting my tippy, tip-heavy suitcase, trying to decide where to sit, where to go, what to do.

I picked a seat up at the bar, on the end, with room for my massive, green and pink, designer, upholstered luggage, my backpack and me. I ordered a glass of red wine and was halfway through it before I noticed two men talking and smoking next to me. I tapped the young man sitting closest to me on the shoulder. "Excuse me. I'm having the worst day of my life. Can I have one of your cigarettes, please?"

Enter Prince Charming and Prince Charminger.

Excerpted from "Lost & Found in Egypt: A Most Unlikely Journey Through the Shifting Sands of Love and Loss."