To be perfectly frank about it, I am about to go to a wonderful Egyptian wedding, complete with wine, belly dancers and sweet foods, or I am about to be fleeced. Either way, I am determined to enjoy myself.
This began with a man named Ali. I met him on the bank of the Nile River. I was standing and looking at the plaque on a closed museum when he came up to me and said in English, "It is closed."
"Oh," I said.
"It is not important museum anyway," he said.
"It is architecture museum. I am Ali. I study journalism. I will be your friend."
And so he was. He is a short man with black hair and darker skin than most in Cairo. He said he is 25 years old and something of a newspaper man in training. He named the paper and said he studied at the American University of Cairo. Soon, he said, he would be going to Los Angeles to complete his studies.
I was not surprised when Ali approached me. The people of Cairo are very friendly. Already, in a walk of maybe 12 blocks, several people had come up to me and said hello in English. Even gun-toting sentries at government buildings had said hello. Children waved and people smiled and I was, I have to tell you, feeling pretty good.
Soon after Ali met me, he declared himself to be my "brother." He said he would need a brother when he came to America, and I would need one in Egypt. When we had a drink, that would seal it -- brother.
"With us Egyptians, friendship is very important," he said.
"With me, too," I said, lying just a bit.
Ali and I walked for a while. He would take me to a wedding tonight, he said. It was the wedding of his best friend and for this occasion his car was in the shop being repaired. When he got his car, he would decorate it for the wedding and then he would come and pick me up. I would go to the wedding as his brother, he said -- as an Egyptian.
Ali ran into the road to hail a cab. We were going to the oldest mosque in all of Cairo, he said. The cab lurched into gear and soon we were in the old part of the city. Here music blared from loud-speakers and the men sat in the cafes smoking waterpipes.
At the mosque of Amr Ibn Al-Asi, Ali greeted some men. They were lounging on the ground. Al went up to the oldest man, who was leaning against an old wall, and gave him some money.
"If you help the poor, God will repay you," Ali told me.
We went further into the mosque until we came to a high-ceilinged area, columned and cool. Here yet another caretaker appeared and Ali gave away some more money. We approaced the tomb of Amr. Ali closed his eyes and prayed. The old caretaker and I watched. Ali said some words. He rocked a bit and then he opened his eyes and looked at me.
"I was praying," he said.
On the way out of the mosque, Ali once again talked of the wedding. I would be most welcome. I could sit with him and his girlfriend. He would explain everything to me. He would be my brother.
Out cab was waiting. We took it a cafe on the Nile where Ali paid off the driver. We took a table and ordered two beers. The sleek Nile sailboats were already banked for the night. Cats played down by the water and gnats buzzed in convivial groups.
Ali asked if Americans were friendly. He looked concerned. I said they were friendly. His face broke into a smile. He discussed the Israeli-Egyptian peace and the arrival of the Shah. Ali asked for some paper and on it he sketched a typical Egyptian dress. He would have one made for my wife, he said. He looked at his watch and announced he had to find out about his car.He rose, walked into the restaurant and returned about five minutes later. His face had fallen.
His car was ready, he said. That was good, he said. There was a problem, though, and then he looked down. He fell silent. I insisted he tell me. We were brothers, after all.
The mechanic had found the battery was too weak. He had put in a new one and now did not have the money to pay for his car. He would not have his car for the wedding. He fell silent again.
"How much?" I asked.
"Forty pounds," he said.
I hesitated. He was talking about $56 and he was talking moreover to a former New Yorker. I trusted no one. This was Cohen, after all. Ali looked up.
"You are my brother," he said. "I will repay the money."
He looked away. The Nile flowed by. The reeds danced in the winds, the cats seemed to pause and wait. I stood. I had decided enough of my eynicism. This was Cairo, not New York or Washington. I reached into my pocket and handed Ali forty pounds.
This was some time ago. Ali was due at eight and it is way that now. He told me to dress in a jacket and nice slacks, no tie. I am wearing a jacket and nice slacks and no tie. It is clear that Ali is not going to show up. It's all right. I have learned something in Egypt.
If you help the poor, God will repay you.