On the dangerously crowded platform of the main railway station in this nondescript provincial town, police locked arms to hold back the surging crowd.
When the gray locomotive bedecked with plastic flowers appeared around a bend, a cry went up and the thousands of people in the station, on nearby roofs, on lampposts and in windows overooking the tracks began to cheer and wave.
The noise of security helicopters circling overhead nearly drowned out the sounds of their cheers and their tambourines. But they continued to dance and wave and applaud as the train rolled through carrying the man they had come to see: Jimmy Carter.
The train did not stop, but it slowed enough for Carter to smile and wave as he and President Anwar Sadat passed through on their way from Cairo to Alexandria. Peasants, workers, students, nurses, and schoolgirls cheered and chanted their approval as the train passed, and they waved their banners calling for peace.
For four hours Carter and Sadat rode on a special train through the Egyptian countryside, and at every town and grade crossing smiling crowds lined the tracks and platforms to see them and shout out their desire for peace. If Carter harbored any doubt that the Egyptian masses are behind Sadat's determined quest for peace, the farmers cheering for him, for Sadat, for the train and even for the helicopters, should have dispelled it.
"I'm the most famous orange seller in this region," said Saida Bayoumi, looking over the pile of fruit on her stand beside the main highway parallel to the tracks here. "You write that down. I say Carter is a good man and our President Sadat is going to bring us peace. When the peace is signed, we will clap and sing and dance."
"Peace is the greatest thing that can happen to Egypt," said one of her customers, Ali Hashim, 40, a butcher with a full set of gold teeth. "Everybody here will watch this train and cheer for peace."
Suad Hilmo, a 48-year-old widow with a son in the army, stood out in the almost all-male mob pushing for a better view on the Benha station platform. "This is the best," she said. "My children are here and everyone wants to support peace."
To the Egyptians, judging by their outburst here and their massive demonstration later along the route of Carter and Sadat's motorcade from the Alexandria terminal to Sadat's house west of town, peace has apparently come to mean the team of Carter and Sadat. The profusion of banners above the stations and along the streets of Alexandria linked the two as the key to peace and prosperous future.
Carter's wife, Rosalynn, traveling with him, told reporters on the train: "It's very exciting. They're so emotional, it makes you feel like you've really got to work harder for peace for them."
"It was just the response the Egyptians had in mind when Sadat proposed the train ride.
The trip gave Carter a look at the timeless face of Egypt, the flat, fertile heartland of the Nile Delta. From his special car, the president looked out on the unchanging images of rural Egypt -- black-robed women with baskets on their heads, peasants squatting and stooping in the unrelenting cycle of plant and harvest, blindfolded water buffalo plodding in circles to drive irrigation pumps, ragged children herding goats along the diseaseridden canals where women were doing their laundry.
If Carter drew the impression that this was a fit country for a big new infusion of American financial aid, that, too, is fine with Sadat, who is expecting just that after a peace treaty with Israel.
The Carter train ride duplicated a trip taken by Richard M. Nixon in 1974, shortly after the United States and Egypt reestablished diplomatic relations. Egyptians and Americans who saw both said that today's crowds were bigger, along the 130 miles of train tracks and along the motorcade through the flag-draped streets of Alexandria.
The train never actually came to a full stop until it got to Alexandria, although six stops were listed in the brochure handed to reporters. It was entitled "Itinerary of the special Train of Mr. G. Carter." White House press secretary Jody Powell, asked about the initial, said, "That's Jimmy's cousin George. We've kept him hidden until now."