This is the 2nd excerpt from my work-in-progress memoir, Travels Through Egypt. This is the last part of chapter 3. If you have a suggestion for the name, let me know. I’m about halfway through writing it, and I’ll try to publish a chapter a week.
Food helps to ground me, but for two days, I foundered, as we traveled from site to site visiting Cairo. Jet lag, the newness of the Middle East, the strangeness of the “getting to know you” period with the group, and my general work exhaustion, all seemed to overwhelm me until I felt as if I were swimming through sand. The most important thing I remember from this period, is meeting our guides, Mohamed Nazmy and Emil Shaker. Emil and Mohamed are the reason we go back to Egypt year after year now, and it was at their suggestion that we eventually began to lead trips.
Mohamed Nazmy, the President of Quest Travel, has always been a bit of an enigma to me. When I first met him, I described him as, “What if a bear and a beagle gave birth to an Egyptian?” These days, he is formidable, a big man with a full face, smooth skin, heavy lidded eyes, and jet black hair with a white Bride of Frankenstein streak at the front. Mohamed wears Armani suits, and his every gesture is elegant. His staff is obviously both afraid of him and worshipful of this father figure, who acts as sort of a benevolent dictator. Everyone in the hospitality business knows Mohamed, and I once scared off a man on the street who was trying to hustle me by telling him I knew Mohamed Nazmy. I believe Mohamed has done more for spiritual travel in Egypt than perhaps any other man, and he counts Marianne Williamson, Greg Braden and Graham Hancock among his many luminary friends.
To Greg and me, Mohamed is a teasing boy, who giggles and loves practical jokes and surprising people with gifts, unexpected opportunities, or little extras that he knows will make his guests happy. On our first trip, he looked in Greg’s and my eyes and called us his brother and his sister. He obviously saw something there we did not, since at the time we would never have guessed we would come back to Egypt again and again.
Last year, I nicknamed him Momo, and to my surprise, the name stuck, and now Mohamed has taken to signing his e-mails Momo, or Big Mo (which is larger than life like he is, but sounds too gangstery to fit). But, in typical Momo fashion, woe to the staff member who calls him by his nickname. They all still refer respectfully to “Mr. Mohamed,” at least to his face.
Momo is the most incredible marketer I know of, and has mentored me on many of his secrets over the years. But his best one is simply understanding the dynamic of many of the people who visit, knowing to always give them nothing less than the trip of a lifetime. For each of his guests, this is his goal, and that he almost always achieves it can, in Egypt, be nothing short of a miracle.
Emil and Mohamed have been friends for over twenty years. Emil was born in Luxor, not just the city, but on the actual grounds of the temple, which in those days was still full of mud structures that were formed on three sides, and attached to a wall of the temple. Emil can stand at the entrance to the main Luxor temple compound, point just behind the left Collossus, and say he was born there. Needless to say, Egypt’s in his blood. When he was a kid, the authorities came in and kicked everyone out of Luxor temple and demolished all their homes, making way for the badly needed temple refurbishment in anticipation of the growing tourist trade, made possible by the advent of cheap plane travel.
Emil was, by his own gleeful admission, a bad boy. He will tell you as many stories as you like to prove this to you. For example, when he was a kid, an old man who lived near him married a young, beautiful woman and was having sex with her every night. Their bedroom was on the second floor, and Emil used to shinny up the metal downspout next to the window, so he could watch. After a few weeks, the old man got wind of it, and wired the pipe to a circuit. The next time Emil grabbed the pipe, Emil got a jolt of electricity that knocked him to the ground. When he tells this story, he laughs uproariously and slaps his leg.
At fifteen, Emil got into so much trouble, his mother decided he had to leave Luxor, and sent him away to school. Eventually, he went to Cairo University and became an Egyptologist, and it was in this capacity that he met, and began working for, Mohamed Nazmy. Emil has less than a full set of teeth, and even less hair, but women for some reason find him devastatingly attractive. On every trip, they fight over Emil. Who does he like best? Which one will he end up with? I’ve seen a seventy year-old and a thirty year-old go nuts over the guy. Emil gets the last laugh, flirting with everyone, making all kinds of promises, but when I ask him if he ever follows through, he says, “No! I am a good boy,” and gestures dismissively. I almost believe him, but the seventy year-old seemed especially determined.