The first time I heard the phrase “One Egyptian minute”, I was in Suez, Egypt visiting my father. My sister had to return to the States for her Senior year and graduation, so I was feeling down. On that sultry and sandy September morning I woke up with a hangover. Again.
A cold shower and a hot cup of coffee cleared the fog enough for me to hop into the truck with the driver and off we went. Our destination is Ain Sokhna, where I will join my father and the Dingbat, which is what we secretly call his current mistress and our future first stepmother. While Dear old Dad works, the Dingbat will entertain me at the guest house. We’ll shoot countless games of pool and watch Benny Hill videos until it’s time for the first of many drinks.
My driver and the truck are both exhaling smoke as we leave the town of Suez and paved roads behind. A cassette of Egyptian music is in the tape deck and the driver sings along, tapping out the beat on the steering wheel with gusto. The windows are down and I’m perspiring, unsure if it’s mostly the heat or the journey ahead causing it.
Desert surrounds us. We see a camel train here, a wadi there. In the distance I see the Jebel Ataqa mountain range, one part of an ancient Bedouin smuggling route. There are no other vehicles. We pass several areas surrounded by rusty barbed wire. Signs attached depict the skull and crossbones, the only warning that these areas are filled with landmines. The driver seems unconcerned, still singing, smoking and tapping. As for me, I’m still perspiring, perhaps even more than before as I wonder if they might have missed a landmine or two.
Clouds of dust billow in our wake as the driver accelerates. We hit one particularly bone jarring bump. I feel gritty and think I might have left my stomach behind on that last stretch of rough desert trail. The driver turns to me, his face filled with glee. We’re both bouncing up and down, up and down. He’s hanging onto the steering wheel, I’m hanging onto my “Oh crap” strap. With a smile of pride and joy on his face he says, “This one baaad GMC pickup!”
At this point in the journey I feel the need to ask a question. “How long ride?” “One minute, no problem!” he replies. Many jolts later, I ask again, “How long ride?” Once more he replies, “One minute, no problem!” Then he cuts his eyes toward me, his cigarette dangling from the corner of his smile and says, “One Egyptian minute!”
I was young then and always searching for anything to fill and kill time. I didn’t want to think or feel and drank a lot to numb the pain caused by family dysfunction and domestic violence. That ride through the desert filled with landmines, camels, Bedouins and a singing, smoking, smiling driver made a lasting impression. It was adventure! It was fun!
All these years later, I can’t remember how many games of pool we played or which episodes of Benny Hill we watched. What I do remember is the enjoyment this man got out of driving me through the desert in his baad GMC pickup. I would love to see that driver once more so I could thank him for giving me a pleasant memory of the adventure we shared. I would also thank him for teaching me a new concept of time. The Egyptian minute.