Months before we left on our adventure to Egypt, I purchased a CD for$29.95 guaranteed to teach me the necessary phrases for a tourist in Egypt. I figured hello and goodbye would serve me well in the pleasantry department. Then I thought that since I am travelling with my mother-in-law, who is notorious for her potty stops, I should attempt to learn the phrase for “Where’s the bathroom.” I listened to the lessons on the CD for quite a while. I was a fairly good student. As long as I had the little lady in my computer and the pictures associated with the words, I was doing a great job. Once I stepped foot on Egyptian soil, the only phrase that I could actually remember was how to say goodbye because to me, it sounds like “I like my salami.” Of course, once in Egypt I wasn’t about to use this phrase pronounced the only way I could get my southern accent around it. I was worried I would be completely misunderstood or be taken to the nearest butcher shop.
One phrase that I didn’t learn in my lessons but kept hearing over and over was the Egypt equivalent of “God be with you.” I was reading in my book on Egyptian culture that it is considered a failure for an Egyptian to not be able to accommodate your requests. If it is something that they think they can do, they will say yes. If it is something that they don’t think they can do, they will say yes, with “God willing or God be with you” after the promise.
After travelling for the past week with my two 80-year-old in-laws we began to hear the phrase quite a bit. We have put Paul in bobbing boats, walking gangplanks to disembark small motor boats, had him traipsing through the desert sand and riding in a donkey cart. When we went to Abu Simbel we pretended to be mountain goats climbing up crudely carved rock stairs to a sandy trail that a donkey would have a hard time staying on, all the while trying not to look down the tumble of rocks to the waters of the lake below. Once this part of the journey was mastered we had about 100 stone stairs to climb before we started the somewhat long walk to the temple itself. Couple that with the fact that we did it in complete darkness once for the sound and light show and then again at dawn the next morning to watch the sunrise on the temple and the ordeal just got more and more harrowing. On our second trek to Abu Simbel, Dad refused to turn a corner and ended up trying to climb up the cliff face. David, who is petrified of heights, was trying as gently as possible to talk him down all the while panicking at the thought of his Dad throwing an elbow and sending him careening off the side of the cliff. Luckily for us, there was a huge body-building Frenchman in the next boat. He saw the situation and basically lifted Dad off the cliff face and put him on his feet going the correct way on the path.
It was during one of our sunrise excursions to the temple that I kept hearing the familiar phrase from different cruise personnel that we passed. Egyptians must be as good at gossip as we in the south are. It may have been my imagination but by dinner that night I felt like everyone on the boat had uttered this phrase to us. This is when I realized that “God be with you” in Egypt is the southern equivalent to “Bless you heart.” Unfortunately, the only thing I could respond in Arabic was “I like my salami!”