Welcome To Egypt: A True Story

Malik Betton
Jul 21 · 6 min read
The Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, January 2019

He repeatedly pointed his finger at me. That’s what caught my attention. It looked like he was mouthing the word “you, you, you” over and over. He then pointed to his ear. That's when I took my headphones off.

“Excuse me?”

“Where are you from?”

“New York,” I thought I recognized him as one of the locals I had meet in Dahab, but as he climbed the stairs to the outdoor cafe I was sitting at, I realized that I didn’t know this man at all.

“Where are you from?”

“Is there a problem?”

“Where is your passport.”

“I don’t have it on me. Who are you?”

“I’m with the tourism police.”

“Is there a problem?”

“Where is your passport?”

“How do I know you’re the police? You’re not even wearing a uniform.” This guy was wearing a plain button front shirt with a khaki jacket and gray slacks. As a 32 year old, grown man I wasn't accustomed to random people questioning me about my identity. I became agitated quickly. He reached for his wallet and pulled out his I.D. It was a small card with his photo. The top said “Ministry of Tourism”, and everything else was in Arabic.

“My passport is back where I’m staying.”

“And where are you staying?”

“With a friend,” I kept it vague, “What is this about? Did something happen?” He scoffed, turned away and went to question the lone man working the cafe. To say that I was freaked-out would be an understatement. This man was just walking by the cafe, saw me, and just decided to come over and interrogate me on the spot.

To my immediate left was a blonde woman silently glued to her phone. To my right were two other blonde women with small children, also on their phones, also silent. Why hadn’t the man asked for their identification?

After questioning the cafe worker the man took one last look at me and then left. This wasn't my first time here. I had been to this cafe several times now. The guy working here was always friendly. Now he was just staring at me.

Saladin Citadel of Cairo Egypt, January 2019

I had been warned about this before I left New York. Why would you want to come to Egypt? It's so racist here. These were the words of an Egyptian girl I had been chatting with online. Racism exists here in America too, was my response. Ah, you’re going to Egypt? You know I’d have a better time there than you. These were the easily decipherable words of my Irish friend John.

I texted the friend I was staying with and told him what just happened. He recommended that I come back now. Even though it was past 11 p.m., I didn't want to seem suspicious by leaving so soon. I knew I was being watched.

I waited a few minutes then collected my laptop and exited the cafe. My friend’s apartment was only a few hundred meters up the street. I put my headphones back on and started to walk. I made it to the end of the intro on “Rose Quartz” by Toro Y Moi before I was stopped. There was a different man on the corner mouthing words to me.

“Excuse me?” I took my headphones off.

“May I have your passport?”

“I don’t have it on me, but I do have my drivers license.” I reached for my wallet and handed him my New York state I.D.

“Thank you. Uh, thank you” his serious demeanor instantly deflated. He looked a bit nervous and embarrassed. “Welcome to Egypt,” he smiled and handed it back. I gave him a confused look before continuing my walk.

After reaching my Egyptian friend’s apartment he, our Canadian friend also staying there, and I discussed what had happened along with the political situation in Egypt compared to America and Canada.

“You’re dark skinned and you have a beard, man. They probably think you’re from Sudan or somewhere,” my Egyptial friend explained.

“Thats bullshit,” the Canadian chimed in. “Everybody has a beard back home and no one gives them shit about it.” He conveniently skipped over the dark skinned part. He’s Caucasian and swears up and down that racism isn't a thing in Canada. We argued about this once. I asked him if Canada ever had a non white prime minister. He said it didn't matter. I asked him again. He was firm in his belief that it didn’t matter. I explained to him that people once said the same thing in America and then along came Barack Obama. Just like the blondes in the cafe, he could only see what he wanted to see. Furthermore, I told him we should have this conversation after the first non white prime minister of Canada got elected, and then we’d see about racism not being a problem there. From my understanding, the election is this October and there's a brown guy of Indian descent who wears a turban in the race. Godspeed.

“I’m going to the gym,” my Egyptian friend announced. 20 minutes later he was back. “Dude, I just got interrogated. There's two police officers standing in the street out front.” Apparently the same two guys who questioned me also followed me and were staking out the apartment. Again, “freaked-out” is not strong enough a word.

“This is such bullshit,” the Canadian was back at it. “I’m literally falling down drunk in the streets every night and nobody ever bothers me.” He had been in Dahab for three months getting a diver certification. He had quickly established himself as the town drunk.

Dahab, South Sinai Egypt, March 2019

“If I get arrested, please guys, come to the station and raise hell. Tell them you’re journalists, and refuse to leave until I’m released,” the dyspathy of my Egyptian friend was becoming contagious.

“Why would they arrest you?” I asked.

“Because they can. It already looks suspicious that I have two foreigners staying at my house. They may think that I’m selling drugs.” He had a point. Nevermind the fact that he was an engineer, he was 28 and lived in the expensive part of town as a single man with no family. Very uncommon. Most guys his age were unemployed and still lived with their parents. I met him on the popular travel app CouchSurfing, but to the less than tech savvy police officers who were also a generation older, why would two westerners rather stay in a local Egyptian home over a resort? “But you don’t need to worry. You’re an American. If they do anything to you it’ll cause an international scandal and the’ll be in deep shit.”

“This is bullshit,” sanged the broken Canadian record. It was getting late and I’m sure he had been out drinking. We decided to call it a night.

The next morning I was awoken to a knock at the door. I typically don’t answer doors, especially if I’m at someone else’s house, unless I’m expecting someone. I looked at my phone. It was little past nine. I knew the Canadian was out with his diving team. I had a missed message from the Egyptian. I knew he was probably at the vegan spot he frequented for the wifi. I opened the message.

Dude, my landlord needs a copy of your passport. The police were at his home this morning.

What the actual hell! The police tracked down the owner of the building? All for me? The knocking at the door continued. I rolled out of bed.

I opened the door to a short chubby man.

“I’m with the tourism police.”

“Hold on”, I angrily marched back to my room to dig through my bag. I returned to the door passport in hand. “Here!”

He looked at it, smiled and said, “Welcome to Egypt,” and then he left.

Thanks for reading this short story. If you like it, please let me know what you think in the comments below!

Malik Betton

Written by

Currently backpacking the Middle East. I write about things you can do to add value to your life coupled with stories about my own. MalikBetton@gmail.com

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