We sometimes come across people at the right time that open a new window in our mind, or merely change our bearings, leaving their mark for life. These are the characters of destiny.
Then there are those that we got to know last week: they fall from the sky, throw us into a Tarantino movie, and disappear without trace. If this is our destiny, then life will never bore us.
We were on the ferry from Sudan to Southern Egypt, crossing the largest artificial lake in the world - Nasser – running like Arabs to ensure a place on the deck floor where we would end up spending the entire painful 18-hour journey. Seeing my father rolled up in his sleeping bag on the dirty deck floor overcame everything. I still don’t know why on earth we never reserved a bed in one of the cabins, or perhaps I do know: a man with a foot that looked like a tree trunk sat next to us, having later been joined by an Islamic preacher that offered us two sweets, passing them as if they were holy wafers.
We all know the sweet technique. They talk a lot about it in the Correio da Manhã (morning paper) where predators boast pockets filled with sweets in the hunt for children in the vicinity of schools.
This sweet was also poisoned.
Having acknowledged him, the preacher squatted down before us, eye to eye, squeezing us against the wall and burst into an Arab mantra, merely interrupting it with eyes and hands pointing up to the sky accompanied by the word “Allah”. We didn’t understand a word and so our neighbour with the large foot came to our rescue.
He introduced himself as Ahmed, the ‘’Colossus of Alexandria’’, bodybuilder and Mr. Egypt 1982, now a proud grandfather, owner of several gyms and our friendly translator.
They tried to convert both father and son, as if shaping the stone with sculpting tools, yet we both have very close and intimate views concerning religion. Discouraged by our petrified expression and fake politician-like smiles, they tried once more:
- He is saying that if you repeat a few words, your place in paradise will be guaranteed! Do you know paradise? Repeat only once “la …alah … ela … allah ”(God is great), it takes no effort.
- We only know of paradise here on earth, my fight is here, and I can indeed see God in a tree rather than in a church or mosque. In Europe, there are many people that like to feel religion with their own impulses. And praying in a foreign language will be meaningless, it would be repeating like parrots!
- It’s okay! Repeat after me, it’s easy: la … alah … la … allah …
After I had been so stubborn, the preacher put his hand into his pocket, smiled complacently, and placed a sweet in my mouth. The sweet technique worked. I gave in and repeated the magic words.
Ahmed breathed a sigh of relief, smashed my head with his stone palms and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. With joy, he grabbed my thigh and said: You have good curves for bodybuilding!
Now here’s a good job.
That night we saw Abu Simbel from the boat and slept under the stars on the metal deck floor, side by side with the ”Colossus of Alexandria.”
The next morning we got to Egypt and were told - «Gasoline? It’s been a problem for a month! There are very open few gas stations and all have a 1 km queue with people waiting nine hours, being controlled by the army.»
We have reached Maghreb.
By Carlos Carneiro (son)