Northern Equations
Vida Janulaitis
E veryone told me I was crazy to even consider it, but I knew better. I had dreams of kayaking down the Nile, especially after having a few drinks and here was my chance. I could go in undercover to Assyut and find out first hand about the problems. Egypt was a country filled with friendly people and my paper wanted to find out about the violent Islamism. I'm no rookie reporter and nobody's fool, but when I'm told not to do something my back goes up.

I flew into Cairo glancing at the Nile of my dreams, so real I could reach out and touch it.

I was all prepared for my journey, the danger, the well rehearsed cover story, the poverty , but if the violence wouldn't kill me, the heat would.

The pyramids enthralled me and I wanted Omar Shariff to take me on a tour of them. Instead I found a driver who would take me to Assyut. I was dressed according to the local customs, and told everyone I was joining my husband. He had already returned to the old values of his country. After being in Canada I realized a woman's true calling is following the traditional path of looking after the family. Sometimes the old ways were the best.

In Assyut seeking lodgings in the local hotel I changed my cover as I explained that my husband had been delayed. They looked at me suspiciously, they didn't encourage tourists, bad for business when they get killed but my perseverance won. I wish it hadn't. I found out that communications from the hotel were just as poor as the food. My contact didn't show up the next morning or afternoon and then that night the hotel got raided.

I was trying to escape the heat by taking a late walk, unheard of by the Islamic laws but not by mine. When I got back to the hotel the police were in force. Ten people had died in the middle of the night in their sleep. The door to my room was open and all my things taken. The only thing left was a note on my pillow, simply saying, "don't miss that last train from Assyut."

No name, no signature, just a clear message that under given conditions I would've been a fool to ignore. This was real. I had been found out. This was their life and I had no place in it.

The Nile will always be in my dreams, in Omar's voice, in the pyramids I see in photographs, but in my mind, it will never be the same.

First published: February 2000