Out the window, on the train traveling from Luxor to Cairo, civilization looked tired. Palm trees were brown with dust, and litter floated in canals. Crosses and crescents rose above neighborhoods of broken, mud-brick walls, and it was impossible not to think of the tension between Christianity and Islam here. Donkeys trod past machines in wheat fields spitting out chaff, and the train itself cut through a landscape of struggle, of tenuousness, of penetrating heat.
Whether it was me or civilization that was more tired, I do not know. But I thought: Nothing is pretty here, not in this heat.
Inside the train was a white-haired man named Farouk and his wife Elizabeth (or was her name Susannah? — I should have written it down sooner in my notebook). They were Coptic Christians, and we spoke a little during the journey. They would disembark well before Cairo, they explained, at a town between Nag Hammadi and Asyut called Abu Tig. The couple had joy in their hearts; you could see it.
As the train slowed toward a stop at Abu Tig station, Farouk and his wife paused by my seat on their way to the exit. They placed in my hands a plastic bag containing chicken, bread, and cheese, saying, “you will need to eat before the train reaches Cairo.” Moments later through the window, I watched as they and the people waiting for them on the platform embraced. Their family was happy to see them.
So was I.
THINGS MENTIONED OR RELATED:
- Abu Tig (also spelled Abu Teeg), Egypt
- A 30-minute video about tensions between Egypt’s majority Muslim population and Coptic Christian minority