Our jeep broke down in the middle of nowhere as we journeyed to the White Desert of Al Farafrah in Egypt. The sun was fierce, beating mercilessly on us. The air was so dry that I felt I was breathing in an invisible thread of fire. I looked around me and all that met my eyes were mountains of golden sand that stretched far into the horizon on one side, and, running in parallel on the other side, acres of date palm farms.
Being stranded in the middle of nowhere was definitely not part of my travel fantasy of the White Desert, the images of which were enough to invoke the imagination of being in a land of fairy tale where chalk-white rock formations in a multitude of shapes, forms and sizes occupied the landscape, where countless twinkling dots would decorate the clear night skies, and where I would spend a night in the midst of the desert’s rare wonders.
I waited for a miracle to happen so our jeep would come roaring back to life. My travel companion, my sister, was as quiet as a rock. I supposed in a situation like this, sometimes it would be best to let silence comfort us.
Our guide and driver were putting in every ounce of energy into reviving our jeep. I started to wonder if they actually had the knowledge of what went wrong, let alone fixing it. Deep in my thoughts, I was quite oblivious to a man, who looked to be in his mid-40s, of the Arab lineage, and was clothed in the traditional long tunic, approaching us.
Seeing him, a negative thought was quick to creep in my mind “Oh no desert bandit! We’re doomed”.
Imagining the worst case scenario, I felt tightness in my throat. The man spoke to our guide and driver in what I supposed to be the Arab language. Watching them was like watching a twisted silent movie, twisted as there were actually words exchanged, silent because not understanding a single word of what they were saying was a deafening experience for me. Not understanding a single word being thrown in the air also made me feel powerless, as if all I could do from this moment onwards was to surrender to whatever would come next.
The trio threw their hands up in the air. Their heads shook. Their eyebrows narrowed. The unknown man then turned to look at me and my sister. No words came out of his mouth. I was so focused on my fearful thoughts that I did not even dare to look at my sister — dreadful headlines like “two Malaysian girls were human trafficked and were nowhere to be traced”, “two Malaysian girls being found lifeless some distance away from the White Desert” splashed all over the newsroom of my imaginative faculty.
What our guide told us next, however, was such a great relief that I almost collapsed on the desert floor “He wants to invite us for some tea while a “desert mechanic” fixes the jeep”. Sweet tea we shall have then!
My tension melt into nothing. My body slumped, losing its stiff posture. This must be the sense of relief that any innocent individuals wrongly charged would feel when the judge announced they were found guiltless and were to be released immediately.
So off we went to the place of this stranger — whose name I later discovered was Tariq — located some distance away from where we were stranded, in the midst of a date palm farm. Walking side-by-side with my sister, silence still filled the air between us, I was tempted to, and could, continue to imagine more bad things “What if this is a trap?”.
But I decided to let go of my fear and have a little faith in human kindness.