“Sabah il khayr.”

Morning bread man, CairoTHIS IMAGE reminds me of something. Many of us have experienced that predicament in which we’re genuinely convinced our life is about to end. For me it came in December of 1997, very near the place in this photo.

After a two-hour drive over “the desert road” and a weekend in Alexandria, I told my Egyptian friends I would love to return to Cairo on the train. That’s like your guest from France pleading with you to let them ride the Greyhound to Austin. They said the Arabic for knock yourself out, and I embarked on one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, maybe because I was by myself, a stranger in a strange land, and with just a few phrases from my language tape to get me by.

Back in Cairo by late afternoon, I had only to make my way from the massive train depot to the al-Masri version of a transit station, where I would catch one of those little mini-vans, the crowded, al-Masri version of a bus. Enroute I looked up to find myself standing on a foot-wide strip of concrete median with toyotas and peugeots and mercedes buzzing by only inches away. It has come, I thought, this is the hour of my death amen. Instead, I rose the next day, possibly to see a morning like this, or at least one that would have felt as promising.

That same, stark contrast might be teased out of the Arabic greeting, “Sabāh il khayr.” Literally translated, it means something like, “The freshness of the morning to you.” I guess it’s all relative if you live in one of the oldest cities on earth, huddled by the Nile with the Sahara at your back. And it may originate from a time long before Cairo became the metropolis it is; but they still say it today, even the hired drivers on Zamalek, whom, mornings, you’ll find out front with their cars, hosing off the dessert that blew in last night.

(9am bread bicycle man Cairo, November 08. Photo by Neil Cummings)