Lake Nasser Arrest – part 3

Part three of a five-part excerpt taken from To the Brink, the concluding volume of my circumnavigation trilogy, published August of this year. Read part one and two.

A flunky I hadn’t seen before appeared, carrying a sheaf of paperwork and a mug of tea in a saucer. He placed them in front of the major, who was now speaking rapidly into a telephone, one of several that lined his desk. This is bad, I said to myself. The inventorying of equipment continued. Lists were made. Then yet more lists. The orderly going through my gear handed the major a burgundy booklet he’d found in my waterproof money belt. This was a back up passport, one free of Israeli stamps that would better my chances of getting into Syria.[1] Prisoners and Egyptian security forces

Still barking at the phone, the major took the passport and placed it with the other. How would I explain this?

Hours passed. Phones rang. Major Hassan had up to three handsets on the go at once, working the phones like a telemarketer. Who was he talking to? I lost all track of time. During lulls in the interrogation, I found myself nodding off, having barely slept in three days. Suddenly, there was a commotion behind me. The orderly had cut himself unsheathing my kukri knife, slicing this thumb to the bone. Needing an excuse to ingratiate myself in what appeared to be increasingly dire circumstances, I dressed and bandaged the wound with supplies from my first aid kit.

I reckoned that I’d been sitting in the same chair for around eighteen hours when an orderly brought me a glass of water, and escorted me to a bunkhouse. I slept for an hour. Then I was roused for more questioning.

Back in the office, an exhausted Major Hassan was still working the phones. Cups of cold coffee cluttered his desk. A marble ashtray overflowed with cigarette ends. My cameras and GPS were in a row in front of him.

Seeing me, he signaled for me to sit, and then swivelled the LCD screen of the camcorder. The display was dark, but I could hear a voice—my voice—whispering to the camera. I was describing crossing the border, and congratulating myself on avoiding detection. “I’m now heading north towards Aswan,” the voice was saying. “So, I really, really hope the Egyptian security forces don’t see me.”

The lights of Argin, the border surveillance post, were clearly visible in the background. I’d even filmed the GPS coordinates of the twenty-second parallel to verify my circumnavigation route. The dumb tourist card was played out. Major Hassan began fast forwarding through the footage.

“Where?” He stopped to play a section. “Sudan or Egypt?”

A procession of white-robed boys was trooping into shot: the goatherds who’d stumbled on my position the first day.

“Sudan. I think.”

He listened to their conversation. “No. Massri. Egypt boyz. Dey say you make reconnaissance.”

I noticed my Russian topographic maps were spread out on an adjacent table. Covering the entire southwest-to-northeast-aligned lake to Aswan, the maps took in a wide swath of southern Egypt, including the sensitive border region.

Sher’s kayak had also drawn attention.

“We use dis for special operations,” the major said, nodding at the boat parked along the back wall. He handed me my GPS. “Now. Show me.”

No more “Pleases,” I noticed. No more “Never minds.”

I pressed the power button and the waypoints shimmered into view, revealing my precise route up the lake.

Meanwhile, more equipment lists were being made. Then more questions:

“Why are you here in Egypt?”

“What are you looking for?”

And again: “You work for … who?”

[1] Several Arab countries, including Syria, automatically refuse entry to anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport.

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