Major Hassan shook his head in disbelief. This idiot tourist had somehow strayed across the border, the border it was his job to prevent anyone from going anywhere near. He hammered on his keyboard and read from the screen, “How did you cross the border?”
“No one stopped me.” I replied truthfully, although I chose not to mention that I’d paddled at night. “But I am still confused”—I reached forward and showed him my map—“exactly where the border is.”
Using the ring finger of his left hand, which I noticed bore a gold wedding band, he traced the twenty-second parallel. “Up from here.” He wagged another finger. “Is forbidden.”
“And where are we now?”
His finger travelled the forty miles north to Abu Simbel.
“Oh, I see.” I laughed nervously, pretending to only now comprehend. “I suppose that means I’m in trouble, no? I’m just glad you didn’t shoot me!”
Major Hassan said nothing. No smile. No laughter. He furrowed his brow, took a deep drag on his cigarette, and went back to scrutinizing my passport. In a corner of the room, one of his henchmen was going through my gear, pulling out the contents of the dry bags and placing them in different piles. Electronics was already the biggest.
The major glanced over at the growing mound of gadgetry: laptop, GPS, satellite phone, EPIRB, video camera, cell phone, RBGAN satellite modem, digital still camera, solar panels, memory cards, video cassettes, power adaptors, leads, extra batteries, and two compasses—one handheld, the other from my cockpit. He pointed and rattled off something in Arabic, whereupon the orderly retrieved the laptop-sized satellite terminal I used to send video footage back to the expedition website.
“What this?” he asked.
I considered trying to pass it off as a battery pack, but the compass embedded in the front cover would give it away. I told him the truth.
The major had been tactful and diplomatic at first, introducing himself politely (“Hello, my nem ees Major Hassan”) and asking harmless questions. His demeanor was starting to change. He stared at me through the swirling galaxies of blue silvery smoke, his eyes narrowed to reptilian slits. “I do not be leaf your story,” he said, fingered the whip ominously.
“What part of it?” I asked.
“Any of it!” The major leaned forward and pointed to the last page of my passport. “Your family name Levi?”
“You work for … who?”
I shook my head. I was beginning to see where this was going. In its written form, Lewis bore a loose resemblance to the Hebrew name of Levi. Egyptians hated Jews even more than the Sudanese, a long-standing hostility stretching back to pharonic times that had been more recently inflammed by repeated military defeats at the hands of the Israelis since 1948. “No, I don’t work for anybody,” I protested.
The major tightened his jaw in irritation, and nodded at the pile of electronics. “Then, what these. I ask you again, who you work for?”
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