Of course, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Entering Egypt illegally was still a serious enough offence to get me slung out of the country, but at least the paperwork miraculously catching up to me staved off the grim possibility of rotting away in an Egyptian cell. And with the arrival of the fax, Major Hassan was a changed man—perhaps because his own neck was also off the block. Gone was the icy demeanour. He began laughing and joking, asking me about my family, and telling me about his:
“Eef you come Cairo, ees my mobile number. You meet my wife and cheeldren!”
Escorted by two orderlies, I was sent off to complete formalities with five other security agencies: Public Security, National Guard, State Security Service, Tourism and Antiquities Police, and the army. The whole process took seven hours. Finally, at one thirty in the morning, I was ushered back ino the Mubahath el-Dawla compound.
“I have good fren Aswan immigration,” the major said, rising wearily from behind his desk. He was drunk with fatigue, as was I. “My men will take you now, while still dark.”
His contact would be standing by the side of the road leading into Aswan, waiting to stamp my passport with an entry stamp “borrowed” from his office. Major Hassan didn’t have to do this, I realized. It was a personal favour. Stirred with gratitude, I fossicked in my pile of gear and presented him with the Nepalese kukri.
Observing ritual, the intelligence officer refused.
“Please,” I insisted, pushing the knife towards him. “I want you to have it, major. If it wasn’t for you, I’d have to backtrack to India.”
As per Arab custom, the major was obliged to reciprocate. He reached for the camel whip on his desk. “Dis here, very useful.” He pointed to a small indentation in the end of the lash. “Bedouin put poison. Keel enemy more quickly.”
“Very handy,” I agreed, thinking of some of the more obnoxious Ethiopian or Tibetan children I could put it to good use on if I ever found myself back in those countries.
Then the major shook my hand, smiled, and said, “I weesh we could haff meet under better circumstances, Meester Jason. But go now, and feenish dis great joorney.”
All Rights Reserved – © 2015 Jason Lewis