[ 3:40 am ]

My Portuguese seatmate, a small framed man with sunken cheeks and blond highlights streaked through thinning black hair asks me a question 15 minutes before touchdown.

Our only other interaction had been a quick acknowledging nod shared four hours ago while boarding in Frankfurt.

“You work here?” he probes, intrigued by my one-page Arabic language cheat sheet.

“No,” I reply. “Just ..hmm…traveling. I need to learn a few phrases, you know.”

He works in Cairo. Been working here for seven months, he proceeds to tell me. He works with aluminum and iron at a factory where out of 200 workers, only 14 or so spoke English.

A nuisance, he adds. After which, he tells me he is Portuguese and slips me his business card.

The Airbus suddenly banks sharply to the left, catching us both by surprise, but from his window seat, we see a sparkling Cairo sprawled across the landscape, shining so brightly even at 3:40 am.

“Look!” he quickly points down to a dark narrow patch of blackness, outlined by dots of light before our plane levels once more.

“It’s the Nile.”

“Ha!” I respond, trying to imagine if the Nile down below cloaked in darkness still exuded her biblical eminence.

The portly Egyptian businessman across the aisle next to me seems unfazed by the plane‘s sharp move. He is chatting up the rosy cheeked German flight attendant with the brown bob haircut and bangs, who is seated directly in front of me, facing me awkwardly.

“So when do you go back?” he asks.

“Tomorrow.”

Tomorrow??

“Yes, tomorrow, ” she answers with a smile.

“Must you go home?”

“Yes, I have to. You live in Cairo?” she asks him.

“Nooo,” he retorts with a deep tone like he’d been insulted. “I live in Manchester, England.”

“Oh, okay.”

“So what will you do tomorrow?” he continues.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe go to the market. This is my first time in Egypt.”

Really? So where is your hotel?”

Read Dispatch II here