This isn’t click bait. This actually happened. I almost got murdered in Egypt.
Let’s go back to February of this year. My friends and I took a twelve-hour bus from Cairo to a beach town on the Red Sea, Dahab. The bus ride, had we gone straight there, would’ve only been about seven hours, but two different factors added five hours to the drive.
One was the Suez Canal. The man-made canal was the crossroad between Africa and Asia. The border checkpoint alone, which was just one of thirteen total, lasted two hours. But we crossed from one continent to another in that time, which is pretty cool.
The second was that we had to take an alternative route to avoid Central and North Sinai. Why? Because that’s where the terrorists are. So we took a three-hour detour to avoid the hotspot, and there was still a chance we’d run into them. But after twelve hours, we got to Dahab just fine.
We settled into our Airbnb and then headed into town to find a restaurant. One of our waiters there was really friendly and we got into talking with him. He told us that he knew of a tour that would take us into the desert and give us a Bedouin dinner under the stars. For reference, Bedouins are Arab nomads that live in the desert. He said it was cheap, about $50 or 850 gineeh, and that we could leave whenever we wanted. My friends all were really excited, immediately agreed, and got this guy’s number.
This isn’t hindsight bias. I’m serious. From the very beginning, I had a bad feeling about this. I was always sort of stressed by Bedouins, especially because in our school orientation, we were warned to stay away from them. But my friends kept saying, “no, it’s an organized tour. It’ll be super professional and we can leave whenever! It’ll be beautiful dining under the stars!”
The next day was fun. We ate too much food, smoked too much Shisha, and relaxed on the roof of our Airbnb. But all day I kept saying, “Come on guys. I really don’t wanna go. Let’s just eat dinner here. I’ll cook!” But they really insisted on going, so I conceded.
Five o’clock comes around and we head out to the little square where we’re meeting the tour. We were all expecting a big bus and a ton of other people waiting to go. But what we saw was a beat up, white pick up truck and two dudes who looked like they had a bad attitude.
I literally stopped in my tracks. Nooooo way was I getting in this car. “Let’s go back, guys. Come on. We don’t even know these people.” But they insisted it was fine. So I went.
We got in the car and tried to make small talk with the men, but they were very cold to us. I remember noticing that there was no food in the car, so what were they going to cook with? Then we start heading away from the mountains, which is where we were supposed to go. We were going deeper into the desert.
Now I was really starting to panic. “Where are we going,” I asked. No answer. I knew something was very wrong. I noticed that my two friends in the back seat with me, Tanvir and Megan, were unusually quiet. My hands were shaking and I remember thinking, “I just FaceTimed my parents an hour ago and that’s the last time I’m ever going to talk to them.”
Suddenly, all the stories of dumb tourists who went into the desert with the Bedouins, only to be raped, robbed, or murdered, seemed like they were headed our way.
My friend in the front seat, Josh, me, and Megan, all spoke German. So in German, I basically said, “Um, what the hell? Guy’s something’s wrong. Josh, you speak the best Arabic. Tell them to take us back.” Megan agreed that she was very stressed and that something wasn’t right, but Josh said it was fine, that we were just overreacting.
Next thing we know, we’re pulling into an abandoned apartment complex that literally looked like it had been bombed. The two men got out of the car without saying a word and went around to another building. “Alright, fuck this. Josh, we’re leaving. When they come back, tell them they need to take us back.”
There was no way they were gonna take us back for nothing, so we pooled all our money and gathered 5000 gineeh, roughly $300. That’s a fortune to them. It was supposed to last us the whole trip, including expensive dinners and scuba diving. But this was more important. We all knew that this was about to get worse and we had to do something about it.
I saw the men walk back towards the car and they were talking in quiet, fast voices. When they came up to the car, Josh said, “I’m sorry, my friend is very sick. Can you take us back? We have 5000 gineeh that we can give you for your time.” With a bit of arguing and a lot of panic, we convinced them to take us back.
I just remember that the whole time we were driving, after we realized something was wrong and had started to ask them to take us back, the driver kept answering the phone and speaking in rapid Arabic, so informal that we couldn’t understand a word he said. Every time that phone rang, my heart dropped. I was certain he was going to get some sort of order to just kill us now or do whatever. We didn’t know. It didn’t matter.
That ride back was a blur. My heart was beating so fast that I almost passed out. I remember that more than once, the driver turned around and we had to literally yell at him to take us back. At another point, a group of men had surrounded our car. But by some crazy grace of God, we made it back to the square, forked over the $300, and set off to our Airbnb in utter silence.
In the aftermath of the single scariest moment of my life, I screamed at my friends. I fricken told them that this was a bad idea. I said I didn’t want to go and that I didn’t have a good feeling about this. They said, “You’re right, Elena. We should’ve listened to you. We are so sorry.” But that didn’t mean much to me.
What mattered to me is that I didn’t listen to my gut. I knew all along that something wasn’t right, and still, I tried to push past it in order to accommodate my friends. I promised myself that I would never ignore such a strong instinct again.
I lived through the Paris terrorist attacks in November of 2015. That was terrifying and I had to have therapy to work through my PTSD. But that event in Egypt was the single scariest moment of my life. It was the one true point that I really, genuinely believed that I was going to die. I was never going to see my family again. I wasn’t going to become a comedian. There were so many things I never did.
I didn’t tell anyone about what happened until months later because it was too painful to talk about. I had nightmares about it for months and experienced extreme anxiety and paranoia throughout the rest of my time in Egypt.
So that’s that. The lessons I learned were to listen to my fricken gut. I was right all along but I ignored it. I would never do it again.