by Shaden Mohamed
Despite my typical Egyptian features, and my fluent speaking skills, I still stick out like a sore thumb whenever I visit Egypt. Right away they spot me as a "foreigner". The only way to confuse a taxi driver - who can smell a tourist a mile away - is to take a cousin with me when I go sight seeing.
On one occasion my cousin Ayman offered to take us horse riding around the Pyramids at night, and took my sister and I to a private stable in Giza. The stable housed Arabian horses which belonged to rich entrepreneurs and aristocrats. I was delighted when the owner gave us a tour and allowed us to touch and feed these wonderful beasts.
I had heard that Arabian horses were different, but I never imagined that they were so intelligent or graceful. They listened to the owner and came over so we could pet them, and they neighed with jealousy when my sister and I moved on to pet and feed other horses. My cousin Ayman laughed in amazement, only to upset the horses further, causing them to snap at his outstretched hand. Such a scene left me speechless, and all I could say was, "SubhanAllah!"
When it came time to ride, my sister Sheri, who is a few years younger than myself, specifically asked for a tame, non-energetic horse.
Sheri had a phobia of horse riding, which began a few years earlier when we were riding around the Sphinx and tombs with our father. The horses we rode at that time - like most of the horses provided for tours - were weak and skeletal. Their ribs were sticking out from lack of food and they looked as if they were starving to death. As we were riding around an excavation area, the guide told us to move away from the steep cliff face, which plunged into a rocky area below. My sister's horse, however, stumbled over a rock and fell to the side, inches away from the cliff edge. My sister - who was under the traumatised horse - was screaming in pain and shock. Luckily the horse wasn't heavy enough to cause her any serious injuries, but the incident scarred my sister and she developed a phobia of horse riding.
On this particular night - which was 2 years after the traumatic accident - I convinced my sister that these horses were special and healthy, and I pointed at the horse's robust legs and muscles to reassure her of their strength and safety.
After much convincing my sister decided to conquer her fear and the assistant brought her the "slowest horse" in the stable. It was 1am, and the desert was so dark that you could only see a few metres ahead of your horse. Everything else was pitch black, and there were no stars in the sky to give light (perhaps this was due to Cairo's increasing smog problem). We relied solely on our guide and on the horses' great sense of direction - apparently they knew the way blindfolded because they had travelled that path hundreds of times.
After 40 minutes or so we reached our destination - the top of a sand dune which overlooked the whole of Cairo and the Pyramids below. It was spectacular - the lights of the city flickered and lit up the whole desert.
We rested for a few minutes, took pictures, then remounted for the journey back to the stable. The guide asked us if we wanted to run back, and my cousin and I enthusiastically agreed. My sister and mother, on the otherhand, decided to walk back nice and slow, so one guide stayed with them and the other lead the run.
What happened next will sound exaggerated, and probably like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, but it happened. I wish I had a camera because I am sure no amount of Hollywood stunt work could reproduce the scene that was about take place.
The guide let out a shrill whistle and whipped the horses with a cane. The minute me and my cousin's horses took off, my sister's horse decided to follow suit! I was surprised to see my sister's horse side by side with mine, and I laughed at the fact that my sister looked nervous as her horse built up speed. The smile faded from my face when my sister's horse sprinted past my cousin and I, and my sister's screaming was heard long after she had disappeared into the night. I tried to catch up, but I was not an experienced jockey for God's sake, and all I could do was yell out "Hold on Sheri, hold on!"
The guide who was with us had taken off after her, but even with his innate sense of direction and highly experienced riding skills, not even he could catch up to the runaway horse. The situation worsened - without a guide, the horses became confused and refused to listen to our commands. We took off in separate directions, unable to stop or turn around. My cousin veered off to the left somewhere, and my horse began to veer right. I finally managed to slow it down to a trot, but it was too late - I was in the middle of the desert with no guide and no idea of what to do. I was screaming out for my cousin. No reply. I called out for my sister. No reply. All I could do was let the horse take me where it wanted.
After what seemed hours (although it was perhaps 10 minutes), I could see a light in the distance. Thank God my horse walked towards it, otherwise I would have jumped off and ran on foot! As the light got closer, I could make out the very distinct figure of my sister, surrounded by a group of young males and the guide. I was relieved that she was ok and finally off the horse, but I had no idea why she was surrounded by men!
I dismounted and asked her what happened. She was in shock and verbally abusing the horse and saying very incoherent things in English and Arabic. One of the young men told me what happened: he and his friends were riding in their Jeep (apparently chasing wild dogs) when they saw my sister riding out of control in the distance. They sped after her, until they were driving side by side with her horse. One of the young men stood onto the edge of the Jeep (the step) and pulled the reins in an attempt to stop the horse. When this failed, he tried to pull my sister off of the horse and to safety, but my sister refused to let go - she was holding on for dear life. Finally, the man acted courageously and JUMPED onto the back of the horse from the Jeep! He then took control of the reins and pulled to stop the horse, but it refused to listen and continued to run.
The driver of the Jeep took the initiative and veered into the pathway of the galloping horse, and succeeded in stopping the crazed animal from going any further. And to top it off, the horse had stopped just metres away from a cliff edge! The horse would have surely run right off because its leather strapping and patch (used to deter flies) had slipped and blinded the horse, which ran confused and scared.
This still did not explain why the horse ran off so disobediently. When we reached the stable, the owner began to berate the stable assistant who had chosen this apparently "slow horse." In actual fact, the horse my sister was riding was a new mother, and had a baby foal waiting to be fed back in the stable. The horse had reacted with such strong motherly instincts, that in order to get back to her baby she had outrun a guide who had been riding since he was 4 years old!
Although the incident rekindled Sheri's fear of horse riding (and with good reason!), her close encounters with death are a reminder to have faith in Allah and in the plan that he has for us. On our last visit to Egypt Sheri absolutely refused to go anywhere near a horse, but she happily accepted a ride on a camel instead. Unfortunately for her, camels and horses turned out to be very similar indeed! But thats another story .
Shaden Mohamed is 22 years old. Of Egyptian background, she was born and bred in Sydney where she attained a degree in Media & Communications. As an accomplished writer, Shaden has a passion for educating and informing others in her community on the beauty of her culture. "My dream is to inspire people with my writing because I believe that literature is the most beautiful form of expression."
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