I've Just flown across France, in low cloud and rain and have decided to call it a day and land into Brindisi Italy, and spend a night in a hotel, and hope the rain passes through and I can carry on tomorrow for the Sudan.
Just a short distance from my hotel, there was a public park with the usual Italian plaza and statues, sitting on a park bench I noticed a small man, sitting huddled up, as if he was cold, he looked a bit like a beggar! I walked on passed him, he never really looked up as I greeted him in Italian. we had eye contact for just a second then he looked away. there was a look of shame in his eyes, and I felt I had intruded into his space, embarrassing him, I continued to walk away back to my hotel.
The next morning the Italian airspace was closed for military exercises! so I couldn't leave, I went back to the park and my little friend was sitting in the exact position! he had not moved an inch.
I looked at him a bit closer this time, his clothes were well worn and ill fitting, with a military look about them, his foot ware was falling to bits! full of holes on the soles, and his skin was sallow, but dark, he has the look of Arabia about him, so I tried to greet him in the traditional Arabian way, in his own tongue.
He looked at me then looked away. (the look of the lost!)
I'd seen that look before in Africa, this man was lost! starving and thirsty without hope, he had given up on life, he is dying here, sitting, surrounded by plenty, and he seems to be invisible to the people walking by, they just don't seem to see him.
There is nothing more to do he is already on his journey ( maybe cleansing his hands and feet with water would help him ?)
I walked away,this is not my affair?
Back at the Hotel I was swimming in the pool, and for some reason or other? I just couldn't stop thinking about my little Arab friend! just couldn't get him out of my mind, it was niggling at me, there was something about him? don't ask me what?
He had a story within him and I had to know it , I'm helplessly drawn to it like a "duck to water".
I jumped out of the pool, got dressed and went to the local shop, I bought a couple of bottles of water and a pizza, and made my way back to the plaza.
My little friend was still in the same position, I walked over to him said "hallo" in English and started to open one of the water bottles, he looked up and seemed to breath in the smell of the water,
I offered him the bottle to have a drink, he was unable to resist and made gulping sounds as he drunk from the bottle too fast. I took the bottle from him saying for him to "slow down, as it may make him sick" if he drinks to quickly. I sat down beside him? thinking to myself he's just a shadow of a man, huddled up in his own pain?
I gave him the bottle to drink more water, taking it back from him after a short time, and continued to do so, until he had consumed about half of the bottle, I then opened the pizza and offered him a small slice, he looked at the pizza and then at me.
I knew what he was thinking, so I said " this food will not offend your god" I took the other bottle of water and washed his hands and then I removed his shoes and washed his feet. It was like handling a small child, I put my hand on his shoulder and told him "I would take his memory to his family". (a wee white lie?) Placing the water and pizza on the seat beside him and a few dollars I started to walk away, he whispered "thank you" in English, I continued to walk away, not wanting to be part of his passing. I had seen this before unfortunately my help will be days to late.
I had done all I could for now and I have to go and prepare my flight plan and continue my journey,( life goes on)
I could only hope that he recovers enough to continue his journey? where ever that is!
Back at the hotel I spoke with the owner and she said " she would send a blanket and food for him" so that's a good start, I offered to pay her but she said "no". (bless her old heart?).
Well the military are saying the airspace is closed for the next few days? so I went back to the hotel till then, I went down to the square to see if my little man was still about, and there he was, sitting in the same seat but not huddled up, I greet him and he responded I had water and another pizza, and for myself I had cheese and crusty bread, I had decided to have lunch with him.
We talked and it came out that he was an Egyptian trainee pilot, who had been sent to a Communist block country with other trainees and found the instructors to be abusive and difficulty, the language was a great problem between both sides.
It came to a head one day and he decided to leave with a friend, his chief instructor took all of their money and kicked them out of the camp, the result being they had walked across Europe and down Italy, they got food and money by begging,
His friend had got on a ferry across to Greece and was going to get work and send the money over for him to get over to Greece and that's why he was waiting in the plaza, it had been two weeks or more and nothing had been heard from his friend, we ate and talked, I told him I was also a pilot on my way to the Sudan via Egypt and maybe I could get his family to help? send him money or what ever!
He took my hand shaking it, I could see he was close to tears, so I jumped up and told him to come with me to my hotel, where he could shower and phone his family, whilst I go and get him some clothes to put on, at first his walking was very slow but it picked up and we returned to the Hotel, I left him in my room and went down to the market place and bought boys jeans and a two T shirts and went back to the hotel, I gave him some of my underwear, after he was dressed he stood in front of me, to show me! the clothes didn't fit him that bad, He had spoken with his father and family on the phone, he had been reported as a deserter. explaining the situation to his father and he said many of the other pilots were also wanting to leave, because of bad treatment and the training aircraft were below standard, and always breaking down, out of twelve aircraft only 3 were serviceable, and most of the instructors were abusive and didn't speak Egyptian,
His father said he would get it looked into.
Sending money out of Egypt was a real problem and his father said it may take a week or so to sort, will he be alright until then? yes he said don't worry, he gave his father the Hotel phone number, then he spoke briefly with his mother and sisters it was a crying match.
That night I invited him to eat dinner with me, I had arranged a single room for him for a couple of nights, he was very articulate and pleasant company, he said that "when he gets home he will arrange to pay all monies he owes me and for my kindness he can only say thank you ! I will pray to Alla to bless you."
A very Noble gesture, but in truth I wasn't one of Alla's friends! so I felt a wee bit strange.
I invited him to visit my aircraft with me tomorrow, so first thing in the morning, we jumped into a taxi and and went to the airport I could tell by the look and smell of him that he had been up all night being sick, really he should be in hospital on a drip, but he was an illegal with no papers and that would make it very difficult, he climbed all over my aircraft sitting in the cockpit for ages.
then I got this bright idea, I pointed him in the direction of the dicky seat that faces backward from the pilots seat, it was only built into a few aircraft, I had the compartment full of my gear, but with a bit of sorting out I'm sure he could sit in the seat quite safely. so I asked him "did he think he could stand a full day inside the compartment"
He said " Yes please".
So what to do? I arranged to take on fuel and first thing in the morning and go for a private flight down the coast without entering the controlled airspace, no worries. Air traffic didn't see any problems as long as I remained over land.
We returned to the hotel, I asked him to phone his family and put a stop on the cash transfer, tell them you are coming by boat, do not mention my aircraft! you can phone them and get picked up and get your arse into hospital and explain later.
I will fix the hotel, so they think we are out for the day and in the morning I will leave the money in an envelope which they should get the next day. By then! I will be in the Hotel in Cairo and you will be in hospital, with luck!
In the morning ever thing went to plan, my little Arab friend climbed into the dicky seat and I started the turbine and as it warmed up, I called the tower for departure clearance; " just remain in radio contact" "ok", here we go. I took off toward the south remaining at 1500 feet 20 minutes out I took up a north easterly heading! to keep me on the north side of the Mediterranean after an hour
I called on the radio "Operations normal, enjoying your lovely country" I saw the carrier wave on my radio flashing, which told me they were responding to my call, and from experience they will wait until my next call, I took up a gps heading, direct for Cairo and descending to just below 1000 feet which should put me below the radar horizon of any ships on the north coast of Africa and they will not be looking in this direction.( please God?) After 4 hours I started to climb and continued until I was at 9000 ft , I banged on the compartment wall and he banged back, after a couple of hours I could see the Egyptian coast. I called the air traffic and passed my details, "90 miles inbound from Greece" " continue your approach we have no traffic inbound for two hours" great! just what I want. Air Traffic came back to me and asked "if I wanted the Instrument systems approach, I said "no! visual will do" of course I was following my gps and instrument systems, (afternoons in Cairo can be very hazy), approaching the coast I saw a main dirt road running north to south and at a mile it looked good for purpose there were a few shops where a phone had to be , so at one mile I descended below the approach and dived towards the road, landing close to the shops I let my little friend out, turned and took off again climbing back into the approach.
It was not uncommon for a crop spraying aircraft to land on roads during the spraying season, so I was not over worried of being reported.
I landed into Cairo and went on to clear customs and immigration, no worries, off to the hotel.!
The next morning I was called down to the desk and I was introduced to my friends family, they were all very nice thanking me in turn, for helping their son and brother! who by the way was in intensive care and doing well, we had a little chat with tea, I gathered the father was somebody high up in Government
I had to withdraw to prepare to leave for the Sudan so I made my excuses and promised to drop in and see them at the end of the spraying season "I trust your son gets better soon" and I was off.
On my return I received a message saying my cash was in the hotel safe in US dollars, Rumour was that the family had fallen foul of the government and had to run! who knows where? my bet is, the good old USA , I never found out.
You may have noticed I never used his or his families names because some enemies have long memories.