Walking down Nile road to the Luxor Temple I was ambushed by a mass of males selling jewellery, taxi rides and god knows what else, grabbing onto every piece of recognition I would give them. I react by pretending not to understand English and end up, much to my own amusement, watching a fat man painfully slowly and loudly (why do we talk louder when someone does not understand us?) explaining to me in very basic English along with all the classic hand signs and pointing at objects that “HE!! wanted to take ME!! for a ride on his HORSE CAR-RAIIIGE!! back to my HO-TEL!!”. He followed me around for over three kilometres, wasting more than an hour of his time. ‘No hassle, no hassle’ he would shout every now and then, ‘you come my carriage, no hassle.’ It got tempting after a while!
In Egypt nothing is free, not the felucca rides nor the artefacts or lifts or tea or horse carriage rides – no matter how many times they tell you it is. Not even advice is free and I’m pretty sure that if they could, they would charge you for the time they wasted on hassling you. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Egypt and most things Egyptian, it is my favourite country between here and South Africa, but that adoration, along with most other things, seems to come at a greater price than just cash. These men will consume you if you look away for just too long, especially if you are a woman walking around alone. They will walk away with all your time, energy and patience after slowly wrenching away from you every last pound you have – painfully like pulling teeth without anaesthesia. Yes, they will do all of this with big shiny smiles on their faces for the bargain price of only a couple of coins. Never in my life could I have imagined that human beings could be this relentless whilst they buzz around you. Bring your own insect repellent is what should be written in guidebooks about visiting Egypt’s sites.
How you go about visiting all the museums, tombs, pyramids and other touristic opportunities is each traveller’s prerogative – and the options seem endless, but for a traveler like me – who prefers to do things my way, separated from the masses – Egypt poses many obstacles. Seeing all these historical sites felt a bit like signing up to be herded together with a bunch of brash Brits and Americans and Spaniards and well you name the nationality, they are there, like sheep and then being financially raped in the ass just to end up tipping your guide for the experience. Don’t get me wrong, the things you see are fantastic but man the Egyptians have a way of spoiling it for you.
And they know all the tricks, the little buggers. Not even five and a half months of intensive schooling in Africa’s many ways of screwing you over, like I have just had, can prepare you for their trickeries. “Only 5 pound, ok four then. No? Ok, I give it to you for one pound.” And then they have you. You stop for that split second and think to yourself “wait a moment that can’t be right”, which is precisely long enough for them to hook you. Then, when you have their cheap artifact in your hand, they simply refuse to take it back and just banter even quicker and become more persistent. “Yes just one hundred pound, I told you.” By the end of the day you pretend to be a death mute with no hands just to escape the aggravation.
They might bother you a lot but you have to give it to the Egyptians, they have a really good sense of humour. The owner of the hostel I was staying at spent an hour giving me advice and information after seeing that I was just sitting there alone doing nothing but reading. When I finally got the gap to excuse myself het put out his hand with a sly smile and jokingly said, now you give me money. It was an entertaining poke at his own society but he would have taken the cash had I produced it. I quickly learned that my best bet was just to crack a joke, they love that shit it seems – after a handshake and one last attempt at getting you to buy whatever they are selling they walk away laughing and shouting “maybe tomorrow then, maybe tomorrow.”
Tourists, doing touristic things and paying local kids to help them take touristic pictures. Not that we were much better, it was just fun to take pictures of them taking pictures.
Another thing that seems very Egyptian is loud verbal fights in public places. Hardly have you gotten ten street vendors off your back when you first hear and then see two men shouting at each other with a small crowd gathered around them. It turns out to be the first of about three such ‘incidents’ you’ll witness every day. They use the gargling Gggg and rolling Rrrrr sounds a lot and they spit more and more as the argument gets more intense and they get closer and closer to each other. But they never touch one another and after a couple of minutes of this harmless shouting the ‘fight’ usually ends in one being ‘dragged off’ by his friends, still spit-shouting a couple of insults, and then the crowd disperses. I assume they probably argue because the one was hassling the other, but who knows?
Yes, Egypt is a really pleasant place. You wake up and then you bargain all day. You learn the Arabic words for ‘no, go away, stop it and goodbye’ real quickly. You opt for quieter back-alleys and eventually air-conditioned busses but you still end up taking that bloody felucca ride and paying the 2 pounds for a horse carriage and some stupid artefact that looks really cool now but back home will be considered tacky. You inevitably end up with all the other Americans and British and Spaniards and whatever nationality in the museums and tombs, sheepishly ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the ridiculously astonishing beauty before you (because it really is that impressive). I for one sure did. But every time I stepped outside and saw and heard the colourful chaos of Egyptian society I got a huge smile on my face. I might not admit it all the time, but I loved every moment of it and can’t wait to return!
Here’s our own personal, ‘been there done that’ collection: