Pyramids and People

22 01 2011

So I’m in Cairo. I’m a tourist; there are things a tourist must do. I went to see the Egyptian Museum yesterday, and made the trek out to the pyramids at Giza today. So far the only riding I have managed is from the airport to the Hostel.

IMG_6548The Museum was very interesting, but huge. And became a bit boring by the end. The Pyramids were very big, and quite evidently not going anywhere. The Sphinx was, as I had been warned, smaller in reality than I expected. But these are all objects I had seen in photos since my childhood, so I knew what to expect. I did have a good time crawling around in some of the pyramids – it’s slightly unreal that those walls, statues, engravings, etc, etc were built 4.5k years ago. That is a very old, and very big, pile of rock. And a stupid amount of tourists, and proportional number of locals trying, relentlessly, to sell a camel or horse ride.

What I hadn’t been taught anything about is the Egyptian people. And I’m struggling to work them out. I’ve travelled a little, but some of the behaviour here is puzzling. The first thing I’ve decided is that I feel safe and welcome here. I am happy to wander down any side street in Cairo. This is in sharp contrast to a woman I met in Greece who couldn’t say enough bad things about the Egyptian men. Since I feel safe, I’m considering (no, more than considering, I’ve decided) to make a trip along the Nile into Egypt before I go back and head to Jordan. If I really enjoy following the Nile I might keep going. Today, at the Pyramids, I met a (very nice) lass who lives in Sudan, and another (at least equally nice) who lives in Iran. I was given  reports that Sudan, Ethiopia and Iran are good places to visit. So it could be that this trip turns right and goes into Africa, although I doubt it. We’ll see. Either way it could be that I’ve made a contact to meet in Tehran for when I eventually get there.

But there is something about the Egyptians (well, the men that I have been talking too) that is troubling. With most random encounters on the street, I know where I stand, at least I know what the other person wants – and it is normally in my pants… pocket. 99% of the time they want something from my wallet. And that is fine, I can deal with that. Also I realise that central Cairo has lots of tourists, and a few times I’ve been trapped and had to pay ‘tourist tax’ on top of, for example, my 1 kilo of Oranges. But a few times now I’ve pulled myself up and wondered why the guy I just talked to for 10 minutes wanted. Check the pockets – no he wasn’t a pickpocket. So what was he after? Today I got an Arabic lesson on the bus on the way to the Pyramids. And invited into Abdul’s house for a drink of tea, after getting taken to the rooftop for a different view of the Pyramids. Yes Mum, I did follow a stranger to his house. But this guy quite obviously had no ulterior motive (of course he had a cousin who tried to sell me a camel ride, but that was completely expected). Puzzling.

And this evening I trapped myself. I was crossing the street – a dangerous activity, to say the least, in Cairo, but unavoidable to get to the book/map shop. A man came running past and shouted a warning in English along the lines of “hurry up!”. I knew the traffic was stopped, so I stood in the middle of the road and asked him what he was talking about. He made some story about the cars not always stopping for the lights (which is actually true – you want to see Democracy in action, watch the Cairo traffic for a while, the car drivers, and not the lights, dictate which direction should go next). But I’d called him out, and so he launched into the normal “Where are you from”, “Oh, Australia – Sydney, Melbourne, Kangaroos, Steve Irwin”. So I switched into ‘he wants something’ mode, and made good my escape. 5 minutes later I felt bad about snubbing a bloke who could have been genuinely trying to help (see? I do have a conscience). 10 minutes later I bumped into him again, hassling some (female) tourists. After they blew him off, he recognised me and yelled out; we shared a smile. Then I realised my initial impression was right after all.

But this is troubling. If I can’t rely on everyone, uniformly, being out simply to part the obvious tourist from his money, how am I going to deal with this? Could it be that a percentage of people will just be overtly friendly for no reason at all? And why doesn’t this happen at home?

 

And there are no brake pads that fit my bike in Cairo. All of Cairo. I checked. But I did find a map. Perhaps I can find a way to use the map to slow me down when I’m going downhill. This could be a problem… But now it’s time to  go find a Shawarma with Hummus and see if I can get it without paying (too much) tourist tax.

Edit: Huh, I just found this: http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/


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5 responses

23 01 2011
Am I

I was thinking… maybe, should be changed your bike for a camel

23 01 2011
Steve

Jajaja! Pero una camello es menos bonito que mi bici 🙂

24 01 2011
Am I

Ok! you right!… I love Frankenbike 🙂
Recuerda, que yo la vi nacer!

26 01 2011
Stefan

Hey, did you try to fix anything in egypt? Looks like there is some trouble. Take care!

4 02 2011
Steve

Yes! I fixed it! Didn’t I?

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