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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

Baksheesh Bonanza and Touts Galore

EGYPT | Thursday, 16 August 2007 | Views [1192]

Experiencing Egypt is a very intense experience.  Everywhere we walk the words "Welcome to Egypt, can I have just one minute to ask you a question," ring out at us.  It's not just one or two touts, it's all the time, in your face, especially in the streets of touristy cities like Cairo, Luxor and Sharm.  They ask us for a minute of our time and end up launching into a full battery of questions and hard sales tactics.  We can't escape them, and can't blame them.  Egypt is a poor country and so many are unemployed.  Tourism is the main means of income for so many in this country, and it feeds, houses and clothes a segment of the population.  We peruse our way through Islamic Cairo and the famous market Kahn el-Khalili and these guys here are masters of their trade.  Rows of shops line  the streets and narrow little dirt alleyways.  Shops dedicated to sheesha and smoking paraphernalia abound.  We're shopping for a sheesha as a gift for a friend and are overwhelmed by types, sizes and the sheer numbers of shop owners vying for our attention.  We buy from the first one, not wanting the hassle of haggling with vendors and getting pissed-off sneers when we don't buy from them.  The guys at this shop were nice, personable and made the purchase process entertaining.  I particularly wanted to decorative hose for the gift I was giving, but they wouldn't let me buy it, as it was more decorative store merchandising.  But they let me take a picture of it.  
 
Wandering through the streets we passed rows of gold and jewelry shops, alabaster shops, belly dancing costume shops, sheesha coffee bars, big bronze and brass genie lamps, metal and colorful glass lanterns, men walking the streets with long ladder-shaped planks on the top of their heads, piled sky high with fresh pita bread and so much more.  It's a feast for our eyes.  The streets are wall-to-wall people; touts, tourists and animals all in each others space.  A pita bread man looses his load at a cross walk, and a kind police officer helps him to pick them all up out of the dirt, piling them back up on his head for quick resale.  We walk past restaurant row in the plaza area and it's just like all the restaurant owners are doing the stadium "wave" as we walk by, standing up and waving menus in the air... "eat here, come here" they each call out successively as we stroll down the dirt path.  "La shokran," we call back (no thank you).  A drink guy stands mid street with a huge torso-sized container strapped to his body with lots of little clear glasses hanging off around the perimeter.  He playfully pours the small glasses of goodness that he then sells to customers in the street.  He waves me over to sample some, but I'm not quite sure what the substance is, and while I'm typically game to try all kinds of new street food, my recent parasite has made me a bit gun-shy, and I politely decline his offer.
 
We stroll further into the back streets of Islamic Cairo, checking out local residential streets, cafes and shops.  Most sheesha cafes in this part of town are for men only.  While we'd love to sit down and chat for a bit with the locals, as a woman entering I would most likely not be welcome, and we want to be respectful of their cultural norms.  We check out several local mosques, including one of the more famous ones, Ibn Tulun.  We are hit up immediately by the baksheesh brigade.  Baksheesh is like tipping, and it's expected for any little thing that someone might do for you, or just simply because of the person's position.  For example, you might give baksheesh for someone opening a door for you, giving directions, or simply the mere fact that the man is the "main guard" at a tomb, despite the fact he never spoke to you or showed you any special things in the tomb.  The first guy at Ibn Tulun, in flowy robe attempts to give us a tour.  We pay him off eventually to get him to leave us alone.  Then there are the feet coverer guys, instead of taking off our shoes, we must slip on little cloth peds over our shoes.  We must use their service of them placing the peds on our feet, which of course we need to reward their fine service with a generous baksheesh donation.  They scowl when we had them 2 Egyptian Pounds and they tell us they want 50.  We signal that we'll give them back their foot peds and leave, rather than pay them 50 Pounds.  They quickly change their tune, and go out of their way to thank us, graciously they accept our donation and we enter the deserted mosque.  Another guy in flowy robe pokes his head out around a corner and heads toward us.  We B-line it for the other side of the mosque to thwart off another baksheesh donation.  Exiting the mosque, the keeper of the entrance holds out his hands as well.  "Sorry, dude, the baksheesh machine is all out of Pounds!"
 
We make our way to the monumental Mohammed Ali Mosque which is a tourist attraction unto itself.  It's a huge complex, complete with tour bus parking lot.  We queue up and pay our entrance fee, and pass a group of school kids on the way up to the mosque.  Little girls in head scarves shyly glance at us, and I wave back to acknowledge their curiosity.  They wave and giggle... They are a group of about 15 young girls.  I cross the street to say hello in person, and soon I'm crowded and completely surrounded by little girls all practicing their English, "What is your name, where are you from, how old are you?"  Soon I can no longer see Darrin and I am swarmed with what feels like 50 kids, girls and now little boys touching me and shouting out English phrases.  These children are so precious and the experience moves and overwhelms me.  Soon a couple of adult chaperones try to free me from the grasp of swarming children.  I guess I am too disruptive for them, the adults look annoyed.  I wave goodbye and we head up the hill and enter the mosque which has amazing views of the city, Giza and Step Pyramids.  We are entertained by a couples' small new born child, and smiling fondly, they motion us over to have a picture taken with them.  Once again, we find ourselves the tourist attraction.  Reciprocating, we take a picture of us with them.  It's encounters like these that make us really appreciate being "different" in a world here in Egypt that's so welcoming of our difference.  It makes the stress from the touts and baksheesh brigade quickly melt away.

Tags: Culture

 

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