Around the World With the ArvaMonts
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Welcome to Egypt, Ma’am
November 16, 2007 – The Great Pyramids, Giza, Egypt
“Where are you from?”
“Buy your tickets there.”
“Want to ride a camel?”
“Ma’am, you must buy your tickets there!”
“I am not trying to sell you anything, you must buy your tickets there!!”
“You need a tour guide.”
“Want to ride camel?”
“No charge, I give you this.”
“You want picture with camel?”
“Pay the man, please.”
“I will make you a very special price. Only 200 Egyptian pounds for you and your beautiful family.”
“Okay, because of the children I make you a better price. Charge only 100 pounds.”
“Want mini pyramid? Make me a price.”
“Ask the price, I make a good price!”
“Okay, you, your wife and beautiful daughters, extra special price, only 120 pounds.”
“The park is closing soon, you need to see the queen’s chamber. This way to the queen’s chamber. Why you not going this way, the chamber be closing in 15 minutes. Must to see the queen’s chamber. Not to walk around, there is nothing to see walking around, just to see queen’s chamber.”
“Best price, you, and your family, 100 pounds.”
“Take a picture of you with my children?”
“Hello”, “hello”, “hello”, “hello”, “hello”, “hello”, “hello”, “hello”, “hello” as a troop of grinning, bedraggled young children walk by shaking hands.
“Where you from?”
“Welcome to Egypt, ma’am.”
“Taxi, where you going?”
And that was the Great Pyramids of Giza! Luckily, this is one place where sexual discrimination works in my favor – if Yannis is around, I am no better than a pet dog – no one harasses me! They all focus their attention on Yannis!
No, we did not hire a guide and we did not go into the queen’s chamber. We really did walk around the pyramids, despite being warned that there was nothing to see, because that is what we wanted to do. We did not buy any trashy souvenirs, in fact we did not buy anything at all. We did not take any pictures with local children, local camels or local horses. We learned to shake hands with all the kids who wandered by – not at all sure what they wanted, but it was better shaking hands with them than having them climb up the side of one of the pyramids and throw rocks at us. Tasha reports that they have rather good aim. We did stay to see the sound and light show, which was as cheesy as anticipated. We did negotiate for a later taxi ride home, which all worked out okay, although the guy we did not choose harangued us until we were safely tucked away in the cab of our choice!
November 17, 2007 – The Great Pyramids, Giza, Egypt
We figured out on entry to Egypt, where they took up another whole page for a visa, that we do not have enough pages in our passports to make it back in to Egypt when we are done in Tanzania, and we certainly couldn’t get out of the airport in Khartoum or Nairobi if our flights are somehow delayed. No problem, we went to the embassy on Friday to get extra pages added to our passports. We added pages when we lived in Australia, and it is no big deal. They have the extra pages, and they stick in with a pre-applied adhesive strip.
Before heading over to the embassy, Yannis called them to figure out when they were open. They told him that he could not speak to that department at the moment, but they would be open from 1 – 4 pm.
It happens that the embassy is around the corner from the Egypt Museum, so we spent the morning in the museum. Wow! Just getting there is an adventure. IT began with a hair raising cab ride which dropped us a block away at the blockade protecting the museum. Running the gauntlet of Tourist and Antiquities Police, tour guides and taxi drivers to get to the entrance to the museum is exhausting. Ah, the relative peace of the sculpture garden.
We entered the museum itself, blissfully by ourselves, passing through a security checkpoint with hand luggage X-ray and a metal detector . The first thing that we saw across the long main hall was a colossal statue of Ramses II and his favorite queen, Nefertari, sitting on their thrones, with their three daughters carved at about the height of their knees. This statue was not alone, there were another 50 items in the same room, from all different time periods. (Well, they were all ancient Egyptian, from 2600 B.C. through I don’t know, 900 B.C.)
We dropped in on King Tut, and all his stuff. He had a lot of stuff. (We told Anika about Steve Martin’s King Tut, which we refused to sing while in the Egyptian Museum, which drove her crazy!) There was so much, you just couldn’t get your mind around all of it and the descriptions of things were cryptic and provided no overall context. It was hard to follow.
The other rooms, were said to be organized by dynasty, but they were all so overloaded with stuff, it was hard to discern much from them. The best description I can come up with for the museum is it is like going up into an octogenarian’s attic. There is stuff everywhere, some of it organized into neat little shoe boxes and labeled, albeit cryptically. Other stuff is stored off in the corner with like-sized items. And other things are simply where ever they fell. It is sad really, because I am sure that there are many really interesting stories to be told through their collections, but these are not revealed by the collections themselves. Of course, you could hire a guide, but don’t get me started on the whole guide thing. Rumor has it that a new, larger museum is coming soon.
So, our poking around in the museum complete, we headed over to the embassy, which is surrounded by barricades for security reasons. These barricades block off whole streets from traffic. There are armed guards with rifles all over: some sit in cars, others walk around or stand around and at least one guy sits behind a piece of plywood, painted green with a little Plexiglas window near the top for him to look through. Very strange. Anyway, when we arrived, the guard pointed to a sign – open only from 8 until 11 a.m. Yannis said that he had called. They guy looked over his shoulder at the phone number and said, “Ah, the British Embassy.” Great. Of course they are closed on Saturday, but since we are in an Islamic country, they are open on Sunday. Phew. We leave on Sunday for Tanzania, but luckily our flight is in the evening!
On Sunday morning Yannis and Tasha went back to the embassy. There were forms to fill out, and then they wanted a birth certificate for Anika in order to put more pages in her passport. What? So I looked at the State Department website. Sure enough, in order to get passports now, you need a birth certificate, and both parents must appear in person! They have put all sorts of restrictions in place to prevent parents from making off with their kids in the event of a custody battle, I guess. It is a little shy of absurd; a previous passport doesn’t count as proof of relationship, only as proof of identity. Once the kids are 14, they don’t seem to care anymore.
Well, as luck would have it, Yannis had the affidavit that we signed and had notarized before our trip stating that each of us is authorized to travel solely with our daughters, should that become necessary. There are some countries, which now require such a form for all children entering the country! The agent accepted this letter grudgingly and asked Yannis to return at 3 p.m. to pick up the now fatter passports.
December 5, 2007 – The Esna Locks, Egypt
Okay, so I have tried to give a feel for the chaotic nature of Egypt. Clearly this country lives by tourism, and there are plenty of entrepreneurs out to get their share of the tourist pounds. And the sales guys around here are in your face. They step out in front of you, blocking your path, with their merchandise in order to make their sales pitch. They don't take "no" for an answer. They are persistent to a fault. But today takes the cake!
We are cruising up the Nile. Egypt is a remarkable country. There is a thin strip of green on other side of the Nile, and off in the distance in many places there are huge rocky peaks. It was so peaceful. Tasha and I sat on deck watching Egypt float by. Occasionally we saw people standing at the bank with their cows submerged in the water or bathing. There were feluccas being rowed about. At one point the minarets sprang to life and we were treated to the discordant chanting of a prayer service. Then we approached the city of Esna on the west bank of the Nile. It is a big city, and a noticeable change from the pastoral scenes we have been floating by. It is here that we will await our turn in the great locks.
There are already several ships ahead of us, so we will have to wait a while. The captain isn't the only one aware of this. As Tasha and I sit, plastic bags start flying by our heads. There are men in feluccas three stories below us who are hawking their wares - clothing, blankets, table clothes. I don't mean just a few men. On both sides of the boat there are feluccas jockeying for position - at least a dozen on either side!
They throw a t-shirt or a long Egyptian gown (worn by men or women) or a table cloth up on deck. Inside is a note with a price. If you don't want it, throw it back. If you do want it, put the money in the envelop and throw it down. You will need to negotiate - this involves a lot of shouting back and forth! I have no idea how they make sure they get all of thier unpurchased merchanidise back, nor do I know how many pieces they lose in the water or how they make sure that the right guy gets the right merchandise or his rightful money. There is a shop on board, which was closed during these proceedings, as the attendant was on deck advising passengers how much to pay for this or that item. This went on for a long time! It began before tea time and ended after dark, and only because the ship tied up with others, probably in preparation for entering the locks!
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