Friday, August 29, 2008

Anti-American Sentiment?

Some Americans claim to be from Canada when they travel to avoid anti-American sentiment. There is no need in Egypt. Everyone hates Bush but they also dream of going to America and generally like Americans.

In the bazaar, every single vendor asks you where you from and then proceeds to tell you about their cousin in America. There are only half a million Egyptians living in the US so you know that at least some of the vendors have to be lying. I started to tell people I was from other countries to add variety. No claimed to love South Africa, for example.

Egyptians don't like Denmark. People are very angry about the comic thing. One of my friends started freaking out because he thought he was eating Danish cheese but it turned out to be Egyptian cheese. Claiming you're from Denmark could easily get you killed. Fortunately, I only did that once.

Another time a man asked me if I was Jewish. It was a mix of English and Arabic and I thought he asked me about Jesus so I said sure. Fortunately, Assad overheard the conversation and rescued me, otherwise the man was going to call the cops. It's a bad idea to claim to be Jewish.


Ahmed, Nabil and I adopted a kitten for one afternoon at our hotel. I chipped in 40 cents and we bought some lunch meat. As I watch Ahmed feeding it, I was almost overcome with jealousy. I just wanted to grab the lunch meat and cram it into my mouth.

Obviously 40 cents is nothing but it seemed like every single blasted meal was a battle and I got sick of dealing with it.

One shop charged me a dollar for a large lamb sandwich the first day. That is the correct Egyptian price. The next day they charged me a dollar for a small sandwich without any meat. Whatever. The third day they tried to charge me a buck fifty for a small sandwich or two dollars for a large, so I left.

There was one old man who sold pastry and charged everyone the same price so I used to go there often. The only day he was on vacation, I had to argue with his replacement. He quoted me one price but then he couldn't find correct change so he only gave me part of my money back. I asked him for the rest but he says I must have misheard him originally. At first I though I must look stupid or something. Obviously we both knew the correct price so give me the change alright? In the end it took him less than 30 seconds to walk his butt over to the other cash register and fish out my change. I shouldn't have to fight about it every single time. Gar...

Haggling is a part of Egyptian culture, but everyone knows the price of food. They wouldn't try pulling stunts like that with an Egyptian. It's stupid and tiresome.

Edfu to Aswan

I took the desert route from Edfu to Aswan to avoid the police.

The weather that far south was much hotter. It's a bit dangerous to exercise in the heat. All along the way there is mummified road kill which doesn't improve the mood either. I would have liked to wait out the midday heat but had to make it to Aswan before nightfall. Go slow and drink lots of water.

Before the Aswan dam was built, the Nile had a fertile flood plain. With the dam in place, the Nile doesn't flood anymore. These days not a single green thing grows except for what people irrigate. There is a sharp line between lush gardens and desert. On parts of the road it was green to the left and desert on the right. On other parts it was desert as far as the eye could see.

After a day in the desert, the view of the bridge to Aswan is like some kind of kitschy painting of heaven. It's a beautiful white suspension bridge. There is a swampy area where random horses, cows and donkeys graze and fishermen pole their canoes around.

It takes an hour to cycle from the bridge to Aswan so it was almost dusk when I arrived.

I knew there was a train station downtown but I followed the wrong train tracks and ended up in a suburb. That's where I met Assad and Mohamed Said who led me to a hotel. As I was unpacking Assad proclaimed, "Ah, you've got a sleeping bag. Why don't you just stay at my flat? You can just crash on my couch, no problems."

Welcome to Aswan.

Cycling from Luxor to Edfu

The trip to Edfu was a surprise gift. I had planned to take the tourist convoy instead of cycling. I couldn't find it and I was going to ask the police at the first road block. They were drinking tea so I changed my mind and sneaked past. The other road bocks made me promise I was only going to Esne but didn't stop me. When I reached Esne it seemed like such a fine day that it would be a pity not to take down the back road to Edfu. So I did.

Two stories.

A pack of five or six dogs came at me on the way to Esne. They were running next to me and I couldn't out distance them. Fortunately, I managed to force the lead dog into oncoming traffic to escape. Unfortunately I don't think it got run over. You can be a dog person or you can be a cyclist but you can't be both.

When I was leaving Esne a kid on a motorcycle rode up beside me demanding that I give him money. Gimme money. No. Gimme money. No. Gimme money. No. They say children have short attention spans but this motorcycle kid kept at it for several kilometers. Eventually he gave up asking for money and started grabbing my butt instead. I came so close to punching that kid off his motorbike...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Luxor stories: Hans

The electricity was off at our internet cafe so we ended up talking to Hans, age forty something, from Texas.

Hans was an anthropologist studying how brush strokes in the ancient Luxor tombs showed what moods the painters were in. That seemed like an unlikely occupation. To be honest, quite a few of Hans's stories seemed unlikely, but we needed a source of entertainment and the electricity was off.

I was particularly amused by Hans's story where he got into a fight with a waiter who used a black olive instead of a green olive in his martini. Ah, the trials of living in Egypt.

There were two less fun stories that stood out. One is that the Luxor carriage drivers go too fast and the horses fall on the cobbles and skin their knees. The other is that Luxor is a top world wide destination for pedophiles who prey on young boys.

Afterwards Mena, George and I tried to find horses with skinned knees and eventually decided that Hans was full of crap.

Unfortunately, I think he was right about the pedophiles.

Some time later, I was hanging out at my friend's shop, joking around with a group of kids. They pointed at their buddy and said, "You want fucky-fucky?" It's an awkward situation and I did my best to gloss over it. Then the kid started rubbing my leg with his foot and I had to tell him, "Knock it off kid before I smack you upside the head." It's laughs all round, except the kid wasn't joking.

Afterwards my friend tells me, "I don't understand why Americans have sex with boys this age." I tried to tell him that pedophiles aren't accepted in America. He says, "No, not you obviously. Stop getting offended." I try to tell him that no, pedophiles are really not accepted in America. He says, "Oh, but it's everywhere in Luxor."

The problem is that Egypt won't do anything that could lead to bad press or hurt tourism. Pedophiles are quietly handed over to their embassies and flown home. It's hard to prosecute them in their home country. All the evidence, victims and witnesses are in Egypt. They're pretty much always released.

Luxor stories: George gets kicked out of a hotel

One game I like to play is spot the tourist. It's trickier than you'd think. Take George for example, he is Egyptian but he lives in America, wears a baseball cap and he carries a camera. Tourist.

So one day George was supposed to be waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel. He starts blathering to dude at the front desk about America etc. The front desk person is busy and tells George to grab a coffee from the roof of the hotel.

When he gets to the roof, George starts chattering away to the barista. The barista asks George where he's from and George tells him he's from Al-Minya (a big city north of Luxor). The guy thought George said Almanya (Arabic for Germany) and George thinks that's amusing so he says, "Yes. I'm a German tourist. Ho ho ho."

The thing is that all these discussions are in Egyptian Arabic because George doesn't want to pay the tourist prices. Both the receptionist and the coffee dude should have known that he was Egpytian.

Well, it turns out only tourists are allowed in the hotel.

I find George on the roof. We're drinking coffee and the part owner of the hotel comes tearing in. This guy is pissed. It's the kind of anger where flecks of spit start showing up at the corners of his mouth. George was trying to explain that he lived in America but didn't get very far because the guy is cursing and swearing. As a result, I now know how to say "America my vagina" and "America on my penis" in Arabic. At this point, I decide to check out immediately. Then the guy says we can't leave and that he's calling the cops.

When we reached lobby the other part owner of the hotel got involved. He was a nice fellow. He tried to calm things down and make things right but it was a bit late. My advice is to avoid the Luxor Nubian Oasis hotel. Grand hotel is cheaper and the service is good.

Luxor stories: Hatshepsut

The person who influenced Luxor the most is a lady named Hatshepsut. This is her temple.

Her father was Pharaoh and her mother was the Great Royal Wife. When her father died, it wasn't clear who should be pharaoh her or her half brother. So she married him and they ruled together as pharaoh and queen. But really she did most of the ruling.

Then her husband died, his son by a lesser wife (Hatshepsut's half nephew I guess) was supposed to take over. Instead Hatshepsut said he was too young, so she ruled until her death twenty some years later. Egyptians were fat and happy under her rule.

After her half nephew finally became pharaoh he went around destroying her statues and chipping carvings of her off the temple walls.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Old posts. Luxor.

Luxor is a tourist town. Cairo has the pyramids and the big museum and Luxor has everything else.

It's a beautiful town on the east of the Nile. Luxor temple blonk in the middle of downtown. Karnak is also on the east. The Hatshepsut temple, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Nobles are on the other side. And smaller ancient stuff etc. etc. etc.

Most of the people who live there, make their living from the thousand upon thousands of tourist who come in buses everyday. Being a tourist is sort of unpleasant because everyone is trying to con you into buying things you don't want at inflated prices. Fortunately for me George from Minya was visiting Luxor so I escaped a lot of the hassles.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Loaf in Uganda

I'm still loafing in Uganda.

My brother has the grandest house that anyone in our family has ever had before. Plus it's got running water. Also Linda is an amazing cook. I've basically been mooching like crazy...

Uganda _is_ nice. Most of the country is very very wet and green. Shops are open late. There is street food. All of those are good points in my book.

My parents were here for a couple weeks. Then they left. Then Linda and my baby nephew left. Then Jason left with the twins. It's been lonely for two days but a friend from Sudan is supposed to be arriving soon.

That's the news.