Posted by clubsodaandsalt on December 30, 2007
Well, this is certainly a city that takes some getting used to. From the moment we landed, we’ve faced a constant barrage of ‘friendly’ offers for tours, taxis, souvenirs, perfume, hotels, miscellanous advice, on and on. When I lived in Germany, I used to view every transaction as a little adventure, as the language barrier often conspired to create awkward situations for me. Here, it’s not just the transactions: every trip outside my hotel room is like a little episode of a video game. My wife and I walked to the Egyptian Museum today, not 20 minutes from our hotel, and no fewer than three — three! — people tried to convince us that the museum was closed due to prayer time/lunch time/visiting dignitaries (wtf?). But! We were in luck, because there are some great shops to visit nearby, and would we like to see them?
It’s all understandable, of course. Egypt is probably the poorest country I’ve ever visited. There’s poverty here that compares to the Beetham, the difference being that here, it stretches for miles and miles in several directions. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to begrudge people trying to take an extra 50 cents off you. J and I foolishly headed off to the Pyramids without a plan, and got taken for a bit of a ride as a result, but all told, the whole affair barely amounted to 50 dollars. Frankly, that’s not terrible, considering that you’re seeing the only remaining Ancient Wonder of the World. Egypt is a poor pouplation sitting on some of the most awesome – and I mean that in the true sense of the word – achievements of mankind. I’ve ended up thinking that the attempts to charge a little toll are kind of justified.
Still, understandable doesn’t necessarily translate to pleasant or appropriate, and the casual tourist can’t be expected to buy Egypt out of its problems. I’ve been working overtime to ignore the more polite touts, and be firm with the more aggressive ones, like the guy who leaned into our taxi window and tried to get the driver to overcharge us (no doubt planning to get some baksheesh in return).
The constant attempts to verbally separate you from your pounds aren’t the only problem with this town. The pollution is stifling. Taking a taxi means choosing between choking on the fumes within the cab (they’re all models from the 60s and 70s), or rolling down the windows and letting all of Cario’s hydrocarbons wash over you. Walking isn’t a whole lot better. You’re still at the mercy of Cairo’s insane drivers, and moreover, the whole city kind of feels like George Street in Port of Spain, minus Jean and Dinah.
And yet. I’m leaving tomorrow night, and I’m going to leave craving more Cairo. All it takes is a little time in the Egyptian Museum, a nice dinner on the Nile, and watching the sunset make light dance on the samdy mosques of Islamic Cairo. The weather, which has been perfect, helps as well. And the touts and haggling and hassle all become part of the background after a day or two, things to be tolerated, like delays on the 2, rather than dealbreakers. I spent most of my first day swearing never to return, but I’ve been won over. I’ll be back.