In the fall of 2011, the effects of that year's Arab Spring were widely felt in Egypt. Unrest and protest had followed. Tourism dropped off dramatically. Their economy happens to be heavily dependent on it. One sign of the slowdown was when transiting the Suez Canal there were no cruise ships in the northbound convoy. Election signs were everywhere.
In Port Said, a lively city (centre of recent and future unrest), Mediterranean entrance to the Suez Canal, we had a blaring police escort in and out of town for a trip to Cairo — nothing like being thrust into the spotlight!
Our bus had a mandatory plain-clothes security guard, making us feel safe, right? He had a fairly discreet shoulder holster under his jacket unlike the heavily armed soldier on buses in some countries. Discreet? He was either sleeping all the time or yakking on his cell phone, earning the scornful contempt of our guide; she shared her antipathy freely and frequently in several languages with us and the bus driver.
Such precautions aside, we experienced gratitude in one form or another for the return of tourism. The warm greetings and smiles for us on a festive Port Said Saturday night were happily reminiscent of a Mexican festival night.
How could I not take the opportunity to visit Giza once again? The town has grown into a hub of almost frenzied activity, a carnival, probably the most visited site in the country. This time is a little different. Far fewer foreign tourists. Sadly, the mounted camel cops have completely disappeared. More than half the visitors are Egyptian — because it is a holiday. And insh'allah, no sandstorm this time.
Nonetheless, the boys with their trinkets spring into action as a tour bus arrives to disgorge pale Europeans and North Americans. They chatter and pursue aggressively, intimidating the unprepared. Camel-hire guys want your business. They have their marketing ploys; sitting their cute kids on the camel is better than the one where they constantly rush and jump to block your path. Making slow zigzag progress is hard work on your part.
Camel handlers at the pyramids simply want to get you on, lead you around a bit, and then start the bargaining process at, oh, about 50 euros, LOL. As I have learned, Giza is not the place for a ride. Souvenir sellers are true to form with updated patter: "I have a gift for you, free .. free ... ." They are more tactile, it seems to me.
Well aware that eye contact, let alone a few words, will instantly create a small crowd of excited vendors, still I determine to engage and learn a few new words. I settle for posing with a good beast for a photograph. They don’t want one dollar U.S. bills. Newest ploy: “No good at the bank, give me $5, $10 ... .” Offering cigarettes is part of the satisfactory haggling, although one of them makes off with my lighter. Hey, at least it wasn't my camera. We had a few laughs and an acceptable if momentary tourist exchange.
It's fruitless to try explaining that a change in sales tactics would make a difference to the tourist market. Their enthusiasm has to be tolerated, if not embraced. A few dollars is little enough to contribute to what are desperate times for most of them.
Because it's a family holiday, local activity swirls at the market below. A few camels and horses are saddled for the locals. It was a chance to wander without being pursued and see a variety of shaving tattoo designs among the animals.
Who can resist the beaded headdresses? There's always a way to justify having another one!
I'm not immune to the get-the-kids-out-selling. How could you not buy postcards from a face like that?
At one point, a passing traditional family smiled at me in greeting and the man shyly said in English, “Welcome to Egypt.” Made my day absolutely.
© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman