Hawking Up a Lung

Simplistically, when you hear the word “Egypt”, the thoughts that bombard your skull tend to include the staple examples like “pyramid”, “mummy”, “Pharaoh”, “Nile”, “Cleopatra” and “Tutankhamen”. All well and good, if you ask me. These are what the crowds come for. These are the country’s pied piper, so to speak. Who would not want to experience the claustrophobic interior of the last remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (that made it by default into the new list as well)? What kid (or necrophiliac, for that matter) is not fascinated by the leather-skinned preserved corpses of the kings of old with their internal bits resting in jars? If you dream of a river, the Nile is lord at 6,600 km in length! Elizabeth Taylor made certain parts of our male anatomy stand at attention in that film of excess. And what was Steve Martin thinking when he wrote the song “King Tut”? There is money to be made in the myth and legend, and tourists are happy to fulfil that dream as they battle the crowds of fellow enthusiasts, young and old, Asian, European and American, thin and pudgy, elegant and backpacker (I pretend to be the elegant, but I am the punter at heart … hotel laundry service? HA! I laugh at your existence! Sink and free shampoo samples works fine by me.), idiot and intellectual. This is the realm of gods! The land where your afterlife needed much more effort to prepare for than your amount of breaths taken upon the Earth. And why not? You will spend much more time pushing up daisies than you will blinking your eyelids when it comes down to it. Someone will more likely move into your house after you are gone, but who is going to take over your grave (religious preferences aside)?

As I said before, all this is well and good. The Egyptian government and local governances rake in the pounds from us visitors eager to see intricate hieroglyphics and painted tombs … but what about the average Joe (or average Mohammed, should I say)? In a country of just over 80 million, jobs are hard to come by, and the economy is in a rough state. So how do you get by and make ends meet? The answer is simple: SELL, DAMMIT! SELL!!!! The tourists are here! Sell ’em whatever you can at whatever price you can get! And in whatever currency, too! Water, scarves, wooden sculptures of Anubis the jackal-headed god, t-shirts, playing cards, colouring books of Egyptian clothing … take Euro, dollars, pounds (and if you can’t do anything at the banks with the coins, trade them back to other unsuspecting tourists for a favourable exchange rate). And if you are lucky, you will find a moron who doesn’t care to haggle, increasing your profit margin by 300%. Other times, you find those that love to bargain, but you will never sell for less than 10% over your cost. But what do you do if no one cares about your cheap crap that is Egyptian in appearance, but was manufactured in China? Well, there is only one possibility: follow anyone that even sideways glances at your goods to the four corners of the globe until they become too frustrated by your constant barrage of offers until they eventually give in just to get you the hell out of their hair. SCORE!

The downside to us tourists (besides losing our money, of course) is that it makes it near impossible to enjoy any sightseeing whatsoever. You just don’t get left alone … for a moment … at all … ever! I recently completed a month of touring in Egypt, but did I really get to see a sight that has been on my list of ‘things to see before you die’ – the Pyramids of Giza? Nope … nothing more than a passing glance. I was too busy fighting off postcard sellers, trinket pushers and those offering horse or camel rides. Every time the camera came out to grab a shot, some twit would jump in front wanting to know if I wanted “to ride his camel for a good price” (wait … now that I think about it, maybe I was be propositioned … hmmm). Even in more remote areas with fewer travellers, the keepers of these monumental tombs would sneak into view and want ‘baksheesh’ for you just happening to take their photo. I know these guys are just trying to make a living, but I end up spending more of my time trying to dodge outstretched hands and con-artists than I do staring in awe at some of the most spectacular architectural achievements of human engineering to grace this planet of ours. Maybe I was not suckered into buying useless crap, but I still feel cheated.

Flight of Fancy

Flight of Fancy

Friday, Jan. 22: Why does it seem all flights I have to take leave at an hour where most piss-heads come home […]