Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Walk In Cairo

Monday I saw the pyramids. Yesterday, I worked a little and got over a cold I had. Today I was feeling better, so I headed over to the Egyptian Museum. It's across the Nile from my hotel, so, I figured I'd walk. With the traffic in Cairo, I think it was almost as fast.

I'm glad I didn't skip the museum. As a rule, I don't like museums. I'd rather get out in the world, hang out and see people or nature. I think it might stem from my folks taking me to every museum they could find when I was a kid. Great for the education, lousy for the attitude.

The things in the museum are just incredible! Row after row of mummies, heirogliphic tablets everywhere, papyrus scrolls are hanging on the walls, masks of ancient Romans, giant limstone statues of kings and queens and all of it thousands of years old! And all of the workmanship is perfect! The pyramids give you a sense of awe about what the Egyptians did on a large scale. The Egyptian Museum gives you the same sens of awe about their detail work.

In Egypt everyone is very freiendly. And almost everyone wants to sell you something. English is spoken fluently by all the trinket sellers. That's pretty impressive when you consider how many Americans speak a second language. Their knowledge of English is eclipsed only by their persistence. 'No' doesn't mean 'No' until you've said it 20 times.

On Tuesday out in the desert it was kind of amusing. One of the salesmen went trough an entire speal trying to sell me necklaces. The last of it was:

"But don't you have a wife or girlfriend to buy this for?"

"No"

He had a completely shocked look followed by the question, "How old are you?"

"37"

"AaaAAaaahhhh!"

Yes, there is now a trinket salesman in the middle of the desert that's completely convinced I'm gay.

Today though, I just didn't feel like politely saying no a dozen times each time I encountered someone. I had a brilliant idea! Crossing one of the bridges, a military guard called me over. These guys are stationed in little concrete pill boxes all over the city. I don't know who's going to attack, but it must be coming soon and they must have really big guns! I figured I'd try my idea out on this guy. If it worked with him I was convinced it would work with everyone else.

"Welcome to Egypt!"

I cocked my head to one side, looked perplexed and spouted out "Milate Hellenica?, (Do you speak Greek?)"

"Ummm... what?"

"Ven Katalaveno, (I don't understand you.)"

"Come on... Engilsh? American?"

"Milou Hellinica, (I speak Greek.)"

"Ummm... Go ahead." And he waves me through!

Sweet! It worked!

So, I walk the rest of the way to the museum, see some incredible stuff. Come out, buy myself a can of Pringles and a KitKat, (KitKats taste way better over here by the way), and head back to the house. But this time, I'm not going to be bothered. Just me and my Pringles man!

The first vendor comes in and goes out just like the guard. The second one is more persistent. Surely I need some papyrus, a postcard, something... All of a sudden it occurs to me. I'm not an American anymore I live on the Mediterranean and I speak Greek. I begin to channel my inner-Mediterranean. I don't have to be polite. I've got machismo oozing out my ears. I'm not a 'bad American tourist', I'm not even from there. My vendor launches into his next pitch...

"Look, look, they are beautiful!"

"VEN KATALAVENO!, (I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU!)", I yell at him!

"But you must have one!"

I lean up into his face, cut our personal space down to zero and yell, "TI THELATE!??!, (WHAT DO YOU WANT!??!)"

"Umm... Uhhh... Forget it."

Ahhh, good times :)

In all honesty though, despite my little method acting exercise today, everyone here is very, very polite albeit occasionally annoyingly persistent.

Crossing the street:
Crossing the street is and adventure all by itself. Essentially, there are no stop signs, no lane lines, and certainly no cross walks. So far, I've discovered three ways to do it, with and without the assistance of taxis.

The direct way: Pick a good looking car and step in front of it. The owner is watching you and will stop. Walk across in front of them, then stand between the lines of moving cars picking your next target. Repeat until you are across all the lanes.

The easy taxi way: Make eye contact with a taxi driver, (they're everywhere). They'll stop. Get in the taxi and have them take you wherever you were going.

The hybrid direct-taxi way: Make eye contact with a taxi driver. They'll stop. You've now brought the entire first lane of traffic to a halt. Run behind the taxi, (yes behind, you don't want to tempt the guy who just missed a fare by running in front of his car), now repeat the remaining steps in the direct process.

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