Friday, January 14, 2011

Luxor impressions

It is a weird stay. I am not a lover of today's Egypt. When I lived in the necropolis everyday was magical, the pharaohs alive and the ancient gods and goddesses among us. Now that I live on the East bank every day is noisy, busy and exhausting. The egyptian men are doing my head in. I can't walk anywhere without being shouted at. They want to offer a taxi ride or a caleche (a horse-carriage) but they don't speak english, so they just belch words: „Caleche!“ „Taxi, taxi!“ For some reason they leave the i the second time, so what they actually shout is „taxi, tax!“ I don't know who put that into their heads. Young men who don't seem to want to sell anything still jump at me to talk to me: „Hello! Rrrrrememberrr me?“ is a popular line to start, or „Nice to see you again“, even if I've never seen them before in my entire life. Another one is: „How arrrre you?“ Or: „“Where zit frrrrrom?“ I try to ignore them or just say „Shukran“, Thankyou, when I'm not sure if they do want to sell something or not. The next thing is that they want to know my name and if you make the mistake of answering they'll never leave you alone again. When I worked on the West bank we always ran like crazy through Luxor, when we had to get somewhere, never looked anybody in the eye and never answered. They also creep up from the side and whisper in your ear without any preamble: „Lovely“, „Yourrrrr a beautiful girrrl“ or „Nice ass“. It is fairly disgusting, it is the way they say it, and I'm sure they would never say that to egyptian women. I don't know if they're aware of how offensive they are. I just walk on, despising them. Sometimes they call after me: „You lost something!“ The first two times I fell for it. I turned around, and of course I hadn't lost anything. „Hello, how arrre you.“ Here we go again. I walk away. „Welcome to Alaska“, is another favourite line. I say this bluntly, but this is the way it is. Their behaviour makes me never want to go to Egypt again. I will come back though, of course, to visit the monuments, visit my archaeologist friends, renew my connection with Isis and do ceremony, but I'll never stay on the East bank again, and I'll keep away from people as much as possible. I'm sorry, but I didn't come here with this attitude, I react to what I experience here. I can't understand the many Europeans who get stranded here. I see them sitting in jewellery shops or other tourist-y shops in or near the souk, drinking tea and smoking. It would do my head in.

Christmas decorations on the Corniche? For lack of fir trees: fairy lights in a Bougainvillea tree.

Caleches on the Corniche

The women are not as bad. Most of them ignore me, if I have to ask for directions I always ask young women with babies, the are the nicest. Mostly they are very friendly give me the information I need and a smile and there is no problem whatsoever. But some of them want baksheesh and their opening line is „Sister, sister!“ When I hear that I start running. There's lots of dirty children in the streets who are trained to beg. I don't mind them as much as the grown ups, even though they are very persistant, grabbing my arm and continuing to beg, even though I tell them in arabic to stop it and that there will be no baksheesh. I give them pens though. I have tons of TUI pens left from when I worked for them and I brought them especially. I like to think that they go to school and use my pens there, that they get educated and that their children won't have to hussle Europeans in the streets.
Apart from the young men, the noise in Egypt is driving me crazy. Cars honking, motorbike engines, donkeys shouting, horse shoes on the tarmac, people shouting all the time. Men cycling through the streets trying to sell something and shouting out what they've got. The muezzin. The television which is constantly on. The televisions in all the coffeeshops and restaurants. Streets being torn open with jack hammers (and then left like that...?) things being fixed with loud clanking hammering noises, in the middle of a coffeeshop terrace in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the customers. I marvel if the egyptian soul gets stressed when it gets too quiet. They take out their mobile phones in a restaurant while eating and chatting, put them on the table and have them play some music, which of course, coming from a mobile phone, sounds crap.

Here Germans have a reputation of being snobbish. But I am looking forward to walking down the streets without having to talk to a million people, but being able to chose who I want to talk to. I look forward to walking into a shop and deciding what I want and if I want to pay the stated price or not without being hussled. I look forward to people not trying to ripp me off all the time. Maybe I'm a snob.

Having said all that I should probably point out that at the same time I do like Luxor. I like the colours. I like watching the women, dressed in their layers, scarfs around their heads. I would LOVE to photograph them but I think it's something that's frowned upon. I like the vegetables, the spices, the blue of the Nile and the flowers in summer. I do like the way the neon lights are over the top. I used to even like the Souk, but I don't anymore. The hussle there is too much. I like crossing the Nile on the ferry and most of the time I like the muezzins. I absolutely love the taxis. There are different sorts of taxis, I always take the ones they call "microbusses" here. They are vans which go around in circle lines. There are places all around Luxor where they regularly stop, but you can go on and off anywhere else as well. Inside again I enjoy how over the top the decorations are: animal-faced hoods on the seats, colourful pictures on the ceiling, allovers and tussles. So I wait by the side of te street, put out my hand and wave at the taxi. Every trip on the East bank costs 50 piastres, sometimes the drivers want to rip me off, but I know the prize and it's a question of honour to make sure I get my change. It doesn't matter if 50 piastres are only 7 cents. You just hop on the taxi and then you get your money out. If you sit behind the driver you just hand it to him. If you sit further back you tip the person in front of you on the shoulder and they pass it on all the way to the driver along with the info of how many people you're paying for and then your change comes back the same way. For some reason this amuses me a lot, when the money hops from hand to hand upt to the driver. It reminds me of a game we played as children, where a fingerring was passed from one hand to the other and you had to guess in whose hand it was. I think there was a song with it, but I can't remember.

Microbus (what I call a taxi)on Television Street (that's not one of my names, it is really called that)

Inside one of the taxis

And there are even times when I like the noise in the streets, like above mentioned, sometimes I like the Muezzins. There are several mosques over Luxor, and when all the Muezzins chant it sometimes sounds really harmonious. Also I am always amused, when somebody calls at the house. Because the y literally do. There is no doorbell, and the door of the house is open. People just come in and then they knock on the door to the flat. If they don't want to come in bust just want to know something they just stand in front of the house and shout up to the balcony, they really do. And then Hamada puts his head out the window and sees what they want. Sometimes he puts his head out the window and shouts up to Bussi who lives above us. And sometimes Zahwa even put her head out of our window and shouted for Ahmed who was in the room next door, who then put his head out of that window and then they talked sort of around house because it was quicker than leaving the room and popping over to the next one.


Colours of Luxor: decoration in the streets

Colours of Luxor: street market in the Christian Quarter

Street in Luxor with the balconies, where people like to stand underneath and shout for the inhabitants.


  1. I understand and remember well the annoyance of some Egyptian men. Unfortunately Luxor is one of the worst places for that, as it has many tourists and not much else. And since some tourists *do* fall for the tricks, they keep on trying it.
    The attitude to women is infuriating, but it may help to know the situation. It is nearly impossible for young men to marry, since to marry you need enough money to provide your wife with a house etc., and most young men are unemployed or have a very low income. Sex outside marriage is impossible, so most young men are incredibly sexually frustrated, with no prospect of that ending soon. Along comes a solution in the form of... Western women, who *do* have sex before and outside of marriage. From a traditional Egyptian point of view, if you are no longer a virgin, you are spoiled goods anyway so you may as well have sex with anyone and everyone. And some European women do indeed fall for it, so they keep trying... in their own annoying unsubtle way.
    It used to drive me up the wall. Here are some tips I found may help a bit:
    - don't look anybody in the eye, but don't look at the ground either. Try looking through everyone.
    - wear a wedding band and wide, long, concealing clothing
    - when accosted, keep walking, tut (a "tsk" sound Westerners make when annoyed, in Egyptian it means "no") and wave your hand horizontally (means "no, leave me alone"). "Laa shukran" means "no thanks", you can use that if they offer you something. "Khalas" means "enough", use that if they persist. "Khallíínii" means "leave me alone". "iHtàram nàfsak" litterally means "respect yourself" and can be used as a reproach when they make rude sexual comments.
    - and most of all, keep in mind that it seems like *everyone* is accosting you all the time, but it is the minority. Most Egyptians really are normal, genuinely friendly people.

  2. Dear Tressi,
    thanks so much for your help. I have worked out the tutting sound and the handwaving, and I knew la shukran and khalas, but I didn't know iHtàram nàfsak. That will come in most useful. I have also trained myself to look through people, best way to learn that is directly in the Souk. So I went there and and now I'm quite good at it. Listening to music on my mp3-player helps a lot.
    I do understand about their situation and about how they go on trying since there are probably more than just a few european women going for it. But what I can't understand is how these men are totally incapable of seeing things from another perspective. They have never learned to considder different aspects of things, like we are being taught. So they can experience a thousand times european women saying, no thankyou leave me alone, and they will still approach the 1001st woman in the same inappropriate way. It just doesn't occur to them to think, ok, maybe some of these women wouldn't mind getting to know me at all and some of them would even like a holiday fling or something more serious, if only I went about it in a different way. So what are they like, how do they do things, what can I find out if I get to know them?
    I find it really difficult to put this into words, Tressi, but it seems like their minds are totally stationary, they repeat what they've been told and taught and there is no development.
    I suppose a religion like Islam where people are trained to believe that their way of living is the one that God decreed can only work in a society where people are taught not to consider other ways.
    I know it's not all of them, thank Goodness I have met and continue to meet Egyptians who, as you say, are very gentle souls.

  3. You are so right, I often think how much more successful they would be if they tried a different approach with women, and hasn't it occurred to any one of them? But then yes, Egyptians are very set in their ways, like they are set in their religion. I don't think it's Islam so much as it is the way Islam is approached, which is very traditional: you have to learn the Koran by heart and believe everything religious authority says. You are not taught to question or think for yourself. Society works in much the same way: What teachers and parents say is law, and thinking for yourself is discouraged. When you grow up like that, original thought only happens in a few, instead of in many...