Wednesday, January 10, 2007

'Deep January'

Well, my trip to Abu Simbel was a failure -- the hotel failed to wake me up (despite a prolonged discussion the night prior about the timing of the wake-up call) and the tour agent failed to fetch me at 3:30am for the 4:00am convoy (all vehicles carrying foreigners must travel together at pre-defined times with police escort). To top it off, after awaking and knowing by the light of day that I missed the convoy, I tracked down the tour agent who then yelled at me. Well, at least I got my money back.

And yet I am happy here.

I know how to avoid the touts (and it doesn't bother me one bit to brush people off when necessary or to yell "DON'T TOUCH ME!" when a particularly persistent (male) tout (it's never females) offends me in that way, or to make an about face when someone tries to block my way. I know they would never do any of these things to an Egyptian woman.) And while I'm not always sure when someone is overcharging me (when I can't for example see what the last person pays, but sometimes I can, and I can and do walk away), I generally know where I am going and how to get around Aswan and the little things are joyful and I am happy!

I have met enough good here to take a serious liking to this place. I have shared conversations about the sacred and the mundane. (With one Israeli intellectual/academic/journalist and 2 activist-writers here in Egypt, I partook of a conversation until 3am in a hotel bar (after we left another bar where by just walking in I offended the male-only patronage). The connection between these men though recent acquaintances was genuine -- love of truth and freedom is a bond above nationality. The conversation was fluid -- what when wrong in Iraq and 'if you were President Bush what would you do about the Iraq problem now?' The thesis was that radical Islam is inextricably linked to dictatorship which is the historical political prototype and vile reality for this region. Most of all these men spoke out of a deep love for their countries and ardent desire for genuine democracy. They made some provocative statements with great wit and sarcastic humor that at times I had to laugh; if taken out of context they would bring extreme reactions from all "sides." One of these writers has been harrassed and suffered death threats, yet he is about to publish his third book because as much as he loves his freedom he loves his country.)

And while dealing with the tourist industry invariably brings headaches (or in my case, my stress reaction, stomach distress, and in this case, near death due to poisoning by boric acid:

I went to the pharmacist to get my stomach problem cure-all, Alka Selzer. Of course, they don't carry Western brands, so I asked for it by molecule name, sodium bicarbonate. The English-speaking pharmacist brought a box with packets of powder briefly pointing out the name of the active ingredient. I asked if I could drink it while pantomiming drinking, she said yes. With a bottle of water I was preparing the elixir when the fact that the box said washing powder (few English words on the box) puzzled me. I took another look at the ingredient list and notice that included was Borax. Borax is boric acid. Boric acid is poison.))

..and though Egypt is notoriously difficult for independent female travelers (especially if one is or acts oblivious to local customs), I feel I can handle it, and beneath that I've found the vitality and the beautiful contradiction that is Egypt, for me a treasure.

Tourist souq:

Local souq:


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