Bits and Pieces - Egypt trip
Zaib is a Moslem, and therefore she should have been following the Ramadan fast, which
means nothing to eat, drink or smoke from dawn to dusk. But because of being on holiday, she was allowed to eat normally. She said she would make up for it when she went home. But I think she felt guilty eating because she felt she had to explain herself to the waiters and waitresses in the restaurant each day.
As many of the staff at the hotel were Moslem, they provided olives and dates by the entry to the dining room because it is very important for them to break their fast immediately the sun goes down.
There were many minarets with their frequent chants. One night I decided to leave the window open
(Win was out drinking and I figured she wouldn't know or care by the time she came back) but I certainly regretted it when the chants started at 4 a.m and went on and on.
Zaib made quite a hit with the shopkeepers. We both did a lot of shopping from the local department stores, and I was pleased to see that there was a sale on. The ladies inside were very shy - yet friendly when Zaib got into conversation with them. They thought she, being from India, must know
the men who they liked from the Indian soap operas and films . They said they thought she was very beautiful and really enjoyed talking with her.
Then we walked by the river bank, had a coke, and fell into conversation with a young man called Jawal who had a boat. He wanted us to read a letter he had received from an English lady who had been visiting in October and had gone back to Yorkshire and was writing to tell about Christmas
and the snow in England. I read it first, but he couldn't understand what I was saying, so Zaib reread it slowly, checking after every phrase to see if he needed more interpretation. He wanted us to go
with him to Banana Island - or just out with him in his boat - but we had really had our fill of pleasant charming young Egyptian men, so we put him off. But we did run into him several times during the
We got a horse cart home that day too. Zaib who was very good at bargaining gave the impression that she was going to walk and in the end we got the cheap price we were prepared to pay. I couldn't stand to bargain and often agreed a high price just to stop the whole procedure, and this rather
irritated my friends. Even though the man had agreed to Zaib's price, he kept wanting us to pay more, and half stopped en route and turned around and said, "I have 8 children at home." Zaib said,
"Shame on you. That is your fault. You shouldn't have so many." I felt embarrassed but she was quite happy with her statement.
We did much of our shopping at a corner shop near the hotel. It was a fixed price, so no need to bargain for our goods, but we felt Emad's prices were fair. They were making things specially for us, so we went back later in the week to collect them. His father was also in the shop and very friendly though you got the impression that his English was not very good. Emad had been to England to study and to try to sell some of his products, and he said how much he enjoyed our conversations with him. The whole family was in the shop when we went again on Friday, and his mother ended our visit with, "May God bless you both very much." which was very touching. We felt like we had made friends with the whole family.
One of our bridge group, Anne had very bad luck. She moved to one side to avoid a persisting begger and fell into a hole in the road and broke her leg. She had to go to the hospital and have it put in plaster, and then she sat in her room on her own, while we were playing bridge. Her partner, Hilda, who was 84, didn't want to stop playing. My very good hearted roommate - Win- decided that she would forego her bridge, and from that night on, she took Anne first to the pub and later the disco, using the wheelchair and crutches the hotel has found for her. It was particularly unfortunate that Anne had not really wanted to go on this trip, but went to please her friend.
I haven't said much about what the Egyptian people were wearing. Most of them wore typical long loose dress like a kaftan, and a headpiece. Most of the women dressed in black, and some had their faces veiled, but most didn't do this entirely Those who wore Western clothes wore lots of
them, because to them a temperature of 70° was very cold. Emar's father said he was wearing three sweaters.
The children often had very bright dresses on but very non-western - old fashioned styles. Many were barefoot. They seemed a very pleasant people - even the beggers. This was in contrast to our trip to Tunisia where many ofthe men were very aggressive and antagonistic towards us.
When we looked at the food markets, we thought the produce looked very poor. I expect all the best stuff was sold to the hotels. Zaib enjoyed dates, and told the manager that she thought the ones we had at the hotel were excellent. He admitted they had to wash and soak the dates several times before they came out as nice as they were. He got one of his employees to bring her a sample of the dates from his father's farm, and she bought a kilo - but they weren't nearly as nice as those in the hotel.
There was another group of people that I felt guilty about not tipping, (Baksheesh is what it
is called) and in fact I gave them all the small notes that I had meant for the childrenm These were the group of four musicians that played each time somebody came into or out of the hotel. It was so
awful - the music- that I almost felt like paying them to not play. But some people liked it quite well. Pat even thought of buying an instrument like the two stringed Rabaa that was being plucked.
Sometimes people had their pictures taken with the musicians and then paid them something for that.
But everybody expected something for everything they did. A man who told me where to stand
to take a good photograph expected me to tip him for the information, but he didn't get it. The people in the tombs who told us to watch our heads, expected a tip. I noticed that our guide went around and tipped a lot of the old men who were stationed around the tomb. I never say our temple guide tipping anyone for anything. He was bad tempered anyway. I gave him a tip once because I asked him what a certain flower was, and he told m,e but it was done so gruffily and angrily that I almost changed my mind.
Finally it came time for us to fly home. Many of the group, including Zaib, were staying on for a second week and going on a cruise on the Nile. Anne, with her broken leg, was coming back with us which made the group 8 in all. The rep turned her care over to us, and left us to it. So Pat had to take her through customs, find her a place near the disabled toilets, find someone to help her get on board the plane. This was a big problem because we were bussed out from the airport to where the
plane was parked, and the wheelchair wouldn't fit on the bus. So they pushed her across the runway in the chair, and one of the attendants picked her up and carried her up the steps to where she had a special seat near the front. She surely had had a rotten holiday but even so was in good spirits. She had paid to go on the cruise, and I had helped her out earlier, because I discovered her luggage had been placed with those who were going on the cruise. I tried to tell theman not to take it, but he had his orders, so I chased around to find Anne, but we were too late. It was on the boat, so we needed to getsomebody to get it off the boat,which we eventually did.
When we got on the plane, I was seated by the emergency exit, so nice leg room. The woman who sat next to me told me she had been married the day before to an Egyptian boy. She was 40ish and had two sons, 15 and 17. She'd had her first holiday in October and met this young man who lived on the west bank. When she returned home, he wrote to her and said he was being conscripted into the army, and would probably be in Cairo in the army for at least two years, so she had to move fast if she wanted to marry. him. So she borrowed money and filled her suitcase with things for his family. Her new husband had just finished college, and had been able to avoid the draft so far because of his study, and now the police were out looking for him. And it turned out she married him just in time. The wedding was on Thursday, and on Friday morning she arrived at his house to find out that he was in jail - for draft dodging. But when she went to the jail and showed the papers that proved they had just been married, he was released for the time being. The new husband was about 21, but the age difference didn't matter to her at all. I think she married him because it was a nice kind thing to do. He as a Moslem can be married four times apparently and she said that she was already part owner of his feluca (small boat) so the added wealth from the marriage to her would be able to make him afford to take a young Egyptian wife too. He couldn't come to England because you couldn't get a passport until you had done military service. She said she wouldn't dream of living
in Egypt as she had her shop at home to run, but she planned to try to visit four times a year.
I wondered what the legal situation would be regarding an English woman who had married an Egyptian - who didn't come to live with her. Would he be the automatic inheritor of her shop and money if she died in the plane on the way home? Would England allow him to come and live here, as they had allowed me to come as Philip's foreign wife, with no questions asked, and every freedom and privilege given?
I told her about my lack of success in trying to help the children. She said I should take pens with me next time, and give those to the children. If they were given money, their parents would take it from them, but if they had pens, they could learn to write and draw.
So ended another memorable bridge holiday. I liked Egypt and would like to go again and do the things I did better, and do the things I didn't do and make sure I did them better too. I feel that from now on I will understand a bit more when people talk about papyrus and hieroglyphics and pyramids and tombs and temples. What before was just an item on TV would now have new meaning for me.
written February 19, 1996