Sunday, November 06, 2011

Here, I found myself having tea in a field with one person that I somewhat knew and four people that I didn’t know, which suddenly was unnerving because I realized I did not know the person that well that I thought I knew. We were out in the middle of nowhere. There were no taxis in the immediate vicinity.

There we were. One man was a local farmer. The others were nondescript except for one man. He had that horror-movie crazy person look, not the guy who does the deed but the simpleton that laughs and has no conscience and might bury the body later or cleans up the blood after the bath has been given or who fries up the arm for a snack. This man, they told me, was the man of the field. This made me think that he slept in the field. Maybe he is of the melon. Maybe he is of the corn. He gave me the creeps. I swear I had seen him in some Tobe Hooper film. Or was it a Wes Craven horror-show?

We had come upon them when I thought we were on our way to lunch. They were in the middle of the field sitting on a blanket in the shade. They were eating grapes and rolling cigarettes. We sat and talked and had pita bread and feta cheese and then later we had tea. They were friends with the newest of the Ahmeds and his friend Ahmed.

If something were to happen to me, know one would know where I had been or whom I was with or anything. Sure there are pictures of the new Ahmed and his friend Ahmed but how could anything be proved. In the last few days, I have found myself in that situation a few times. And really, I don’t think that I need to be scared but it does give me pause. My feeling is that sketchy guys look sketchy. Ahmed and his friend Ahmed have fresh faced university written all over them.

I had just been to Sakkara to see the tombs. Finally, I had ridden a camel. Ahmed, I met in Azhar Park there with his girlfriend. When he was taking her picture, I offered to take a picture of them both. We started talking. At university, he studies languages. Sometimes he answers me in French or Italian. He is not accomplished at any of them but he is trying.

“Oui, oui,” he says occasionally.

After we talked in the park for twenty minutes or so, he told me that he wanted to show me Sakkara. We planned to meet on Saturday. He gave me directions to Sakkara via train, shuttle bus, and tuk tuk. He wrote the directions in Arabic and English.

I took the metro but missed my Giza stop. Since the direction I was going had Giza on the sign I assumed it was the terminal station. It was not. When I looked up, I realized I had missed it. A very kind man named Ramy told me it was the stop before. I told him I would just go back one stop. He told me he would help me. He actually led me out of the station and told me he would take me to where I needed to go. We walked on a muddy animal strewn road back to the next station or rather to the shuttle bus area by the station.

Ramy told me he would help find a shuttle bus. That is what I wanted to do. But then a taxi came. Ramy hailed it but the driver wanted too much. I had asked Ramy how much the taxi should charge. I told him I would like to take a bus instead. I would have to make two shuttle connections to the Sakkara stop. That was okay with me.

Ramy tried a few busses but then he finally grabbed me a cab. He told me I might have trouble speaking to a bus driver and they would not know where I was going so a cab would be better. I agreed.

We found a cabbie that agreed to use the meter. Usually this is a good idea with the exception of the other night when a cabbie charged me three times what the cost should have been after he drove around in circles since the destination was not that far but he assumed I did not know where I was going so he was able to fleece me.

So I hopped in a cab and told Ramy goodbye. I promised to write. I felt as if I was on some mythical adventure full of intrigue, daggers and pita. The cabbie knew no English. I started taking pictures of farm animals in front of apartment buildings. He slowed down to let me do this; sometimes he pointed at farm animals for me to shoot. Everyone is getting ready for Eid al-Adha. For this, to celebrate, animals must be slaughtered. Back in mecca, Hassan Mohammad with the most terrible big slash of a scar on his face, at this moment, I know, is preparing to slaughter a camel.

The cabbie drove me somewhere in the vicinity of 30 minutes out into the farmland of outer Cairo. Along the road was a creek that was used for irrigation. Motor vehicles shared the road with animal powered vehicles, donkey, horse, camel, yak, whatever. At the reigns at times were young boys almost too small to control the animal or old men almost too old. At one point, we picked up a toothless old hag carrying a box. She rode a less than a kilometer and was dropped. The cabbie took no money from her.

Me, he had. If he wanted to demand all of my money, he could. I had no earthly idea where I was. I was lost in the African outskirts. Although, the day was as sunny as days get, there was a slight feeling of doom about all of this but this might just be a lark.

We drove past a sign with Sakkara written on it. I pointed to the sign. I called Ahmed. I gave the phone to the taxi driver. We turned around. At the crossroads where I had seen the sign, Ahmed and his friend Ahmed jumped in. We headed to Sakkara.

At the gate of the Sakkara tombs, the guards questioned us, our origins, our citizenship. This was done in Arabic. Ahmed answered and the two Ahmeds gave their identification cards. The guards did not ask for mine since I am a tourist, a traveling ATM.

Ahmed and Ahmed and I saw the tombs and walked around and yes it is awe-inspiring and like nothing anywhere. And it is in the middle of nowhere with just desert around, or let me rephrase that it is out in the countryside down several paved narrow roads, out in farmland. But once you have gone into this vast burial ground, the necropolis for ancient Memphis, there are miles and miles of sand and tombs. This has to be cinema. This cannot be real. Where are the cameras? Where is Spielberg? Where is the Pink Floyd soundtrack?

Inside Sakkara, Ahmed asked me if I wanted to ride the horse. I was noncommittal. He then asked if I wanted to ride the camel. Yes, of course, I love camels. I have to ride the camel. Yes!

We walked to where the camel men were camped, with the camels beside them. The camels and the men looked as if the desert had exchanged their youth for rotten teeth, weathered faces, and failing limbs. The desert had given the camels bad attitudes. They had the look of disgruntled employees on the verge of mutiny. The herdsmen seemed unaware of this.

Maybe this is because the camels are tied to the ground with ropes. You come upon them and they look as if they are relaxing. Soon you find out this is not the case. They are bound to the ground. If you bend your elbow to your shoulder and then have someone tie it between the elbow and shoulder that is how the camels were bound which seems less than P.E.T.A. friendly.

We picked a camel for me to ride.

The herdsman shushed softly to calm the camel. The camel, with not many teeth left in its head, wanted to let out a ferocious roar to intimidate but instead out came a forlorn Chewbacca howl. The herdsman motioned for me to get into the saddle. There was a stirrup for my left foot. This was what I expected but was not what I expected. The camel, though very old, rose with such force that I worried it might try to buck me. Forever, I have spoken of the magic of camels and I was finally able to experience this. These camels will someday be freed from the spell that has been cast upon them. Maybe they will be the ones to inherit the earth. Imagine a camel future - camels playing indie rock, camels playing golf, camels gossiping at the water cooler, camels working at Starbucks.

This moment, getting on the camel moment, I had been looking forward to this for so long. I was ready to take off into the desert for a several day ride, sleeping with the Bedouins. This was not quite what happened because of the location where the camel riding took place. All around were steep drop-offs. In a place where there is just flat desert for as far as the eye can see the place where the camels were parked was corralled by precipices. This was worrisome.

If I was to go flying, it would be looked upon as nothing more than a freak accident, one of those foreign news blurbs, footnote at best. I suppose that wouldn’t be a bad way to go to be thrown by a camel to my death but that is not particularly how I would like to end my tenure on earth. At least give me a longer camel ride before I am catapulted.

Nevertheless though the camel was of a very moody extraction - if I may indeed speak about his ethnic origin in such a way, I am still very fond of camels even the ones who do not wake up with sunny outlooks. But then really I don’t blame them. If my front haunches were tied together I would not have the sunniest of outlooks either.

At the entrance to the site, after the car has been parked, there are guards who ask for money. Ahmed explained this to me after we walked in the site. I was going to have him pay for everything with the money that I had given him to pay the cab at the end of the adventure. How he wound up with my money I do not recall. He is shifty.

When we got back to the gate, he told me I needed to pay the guards. Since he was holding the money, I told him to. He acted a little strange about this. He tried to give a guard the money and the guard would not take it. To Ahmed, he said something that sounded rude. Ahmed handed me the money and I handed it to the guard. He threw it back at Ahmed. Ahmed then told me that the guard couldn’t take money from an Egyptian.

Ahmed had told me to pay the cab to wait while we saw the site, which I did, though Ahmed would be the one to settle up since I gave him the money. We drove through the village of Sakkara. There were farm animals and carts and beat up cars and beggar women and beggar men everywhere. There was bustle and noise and loud tractors and the hollering of youngsters and their elders. Ahmed had said that we would eat here but now I was wondering about that. I was hoping that we wouldn’t because it looked so dingy and dirty everywhere. Third world eats sometimes are less than delicious.

For the second time, I thought that I was going to see the pyramids but it was not to be. Ahmed told me that there was no time to see them. They are the carrot held in front of you. Instead you are taken to a place for perfume or papyrus.

This Ahmed, come to find out, this Park Ahmed, is a bit of a scammer. He is a student, I think. We were near his home, I think. He had lured me out there to make some cash, I know. But at the same time, I hold no grudge. Perhaps, what puts people off about this sort of thing is that it is sneaky. Yes, you meet someone in the park and they seem to honestly like you and in this instance you think that it is like it is in China where they just want to practice their English, a fair exchange. Then they want to take you into their home because it is so unusual to know a foreigner. No, here they also want a piece of your wallet. But then, who can blame them? I don’t. I just come from a luckier zip code.

On my way out to meet this Ahmed, I started to wander about all of this if he really wanted to show me around or if he just wanted to show my money around. Thus, after our tomb visit when we got out of the cab next to a field a bit outside of the village, I was a bit suspicious, not worried, but my detector for the manure of cow being dished to me was starting to register in the higher register.

At the same time, I was out in a field in Africa seeing the local people do their thing. I was not a tourist but a traveler that happened upon a daily scene of pastoral tranquility. I followed Ahmed down narrow raised paths with irrigation ditches on each side. The taxi had dropped other Ahmed off to get a computer. He would meet us.

Then there I was sitting with these men that were friends of Ahmed. At one point, his older brother came upon us carrying some sort of leafy crop. He sat it down and talked to us. Ahmed had to interpret for everyone.

The ploy I have found when you are being scammed is that the person scamming you tells you to relax, no hurry. This happened on the first night I was here. Today was nice sitting in the field but I did not want to sit in a field all day, not when I was starting to see that Ahmed is among the better scammers. Finally, I was able to convince him to find a bus for me to take me back to the city.

As we were leaving, the crazy horrorshow man who had disappeared came back with a donkey. I was to ride the donkey. I told him I would the next time. He insisted I ride the donkey. I told him I would for sure the next time. Again he insisted. Ahmed then told me that horrorshow man had prepared a feast for me, that he had killed a chicken and prepared a feast for me. This totally turned my stomach.

Please could some Tobe Hooper character or perhaps Dracula’s Renfield make me dinner? This just seemed too much like it could be a new smash hit horror movie with a different take. Have it take place in Egypt. Will the main character survive? But then was I the main character or the dinner to be served to the main character, who was yet undetermined? Maybe this was all on the up and up but it was a little too creepy.

Since I knew the donkey could not go very fast, I appeased horrorshow man and I hopped on the donkey but then horrorshow man started leading the donkey back to the field. At that point, I jumped off and ran. Ahmed and Ahmed followed.

We took a dilapidated shuttle bus back to where the cabbie had picked up Ahmed and Ahmed. Ahmed and Ahmed put me in another shuttle bus that would take me to Giza and from there I could get another one to the Metro. That dilapidated bus kept packing in the passengers and then little by little they got off. Behind me sat three brothers, the oldest being in his late teens or early twenties and the youngest being in the vicinity of ten. The one in the middle was closer to the youngest one’s age.

The oldest brother started talking to me and seemed to think we were carrying on a conversation though it was all in Arabic. I just laughed and repeated what he said though I do know at one point that he was talking about slaughtering animals because he acted as if he were eating after he had cut a mock throat. I hope that he was talking about slaughtering animals that is. A few times he said Giza and a word that sounded like pyramids. A boy who had been silent in the front seat looked back at him and me and said ‘metro’. The older brother then repeated ‘metro’ to me.

“Yes metro!” I agreed. I had to get to the metro.

When we got to crossroads - the pyramids one direction or the metro the other, he motioned for me to get off as he got off with his brothers. We stood at an intersection and he called to passing busses. At one point a taxi stopped but I shook my head. Finally, a city bus came by. The older brother flagged it down. I shook his hand and got on. He did not try to scam me out of anything. Really, most people want to help. He looked poor and like he could have used the money but he did not try to scam me. Now I wish that I had given him money.

As the bus pulled away, I waved at him and his brothers. The boy who had said ‘metro’ got on the bus with me. I followed him to the front of the bus. He asked some people sitting near us something in Arabic. I am not sure what. One shook his head yes and then looked at me and said:

“We tell you when metro.”

“Thank you. Thank you.”

Soon this boy got off and the man he had asked nodded to me. The man behind him would go to metro stop.

“I will show you metro,” the man behind told me.

“I go to metro,” the Asian sitting behind him said.

I thanked them all and rode the rest of the way. Soon the bus stopped. The Asian was a Chinese man named Wu. I said a few things in Chinese, which made him laugh. We rode the metro together to the Sadat stop where we parted.

He asked me if I saw the pyramids. I told him that I had not seen them yet. Since he was coming from Giza I assumed he had.

“No, the driver could not find the gate. I did not see them,” he told me. And although, he was leaving the next day and had more than likely been scammed by the driver who could not ‘find’ the gate to the pyramids, he did not seem to mind that he had not seen Egypt’s most iconic landmark but then that is the magic of Egypt.

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