So eventually we left… and made our way back to the Nefertiti. But not first stopping at the Alabaster factory which we’d been taken to earlier. We’d stopped there between the different tombs, I think and we drank Turkish coffee and were told the story of this old alabaster carving family. We were shown the fine art of alabaster carving (some truly beautiful things get made – vases and tea sets and carvings) and were shown around the shop. Then we were given the hard sell. You see – tour guides 50% commission for pieces that are purchased there by the tourists they bring (this is the case with all tours and gift shops). Violet and I found a nice vase but he wanted $40 for it and we’ve paid less for nicer work from a Laguna Beach potter – and that guy lives in Laguna Beach where it’s EXPENSIVE! Later we found a nicer and larger hand hewn alabaster vase in a shop in the souk in Luxor for $12.
Anyways, we stopped there at alabaster factory again. Got the hard sell. Refused to get out of the van. We were hungry and stubborn. We didn’t feel the need to be ‘nice’ by buying something. It was however a bit uncomfortable and brought the cynic in me out.
The sun was setting and we pulled away in the white Japanese minivan, driving through a dirt clearing where kids played soccer. The van drove through their game. A girl held the ball. She looked at me with a deep gaze from her dark dark eyes and though she was maybe 12 at most, her face looked like a 40 year old woman. Not hardship necessarily, though she looked hardened, but age… age and time. It was haunting. There was no innocence to her gaze. It was dark and beautiful and humbling.
We drove back quietly in the setting sun, making our way back to the Nefertiti Hotel where we ate a delicious meal. Violet headed back to grading papers for a while (certainly no fun) and I sat quietly in a chair alongside the alley courtyard in raised row of wicker chairs, under the soft yellowed lights, and settled in to drawing – the echoes of the temples and ruins fresh in my mind, the cool air on my cheeks, and the sounds of this Egyptian city – car honks, sales man shouts, calls to prayer, quiet conversations of caftan robed men passing through in the evening, a child, a kitten, the breeze.
Along with me there at the wicker tables and chairs, sat Luna, Mohammed, and Aladdin. Mohammed was a sweet fellow with a trusting faith, a big heart, a family – a wife and two kids – and a deep faith in his religion. His eyes were wide and trusting. They hid nothing. He was a very genuine fellow and I really appreciated his trusting, honorable manner. Aladdin was a bit different. No less genuine, trust worthy, or honorable, he was simply more reserved. Aladdin, the owner of the Nefertiti Hotel, was really a remarkable person who I wish I had spent more time talking with. He told me that he was amongst the first 100 people into Tahrir Square during the first wave of the revolution. He has helped to organize for the local chapter of the liberal-leaning political party. He has intelligent and calculating eyes.
One morning I was sitting outside there in the alley court yard drawing in the morning light and he was there in front of me with a sharp cream colored suit on. ‘Nice suit,’ I looked up and saw this sharp looking fellow with a stubbled head of hair and said, and smiled. ‘Looks sharp.’ He smiled charismatically because he knew that I meant it. ‘I wear a suit often,’ he said. ‘The past few days I’ve been more casual.’
A suit makes people take you seriously. If I’d had more time, I would have found a tailor to make me a sharp suit.
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