Economically speaking, it’s tough times in Egypt right now. The general tourist population is at about 30% of it’s average for the time of year. After the revolution 1.4 million tourists fled the country, afraid for the instability. Nationalism protests can turn violent in any part of the world. But that void has left countless people living hand to mouth. While we were offered deals on everything, there is a big difference between getting a good deal because the salesman has had a good week and the dollar won’t make or break him, and getting a good deal because the dollar is the difference between his family eating or going to bed with empty bellies. We were approached ravenously, with everyone vying for our tourist dollars. Scarves and spices and alabaster figures and cheap trinkets and camel skin bags. Sadly for most of them, we aren’t the spendy types and don’t buy too many things.
Sprinkled in with all the made in China pyramids, Bast statuettes, and Tutankhamen and Nefertiti busts, were some really beautiful items – the inlaid mother of pearl boxes, the hand made alabaster vases – but the need, the heavy pitch, the shoving things into your arms just served to quicken our steps along the worn brick roads. If you let your eyes settle on an object for a second, half a second even, the eager salesman has already picked out a fine selection of similar wares and has already knocked his own price in half, just for you, just today. And heaven forbid I say ‘Hey Jimmy’ because then every vendor within earshot is calling to Jimmy or whoever has had their name spoken and suddenly they are your best friend and are offering you tea but nothing is free. Argh. It’s sad and annoying and yet the light and the angles and the colors and the entire thing was entirely beautiful and surreal.
The buckets and baskets of spices arranged in great heaps. The door way into the town bakery where a 60 year old bread over belched out the tastiest pitas I’ve ever had. The woven reed trays of freshly baked pita being walked down the stone streets on the shoulders of barefooted young boys in their long caftans. Old men sitting on the curb drinking tea, smoking shisha, saying nothing to us at all. Fabrics of a thousand patterns adorning hijabs, tunics, scarves. Wires and signs and lattice and vines criss-crossing overhead in a thousand different directions between the narrow alleyways and streets breaking up the sunlight from overhead and creating a cool and sweet air. It was all very beautiful, that is for certain.
Eventually, Luna and I lost Jimmy to tea with a salesman of camel skin ottomans and we wandered elsewhere. She purchased an outlet adapter from a tiny electronics store. We sat and waited for the owner to return with it for quite some time.
“I’m not sure about this color scheme,” she said of the packaging on all the products hanging on hooks before us. “It doesn’t really inspire me to buy any of it.” The colors were predominantly orange, green, white, and some other sort of dusty muted tones.
“It’s a different culture and a different color scheme – it speaks differently to them. It’s their colors. They aren’t trying to market it to you or I,” I replied.
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