Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ma as salaamah (goodbye), Luxor

[Picture is of Betsy in front of the enormous columns that are part of the Luxor Temple.]

We wrapped up our four days of Luxor heat and harassment at a different hotel, one on the east bank of the Nile. Quite a different experience. While on the west bank, we were hassled by the taxi drivers only at the ferry boat dock, on the east bank, which is full of tourists, it was non-stop. It's hard to describe the incessant chatter of taxi and surrey drivers, literally following alongside us as we walked on the sidewalks, asking us if we wanted a ride (to quote something Jim says to me sometimes, "That's not really a question, is it?") We tried several approaches: politely declining (didn't work), ignoring them (ditto) and then rudeness (and, again, ditto). The only things that thwarted their efforts were either a physical barrier, like a parked car, or other tourists who looked more promising. I never tried the fourth approach that kept coming to mind (screaming), which is probably fortunate. But another day there and I might have been reduced to it. Maybe my patience wouldn't have been quite so short if it wasn't 110 degrees, or if we were able to actually walk on the sidewalks and not have to detour around parked cars, men smoking seeshas (water pipes, known more commonly among our students as hookahs), indifferent policemen and the surreys themselves, pulled by some sorry-looking horses.
[This picture is the back of a woman getting off the local ferry. She was carrying a basket on her head with one rabbit and two chickens--bound for a sad fate, I'm afraid).

Luxor does indeed have amazing antiquities, including the stunning Luxor Temple ruins, and the awe-inspiring Nile River, but those working diligently to enhance Egyptian (and specifically Luxor) tourism really need to re-think this approach. Okay, so maybe it's a strategy that's a thousand years old. I don't know. I just wanted to walk, and sightsee, and window-shop in a little peace.

[I took this picture on the local ferry, trying to be unobtrusive. The kids always notice, though.]

There were, though, plenty of charming moments. Betsy and I had a very fun hour with two young Egyptian women who gave us pedicures in a tiny hotel beauty shop. You might know from reading Betsy's blog that one of her goals was to spend time in a Middle East beauty parlor of some sort because she had heard from someone that such a place is a good spot for talking with, or at least overhearing, Muslim women ("Veiled Magnolias," I guess). Not surprisingly, there are not a lot of these places in a city like Luxor, which caters more to western tourists. The places that take care of local women are not easy to find. So Betsy had been thwarted until I happened to see a young, unveiled woman passing out fliers for her services to hotel guests around the pool (that was the reason we switched to the bigger hotel for our last night--it had a pool, something I never thought would be a necessity for me, but there you go; plus, it was quite a bit closer to the airport). So I showed Betsy the flier and suggested we at least get pedicures because, well, our toes looked a bit ragged after four days of traipsing through the ruins. Actually, it wasn't just our toes, but there are limits to modern skin care. Anyway, she happily scheduled us for appointments, and at 7 pm, we met her and another very young girl (maybe 18 or so) in the beauty "shop," hoping to have some conversation about life as young Muslim women.

They were listening to Arabic music when we entered, and to break the ice, I asked Hala (the one who we met at the pool), "What is this you're listening to?" She immediately brightened and said, "Christian music!" "You're Christian?" I asked. "Oh yes. See my cross?" She showed me a small tatton on the back of her hand. Her partner (whose name turned out to be Yvonne--not the most Arab name we'd heard), nodded enthusiastically. Yes, there we were, about to have pedicures done by two Christian Arabs, one of whom was a Cairo beauty school graduate. So much for insights into Muslim women's lives.

They were great fun, though. Yvonne spoke no English, so we didn't always understand what they were saying to one another, but it was clear that Hala, as the pro, had some strong opinions. When Betsy chose a color, Hala said, "Oh no. Not with your skin." She wanted Betsy to have something that was the color of melted chocolate. Betsy put the kabosh to that and ended up with, well, I'll just post a picture. You might not be able to make out what's on my big toe, so I'll describe it. I simply asked for a color (Hala approved), but after my very modest color was dry, Hala opened another bottle and without asking, handpainted a tiny palm tree on my big toes in white, and then trimmed it in silver glitter. I was a little freaked out, but sat still and when they were done (and all my other toes were detailed with a small bit of silver), I thought, hey, that's kind of cool.

Hala and Yvonne also treated us to the Middle Eastern torture that is known as "threading," again without warning. This is a procedure used to remove hair and involves a piece of thread that the stylist holds in her teeth and hand and somehow quickly runs over your skin in a kind of cross-hatch motion. It takes a split second, but hurts like hell for about three seconds. I didn't know I had hair on the tops of my toes--have never actually seen it, but those suckers are gone now. Middle Eastern women have full-body threading done before their weddings, and let me tell you: I have a newfound respect for their pain threshhold.

We left Luxor this morning and flew to Cairo, a city of 6 million people, 16 million cars, and 3 traffic signals, none of which anyone pays attention to. We are in a small hotel on the fifth floor of an older building in a quiet part of the city. The hotel is quite nice and has wireless, so I'll post some pictures of Luxor to wrap up this part of our adventure.
Do check Betsy's blog for her observations and some cool pictures of Luxor, including our hot air balloon ride.

1 comment:

Sebastian Ivory said...

Nice Pictures, say hi to my mom