Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Four Indiana Jones's and a few step pyramids

We started off at Abu Seer, a remote Pharaonic site which is officially "closed" - but we told the men guarding the entrance that we won't be a minute, and handed one of them a small sum - "share it amongst yourselves". The guards' spokesman said it was too little, we said it was fine. He thought about it and then said: "Okay, enjoy."

We were in my buddy's four-by-four, and he parked it to the side of the entrance and we were just getting out when the spokesman yelled: "Sire, sire, go in with the car, it will speed you up." "Go in by car?" we asked. "Go right ahead. See those two dunes, ease off to the right a little," he replied.

Afraid the wheels might not find traction in the fine desert sand, my buddy drove faster and faster. We were shaking wildly in the back. Then we smelt burning plastic. We started yelling at my buddy to slow down.

"I know what I'm doing, I've driven in the desert before, just calm down" he instructed us.

When we finally stopped, I was glad the car hadn't burst into flames. But he was dismissive of us upstarts who'd never driven in deserts before. "Just a bit of melted plastic."

We parked the car behind a sand dune. It was a bright, lovely, warm day. The temperature at night may be lower than 10C, but now we had to take off our jackets.

Out in the open, facing a step pyramid around 5000 years old, we were in no time cracking jokes about porno films.

"Not as impressive as the proper pyramids, eh?"

"Yeah, poor workmanship. You know what this reminds me of? Porno films with Pharaonic settings. It's always desert shot, pyramids, and then they're going at each other in bed with a Pharaonic portrait on the bedroom wall."

For four men in their 30s, this was comedic banter of the finest order.

The only people we met were a Russian couple and their daughter of about 8. The Russians were being guided by a man in traditional Egyptian attire. He had spotted us from afar, and came over to us. He had sussed out we were Egyptians, now he wanted to know who the hell we were.

"Salamu alaikom, how are things?" we asked him.

"Very well, sires, have you just come to look around?"

Yes, we said.

"I hope you are having a good time," he said as he shook hands with each of us. He seemed so earnest, I found myself saying: "Alhamdulillah" when it was my turn to shake hands with him.

We said we'd be happy to follow him around. He relaxed.

We chatted a little with the family in English and Russian (one of my buddies speaks Russian). The husband was serious and very well-informed about our history. The wife was friendly and chatty.

The guide led us through the relics of a couple of tombs and what looked like a small temple.

We were laughing all the time; the Russians must have thought 'these Egyptians really know how to have a good time'. Yet, I can't remember what it was that we moved things along with. They weren't all porno jokes.

The guide talked us through one of the drawings on some random stone. He said this was an "ankh" (some Pharaonic term), and someone asked: "ankh or nakh'"? [Nakh' is Egyptian slang for bs.] I guess the guide just didn't make an authoritative impression on us.

We decided it was time to leave. Our guide smiled at us and nodded his head sideways. We gave him something. He said he wanted more. We said we all want more. "Have a safe journey, sires," he said in good sport.

Next up was Sakkara, where early step pyramids were built, about twenty kilometers from the Pyramids.

At the entrance to the Sakkara site, we met large tours of German and Italian visitors. The site is home to two of the oldest step pyramids on earth, a large, impressive temple, and numerous tombs. Archaeologists still keep discovering things in Sakkara. But the entrance to the site is populated by napping dogs and fully alert Egyptians (yeah right).

One of my buddies started taking pictures of very far away industrial towers polluting Cairo's air. We stopped him talking himself senselessly negative (as is customary in Egypt) and dragged him to the site. As we walked around the site, it happened again: joke, joke, pun, pun, joke, topper, great topper, flat topper, better topper, pun, joke, etc. It was a joy.

We spotted a tourist peeing on the outside of one of the walls of the temple. "It's like, this is what he thinks of our country." " 'You guys have such great temples, let me pee on'em.' " "You know what, I feel like I want to pee on him for peeing on our history." "I feel the only way we restore our dignity is to pee on his pee." "As long as it is Egyptian pee, that's fine." "We purify his pee with our pee and thereby restore Egyptian dignity." "We should patrol the site with Egyptian guards whose job it is to pee on anyone else's pee." "Trouble is our guards won't do their job, they'll wait next to the tourist, and go 'Had a nice pee, sir? How about a tip?" It went on and on and on.

At the far end of the site, far, far from the tourists, where we could hear something close to the sound of silence, we saw accumulated bits of rubbish from many years: a lot of paper tissues, plastic bags, etc. Someone ducked into an isolated, dark chamber covered with litter and yelled: "They're shooting a porno in here."

An unofficial guide appeared out of nowhere (as they usually do) and offered to open for us a small temple that is "closed". As we were discussing his offer, we saw a dog carrying someone's plastic-bag-packed lunch in its mouth and walking towards the edge of the site. The dog was clearly taking the food far from where its pals may intrude, to eat it alone. We all marvelled at how someone had packed a lunch so carefully, only for them to lose it, for the dog to find it, and then take it away. "That food was that dog's fortune," the guard said.

We walked away: our small sum was not going to be that guard's fortune.

Inside one of the smaller chambers, in front of exquisite 5000-year-old reliefs, an unofficial guide raised his voice at a tourist: "No pictures, no pictures". She apologised and walked out. Afterwards, I leaned on her husband and told him "give the guy something, and you can take some pictures." "We've given already," he said with some exasperation. The guard later tells me: "They're so tight with their money these people, don't they get it?" "What're you gonna do with those miserly foreigners!" I commiserated. My buddies sniggered at my unashamed hypocrisy.

Want to read my future posts? Don't forget to subscribe! The RSS feed button is in the top left corner of this page.

No comments: