January 10th, 2009
Day Three and I am back in my hotel room. I found out its called The New Palace Hotel, which is wishful thinking for it's neither new nor palatial. The toilet has a little pipe that squirts water up your bum which I thought would be a lot worse than it really was, as the water is warm. As there is a notice not to flush the toilet paper, I decided to use the little pipe and it was actually quite enjoyable, but eventually I decided I had better get out and about. I was feeling a little intimidated by the chaos that seemed to reign in the streets below me, but I also knew that my trepidation was simply fear of the unkown and the best way to face it was to meet it. I put off my foray and had coffee on the rooftop cafe, and serendipitously, Jake, the English guy I shared a table with was taking lessons at Arabeya.org, and gave me directions to get there, Strangely it was the same directions I had received two days earlier in Richmond. Left, left, and at the end of the road. And, luckily, the place was right across the road from the Cairo Museum. Jake was paying only 20 pounds for his room (though he had to share a bathroom with others). I shall have to negotiate a lower rate when I reutn I think.
Anyway, the time had come to venture beyond the doors of the hotel. It turns out what I had thought was a side door was actually the fron door. In the lobby, the concierge talked me into a car trip to Giza for the 11th, and I could have sworn he said it would cost me 40 pounds, after I gave him a fifty, he told me I had given him a fifty. The actual price was one hundred and forty pounds. Egyptian pounds. I guess I should use the term Guinays to differentiate them from Pounds Sterling. I think the exchange rate is about 7 guinays to a Euro.
So off I go. First purchase, a pair of pliers. The guy had no change so went to a bank to change two fifties for five twenties. I reached Arabeya.ord without much trouble and had a chat with Hamid who runs the school, and arranged to rent a room in an apartment (two metro stops from the school) when I return to Ethiopia and I will have to email him when I know Iím coming back. My return flight from Ethiopia is for February 2nd but if I can get a Visa for Yemen and the Sudan while I'm in Addis Abeba, I will not be back to Cairo until March probably. It would make sense to go there before Egypt as they both border on Ethiopia. So that arranged, I visited the Cairo Museum.
I went straight to the Amarna exhibit to look at the sculptorís model of Nefertiti. It was smaller than I expected but just as beautiful as the pictures. There was a Japanese woman there at the same time who was fascinated by it. I was going to take a poicture of it, but a guide warned me pictures are not allowed in the museum, and that if I took one, my camera would be confiscated. Curiously enough, shortly afterwards as I was passing a granite sphynx, the guard there signalled to me that I could take a picture of it, but I smiled and shook my head, thinking he either was bored and wanted to arrest someone or he was scamming for a tip. Not wishing to see which side of the coin would come up after taking a picture, I moved on. My main interest in the museum were the model boats and it struck me that for some the steering oars might be a form of propulsion a la the gondoliers in Venice. Most of the models had paddles that appeared to be caved from a tree with a fork in it that hooked on the poles on which they rested. For the most part, I examined the heiroglyphic inscriptions and pretended to be Indiana Jones.
I went to the cafe on the second floor to eat, but the prices were so high, I decided against ordering food, but in an effort not to appear indecisive, I ordered a coffee priced at 15 Guinays, and as the coffee I had drunk at the hotel only cost 2.5, I proved, to myself at least, that I was not only indecisive but insecure. Later, it occurred to me any food ordered in any museum would be overpriced. I left the museum and walked down to the shore of the Nile. Across the river is the Tower of Cairo, but I have no idea of its significance. After drinking a tea (2 Guinays) and being pursued by a car driver who seemed convinced I wanted to tour the Coptic area for only $50, I wandered onto a bridge to take some pictures, having finally worked up the courage to bring out my camera and become a tourist. On the way back, I was engaged by a man who claimed to be a painter from the Opera Company, and whose father was a professor at the University, and whose daughter was getting married tomorrow, I asked if he knew where I could get a drawing pad to replace the one I had left in the toilet at the British Museum. He took me down a couple of side streets by the Hilton, and as we entered the shop, I realized there were no drawing pads there, just a whole bunch of paintings on papyrus. They brought me tea and closed the doors. And began showing me copies of inscriptions, some of which I recognized. One was a picture of the Tree of Life with five birds on it, and, after asking me my son's name, they wrote Lee in Arabic on it and said I could have it for "cost". Though I repeatedly said I did not want to buy it, he insisted, as a Bedouin, he wanted me to have it as a gift, and that all I had to do was give what I thought it was worth to his daughter for her wedding dowry. I decided I was being railroaded, especially as I had no intention of buying a picture from him, so I told him I had brought very little money out with me, only enough for the museum and tea. He finally reduced the $140 price down to 100 guinays (a 95% reduction) but, thankfully I keep a few small bills in one pocket and the bigger ones in another, so when he asked me how much I had, I could only produce 60 guinays and a few piasters. We then had a discussion about credit cards, and although I didn't come right out and say I didn't have any plastic, I gave the impression I had none in my possession. He and his family finally gave up, and then asked that I pay for the tea. I held out a 20 guinay note and then said 20 guinays was too much for tea, and he reluctantly gave me back 10. As I am not renowned for my sales resistance, I thought I did quite well to get out of there so cheaply, though in reality I had just paid four times the real price for tea.
I came back to the hotel and bought a great meal for 25 guinays and sat and chatted with a musician called Hamdi, and gave him advice on emailing a French girl he had met. She had just left Egypt, but he was confused by the fact she was always chatting to other men even though she seemed to like him. I bought him a tea, and retired to the room to turn in early so I can get up early enough to have breakfast, and head out to Giza by 10 AM tomorrow.