I'd waited most of my life to see the Sphinx, the pyramids, and the huge replicas of Ramses I and Ramses II. The sand was whiter and the temperature hotter than I'd ever imagined, and I relished every moment.
Our guide, a young Fulbright scholarship winner who could speak several languages fluently, thought English was one of them. It was I suppose, if it doesn't seem important that accents are put in the wrong place. It took a while for my brain to translate most of what he was saying, and so I did not notice that the only female under fifty who was with us was wandering away. I did not see that she was particularly attractive.
But here, in Egypt, under that burning sun, against the back drop of the aura of the Sphinx, with the only competition being widows, or old maid aunts--well, here this "younger woman" seemed to have great appeal for the young natives. Our guide informed us, facetiously I assumed, that blonds were in high demand, and that a blond was worth seven camels!
Having explained that our guide led us into ancient tombs that were still being excavated. The signs showed that the work was being done by Germans. After bending over, leaning down, crouching along, we wended our way down into the ancient tombs that lay beneath the pyramids. Once inside, when we no longer had to lean over, we stood up, and saw the place was beautiful, with colors of orange, green, and blue as bright and clear as the day they were done. How those colors could last so many years is just the sort of miracle that Eastman Kodak seeks.
I wanted to have a memento to show when I got home, so I quickly took my camera and snapped two pictures. From nowhere guards appeared, ready to wrestle the camera from me. There were apparently signs that said that taking pictures was verboten. How could that be, I wondered, since we'd been taking pictures everywhere else, and no one seemed to mind.
For some reason photographing this area was off limits. I had a nightmare vision of myself gradually wasting away in an Egyptian prison, bars in front of me, sand whirling everywhere, so I grabbed a dollar bill from my wallet and pressed it into the hands of the nearest guard. He took it, quickly pocketed it and quietly moved away. If I hadn't been so startled I would surely have given him more than that but the dollar did the trick.
I still have that picture. It's of a stiff-necked Egyptian beauty, looking to one side only, and pictures of egrets, monkeys, and asps.
When we crouched down to go back up out of the tombs, the sun was a welcome sight, and so were smells that hadn't been confined for hundreds of years.
In a shelter erected for tourists we all bought water for a dollar a bottle. Sold in blue bottles, it was cool and refreshing. True luxury was being able to sit in the shade provided by the shelter. The white-hot outside heat penetrated our very being, though we wore hats with shades, covered our arms, and wore either white or light clothing.
Even the men who did the excavating wore all white, with nary a grease spot like we'd see on Americans. The bleaching power of the sun at work.
The three pyramids outside Gaza were surrounded by camels. Anyone here who said he'd would walk a mile for a camel would be considered crazy. Who could walk a mile in this hot sun?
The men who were begging everyone to take rides on their camels were taking pictures of us, with our cameras, and charging us two dollars. When I took a picture of a little boy on a donkey he came screaming at me, "Pix, monee, monee, monee" and he kept up the chatter until finally I handed him two dimes. He screamed some more, and finally, I took out a little 2 inch laminated midget five dollar bill, and handed it to him. He took it, turned it over and over in his hand, with a puzzled expression on his face. I wonder when he found out it was a fake, and if he valued it anyhow. I did.
They had a ploy of whirling around with their donkeys and demand that we take their pictures. It was their source of income.
Other entrepreneurs sold jewelry made of stones. They grabbed your arm and beseeched you to buy. Their arms were dirty and their galabayos were dirty, and most of what they held wasn't worth anything. Our guide told us, "Pay no attention, and do not buy from them for their merchandise is no good." However, because they rammed the items in your face and seemed to be have-nots most of us handed them a dollar or two. For one dollar I merited a cheesecloth to wrap around my head to keep sand away. For another I got blue stones, which if you picked up a rock on the streets in Chicago and called it a Chicago stone, would be the same thing. That broke before our bus pulled away.
At the Bedouin fair we found hordes of people milling about, each with his own wares to sell. One followed me to the bus, urging me to buy something, and when I did several others also accosted me. An old woman sat nursing her baby, with chickens for sale at her feet. Her dress was black, and her chickens were red ones.
For sale were clothes, modern shoes, and thongs, stone jewelry, pots, pans, and live sheep. Also woolly rugs which several on our bus bought. The guide said they would start smelling because they were not properly tanned.
It was evening when we drove away. I still wish I'd bought a woolly rug.