ON BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE IN EGYPT
Four mangy camels stood in front of us at Giza. I thought it was funny and laughed the first time I heard the line that camels look like something put together by a committee. Now I knew it was truth absolute! These animals bore only slight resemblance to the camels that amble across the desert on cigarette packages!
Their saddle blankets were neither red nor blue, though perhaps they had been once. The fringe bore slight resemblance to that my kindergartners crayoned on the three wise men when making Christmas cards. The knobby knees, the patchy, saddle-worn hide, the unkempt, knotted mane--it all made for a seedy appearance. It had to have been a poet who gave them the nickname, "ships of the desert." They looked and smelled more like "scum of the earth."
We kept thinking about the poor suckers who would walk a mile for a camel. Not in this sun they wouldn't! Nevertheless we had come this far and we didn't want to miss the opportunity to have a ride on a camel.
There was no difficulty in hailing the cab! The camel drivers, huge, sunburned turbaned men clad in light-colored gallabayos, were everywhere present, pressing tourists to invest what money they had with them.
After negotiating briefly, (Two dollars is an outrage; do we look like millionaires?) my significant other and I parted with two dollars apiece and were ready to claim our ride across the desert sands.
But first there was the matter of mounting the beast, who was accommodating and knelt down so we could climb aboard. Once we were in the saddle the animal raised up his back legs, way up, while we clung, desperately, to the saddle horn. Next, apparently trying to demonstrate the bactrian version of whiplash, he reared up on his front legs, and there we were, more or less--atop the world. Only the pyramids a few yards away were higher than we were.
The camel driver held the reins securely in his own hands--for two dollars we weren't even allowed to guide our own animal!
After a few feet the camel driver motioned towards my camera,
calling, "Piksher, piksher." I obligingly handed it over and he pointed it at us. Then he said," two dolla," gesturing withhis fingers so we knew exactly how much he wanted.
We figured out what he meant but he, alas, could neither understand nor interpret our gestures, which clearly explained, we thought, that it was our camera and our film, and us in the picture and therefore we should not pay---.
On the other hand we wanted our camera back, so we handed him the "two dolla" he demanded. That wasn't enough. He wanted "two dolla" for each!
A few yards farther he asked us if we wanted off, but we shook
our heads. He pointed back at the place we had started and said,
"Go back? Two dolla." We shook our heads, and he and the camel
came to a halt. The camel would not kneel, and we could not think
of jumping down from that great height. We had one ace in the hole, however. For every minute we sat up there he was missing the opportunity to give another sucker a ride at "two dollas" a ride. He was first of all a businessman, so in time he said whatever it is that must be muttered to camels to get them to kneel.
A couple who accompanied us on the trip pointed out that we had fared well. Their driver refused to let them off until they paid him "two dolla" apiece, and they were getting nervous up so high. Not only that but he did not know how to make change so when they gave him a ten dollar bill, he kept the change and fled to his next customer.
Before we could board our tourist bus again literally dozens of arms were thrust in front of us, urging us to buy their wares. Their spiels covered everything. "Buy good luck," "Buy a jewelry," "Buy pikshure postacards. Only two dolla." Everything, it seemed, cost "two dolla."
Our tour guide had warned us not to pay any attention to the thrusting hands but to get back on the bus quickly. Alas, I have no sales resistance, (but luckily very little money) so I gave "two dolla" for what turned out to be a necklace made with blue "stones' and wire. It broke before lunch. The other buy turned out to be a piece of cheesecloth that could well be used as a headdress, but unfortunately it was only long enough for a midget!
Having thus spent my days' allotment, and mesmerized by the
white-hot sun on the floor of the desert I pointed my camera at a
youngster riding a donkey. He twirled around, demanding money.
He began screaming in a high, agitated voice, that I had taken his picture and "sheated" him. I was aware that every eye in that immense desert land was peering at this "sheater." Shades of Cleopatra, Ramses I and II, and even the Sphinx!
I hurriedly rummaged through my empty purse for something, anything, with which to placate him. I came upon a laminated miniature fake five dollar bill given to me as a joke, once upon a time, and handed it to him.
He looked at it, peered at it closely, then pocketed it.