Thursday, October 14, 2010

Aswan is just so lovely. Even from my pool on the Nile, where I spent the first half of the day. The people here are friendly. Not aggressive. Just nice.

In the afternoon, when it had cooled off to 90 degrees, I caught a cab to the High Dam. Few of the cabs here have AC, and it’s like an oven inside. The dam was a joint effort between Egypt and the Soviet Union. (Hey, they asked America for money, but we said no. Conflict with Israel, etc. When the western world turns you down, you turn to the Russians. See Cuba.)

Afterwards, I have him drop me on the Corniche, where I haggle for a felucca ride. It’s just me and two guys on the boat, which in this context sounds dangerous. But on the water -- where it’s blessingly cool I might add -- there are tons of westerners on dozens of boats, zigzagging across the lake to catch the breeze with their giant sails. It’s relaxing and quiet and beautiful out here. I of course find at all I can about Ali and Jamel. How many kids they have (2 girls and 1 boy; 1 boy and 2 girls) How old they are. Jamel’s son is in college to be an engineer. Like all cultures and countries, he just wants his kids to be better off than he is. They have cell phones tucked into their galabayas, and they take them out to show me pictures of their families. We talk about the difference between Aswan and Cairo and New York before they drop me back off on land, safe as they found me, and wave goodbye as they slip back out into the lake.

The next day it’s another 5am wakeup call to fly to Abu Simbel. For anyone traveling to Egypt, take the time, money and effort to go here. It’s amazing. From the air, all you can see is sand for the entire 20-minute flight. I’ve never in my life looked out the window during a flight as much as I have in this country.

The monument itself is carved into the cliff side, 4 giant seated statures of Rameses II and his favorite wife, Nefertiti. I know I keep saying this after every sight, but this one IS actually the best preserved I’ve seen. With the massive man-made Lake Nassar (the largest man-made lake in the world, which formed after the building of the High Dam) spread out in front of the temple, it really is an amazing sight. I can only imagine the approach by boat… the entire area looks like something out of Clash of the Titans (the original, as if the remake even bares mentioning)

I could have starred at it for at least an hour, but even at 9am the sun doesn’t permit such a luxury. So I trudge back to the bus pickup area to wait for the shuttle back to the airport. It’s funny… tourists just fly in, take the shuttle, see the temple, and fly back to wherever they came from.

At the bus depot, 2 guys offer me a seat and start talking to me. I can tell they are talking ABOUT me … and I scold them for doing so. They laugh, but stop.

I’ve noticed how men are always willing to talk to women from other countries, more than those from their own. Even American men seem more willing to approach, say, a Swiss girl than an American girl that seems more familiar. They are the same everywhere. Bold in their flirtations until you scold them, then they immediately back off and speak normally. It’s such a consistent thing I’ve noticed about men around the world. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have your guard up, but I’ve found that while most people have the ability to commit danger, the majority are harmless and just normal and nice and curious. They just want to practice their English and speak to someone from somewhere else. Just like me.

Duly chastised, we chat like normal people. They are Nubian… which is a group of people from southern Egypt and Sudan. They look at bit different than Egyptians, darker in skin color, a bit different around the eyes and mouth, but not necessarily African either. But their language sounds more like one I’ve heard in New York being spoken by African cab drivers. It reminds me that Egypt is indeed part of Africa… a fact that’s sometimes easy to forget in Cairo.

They teach me how to say “so-so” in Arabic: showay showay (apologies to my Arabic speaking readers if I have this wrong!) I find I use “so-so” a lot in Egypt.

Another thing I’ve noticed is how western tourists are so rude to people that are so different to them… and their fear and discomfort manifests itself as rudeness. As we’re talking, a lady pushed past one of the men that’s standing in our group. He looks flustered for a minute, because her push knocked him off balance. He laughs and they make a joke about it that I don’t understand, but clearly means something like ‘dude, she can’t say excuse me?“ It was clear that she was uncomfortable, enough so not to say ‘excuse me.’ And I guess in another setting, the guy may have looked scary. He was poorly dressed, with stained teeth. But in this context, he didn’t stand out at all. She did. As did her friend with all her cleavage on display. And then they get mad when the men look! Seriously ladies, ALL men will look. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

OK. I’m off my rant. Two hour wait in Aswan airport for my flight to Cairo. Tons of German tourists, one man is hacking up a lung and spitting up hard boiled egg. Lovely. And they’re disgusted by the locals???

Random observation: Why do none of the dozen or so tourist police I’ve tried to speak to know English? How can they help a tourist if they don’t speak English? I’m guessing if they don’t speak English, they don’t speak French, Spanish or German either. Very strange.

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