Thursday, January 13, 2011

Everyone has to do something.....

.....but why do some have to annoy me?

Today James and Katherine and I went to Giza to spend the day at the Great Pyramids. The weather was perfect - not too hot, not too cool. We found the right bus to take, no thanks to a local with ulterior motives who took us away from the right place to catch the bus to show us a "better spot" for the bus, but really he wanted to try to get us to go to his shop. We finally realized what he was up to, extricated ourselves from his manipulation, and made our way back across several lanes of traffic to the road-side where the bus to Giza would pass. Thanks to James who learned the Arabic numbers yesterday while at the Egypt Museum, we flagged down bus #357, and spent all of 35 cents for the 45-minute bus ride to Giza.

The pyramids are a true wonder of this world. I think I prefer the Mayan's pyramids (the jungle is more mysterious than the desert), but these were pretty fantastic! We had nothing else planned for today, so we were able to take our time as we worked our way around each pyramid, wondering at the size, the perfection, the engineering marvel, the durability, and the sheer mass of each one. I was fascinated by the way the perspective changed as we came closer to one and then further away.

This is not high tourist season, so there were not too many people around to be able to enjoy the view..... well, not on account of the number of tourists, anyway.....

The park is swarming with merchants trying to coerce tourists into buying postcards, beaded headdresses, statues of the pyramids and sphinx, head scarves, horse rides, and camel rides. I would have loved to ride a horse - at a full gallop across the dunes with the wind flying through my hair - but there was no way they would let me do that! Over and over and over again someone approached us on horseback, on camel-back, or with arms laden with goods, offering us "good price" for whatever they had. At first it was easy enough to be polite and smile and say, "No, thank you." But as the day went on, and the same approach was used time and time again, our patience wore thin. The drill went something like this:
"Hey! Hi! Hello! Where you from? Hi! Hello! Where you from? English?"
"No, we're American."
"Ah! Obama! Good man!"
"Yes, he is a good president."
"Where in America you from?"
"Pennsylvania and Colorado."
"Oh? I have cousin in New York! New York is great place!"
"Yes. Yes, it is."
"I will give you good price to ride camel. You want to ride camel? I take you to panorama and Sphinx on camel. Good price. What price you want? 40 Egyptian pounds."
"Thank you, we don't want to ride a camel today."
"No? I give you good price. Good price just for you - 35 pounds. Good price. No one give you better price."
"No, thank you, we don't want to ride a camel."
"Okay, you nice person. I give you good price. 30 pounds Egyptian. For 30 pounds I take you and your friends to panorama and Sphinx on camel. No one give you better price."
"No, thank you."
"Okay, maybe later. Is this first time in Egypt?"
"Welcome! Welcome to Egypt! How long you been here?"
"Three days."
"And how long you staying?"
"One week."
"Just one week? That not long enough. There is much to see. And to ride a camel. I give you good price. Just for you - 25 Egyptian pounds......."

And over, and over, and over, and over, and over....the entire day we repeated this conversation. It felt so rude not to answer them when they came trotting up on their horse or camel, so at first we answered their questions. Eventually we figured out that ignoring them was the best way to get them to stop pestering us. If we continued the conversation, they kept badgering us to ride their camel. It was difficult to enjoy what we were looking at while being hounded for business. After several hours of this, it became extremely annoying.

Then I had a thought: these guys are just trying to make a living. People do pay them to ride their camels and horses. People do buy their plastic pyramids. People give in to the badgering, otherwise that wouldn't be their business tactic. Just because I don't want to ride their camels doesn't mean that other tourists don't want to either. Everyone has to do something to make a living. These guys have camels and live in Giza. So why wouldn't they spend their days around one of the Wonders of the Ancient World talking people into riding their camels? That's not a bad way to spend one's days! It's not a job I'd want - I'm not business-savvy nor a good salesperson! But it works for them. So I was less annoyed when the hounding started anew. I ended up telling the last few that we were not going to change our minds, so they were just wasting their time trying to sell us a camel ride and that they should try someone else. That worked!

"No" may not mean "no," but "wasting time" is not good business, and the camel-ride sellers know it!

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