Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don't Pull the Finger at the Great Pyramids

Last year, a few months before I visited the Holy Land with my parents, I was on the phone to my mother discussing our plans for the trip.

“We’re going to Alexandria and Jerusalem, and, let’s see,” she said. “I think Gaza is on the trip.”

“Gaza?” I laughed. “I don’t think Gaza will be on the trip. It’s not really the tourist mecca, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, I’m sure it said that,” she said, shuffling the cruise brochures. “Oh, wait, it’s Giza.”

“Well, that does make more sense,” I said.

We had a good laugh. My mother, a biblical scholar -- you can read more about her work at www.thecovenantwoman.com -- definitely knows the difference between Giza and Gaza. But what is the difference exactly? Oh yes: a few pyramids and a Sphinx.

The long busride from Alexandria was informative. Our guide, Dina, was careful to point out all the wonderful aspects of Egypt, but she encouraged us to ask difficult questions as well. My mother took care of the questions about: women’s rights, the recent persecution of Christians, Egypt’s present relationship with Israel, etc.

“What are those dome-shaped houses with all the holes?” I asked, pointing to the fields we were passing.

Dina seemed relieved by my non-political question. “They are for pigeons.”

As we neared Giza, we caught glimpses of the pyramids—Dina chirped the word so fast, like pirimid, that I saw them long before I understood what she was going on about. But there they were: sandy triangles sticking up here and there behind the slums, the rubbish and the dirty cars.

To get to the Great Pyramids, you have to drive through a town with a drainage ditch running through the center. Well, “running” isn’t exactly the right word; “congested with tons of garbage” would be correct.
Not exactly a Potemkin village by any stretch of the imagination. I suppose you have to respect the honesty of filth, but if the Egyptian government were to clean up any place in Egypt, wouldn’t it be on the doorstep of the Great Pyramids?

When you arrive at the pyramids, you’ll notice that they are really just a great big parking lot for tour busses—and camels (watch your feet). And then there are the incredibly friendly men who want to shake your hand. Then, once they’ve shaken your hand, they’ll want to sell you an Arab head covering, so you’ll look Egyptian! Yay! Then, they’ll cheat you out of all the money you have in your pocket.

While I was crawling down into the smallest pyramid with the younger crowd, the hawkers were taking my parents and the other older folk for all they were worth. When I rose from the grave, I passed several groups of shouting tourists, all trying to get their money back.

Maneuvering around the camel paddies, I headed toward the bus.

“Shake my hand,” a hawker demanded as he approached me.

“Goodbye,” I said, refusing the handshake and walking by. One of his buddies had taken a fifty-dollar picture of my father with my camera. Figure that one out.

“It’s very rude not to shake,” he said. “You are showing great disrespect for our customs.”

I turned to him and smiled. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to show any disrespect. But, you see, you don’t know me, and you don’t really want to know me. All you want to do is get my hand, and once you have it you won't let go of it until I buy something. And I have no money. Nada. Nix.”

“Shake my hand,” he kept saying, following me all the way to the bus. After the third or fourth time “Shake my hand” sounds like “pull my finger,” doesn’t it? I learned that lesson a long time ago when I was six.

Don’t pull the finger.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to F is for Fuerteventura. 

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.