Land of Magic and Mystery (excerpt)
By Peter Crispin
There are some important things to remember about Egypt. 1) The Nile is so polluted, the tap water is poison, so you MUST drink bottled water exclusively. This leaves you two paths- My path, to buy 10 1L bottles of water at the corner store next to the hostel for £5 (50 cents) a bottle, and haul them around all day in my backpack. Ivan’s path, to drink tap water, regret it, bring 1 bottle of water from the hostel, then be stuck at ancient monuments in inconvenient locations paying £50 a bottle, then complain for the rest of the day about how much you paid for water. Crista chose my path, and sometimes I carried her water. 2) Bring a good first aid kit, because you will be spending a lot of time either at or travelling to ancient monuments in inconvenient locations. 3) Food poisoning is so common in Egypt, some visitors consider it a given; I was not one of those. I did my research, and found out about this stuff called Flagyl that is praised as the ultimate preventative for food poisoning. Over the course of our two weeks, I would say we travelled with about twenty different people for differing lengths, from a few hours to a few days. Every single person got food poisoning… except me. There were a few meals I considered questionable, and every time was proven right when I took Flagyl, Crista got food poisoning, then I held her hair back hours later, while she puked her guts out. I was very open about how great this Flagyl stuff was, I offered it to everybody, but for some reason, no one took me up on it and all suffered the consequences. 4) Every area we visited in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor had a local pizza place, and they were all great. It’s not just a tourist thing, locals love it too, but I’m not sure how they feel about pineapples on pizza. 5) There’s this funny thing called Baksheesh- it’s like a tip, except you’re expected to provide it in exchange for pretty much everything. It kind of makes sense when you’re talking about a driver that was with you all day, it’s another thing when the ‘tourist police’ with an assault rifle is yelling at you in Arabic while you try to use an ATM, then expects baksheesh for his ‘help’. What’s crazy, according to our bedouin pyramid guide, is that basically everybody is paid so poorly, baksheesh is an essential part of the economy. At least, it was until everyone started rioting and overthrew the corrupt government, about a year after we got back. Sadly they just ended up trading one dictator for another, since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took over in 2014.
Giza was incredible. Our driver Mustafa handed us off to some bedouins, who took us out to the pyramids on camels. Watching a camel run is one of the most awkward things I have ever seen an animal do, and riding one while it’s happening is expectedly unpleasant, but man was it worth it. We can thank Sneferu’s children for this trio of incredible objects. The biggest pyramid was built by Sneferu’s son, Khufu in 2600 B.C.E. I asked if I could climb on it and our guide nonchalantly told me he couldn’t care less. In their original form this would be impossible, as they were covered in polished limestone, which was stolen for later building projects after an earthquake in 1303. About a third of the way up, the view was incredible, with the entire city of Cairo spreading behind a buffer of slums to the east. Khufu’s son Khafre built his pyramid in 2570 B.C.E, and though it’s smaller than Khufu’s, he built it at a higher elevation so it looks bigger. Insecure much? Khafre’s son Menkaure built the smallest of the three in 2510 B.C.E. All the big pyramids are surrounded by smaller pyramids, which are surrounded by tombs. Why so many tombs? You may ask. According to Bernard Bromage in his book ‘The Occult Arts of Ancient Egypt, ‘Here the Pharaoh presided for ever over the destinies of his people, his spirit ever ready to counsel and protect. And Not only the Pharaoh, but the whole army of his children and relatives, the nobles and learned mean of his court’ (30), which in layman’s terms means, killed everybody who worked on the pyramids, after their completion.. And we still don’t know how they built them. This was the day I first started to consider something that was proven many times on this journey- Magic is a real thing, and the nature of magic is not harnessing external forces, but embracing internal ones. It took immersion in a wasteland absolutely steeped in magic to realise this.
Our trial complete, Mustafa returned us to our hostel, and we each paid him the agreed-upon sum of £200 , which was about $20. As expected, he nonchalantly mentioned some baksheesh would really help him feed his family. Crista and I each had an extra £300 ready, and wished we could afford to give him more, as he had certainly earned it, and we told him so. Then there’s Ivan.
Then there’s Ivan.
‘I’m sorry, my friend,’ he whined, ‘ I am just a simple student and cannot afford anything else.’ Crista and I stood in stunned amazement. Is it really possible for someone to be so shitty, so entitled, so oblivious to the challenges of living in a third world country? It is, and his name is Ivan.
‘You realise,’ I hissed, as Mustafa drove away, ‘that your PLANE TICKET cost as much as he’s going to make in a year.’
Ivan threw up his arms like I had affronted the honour of his ancestors. ‘That’s why I can’t afford a tip!’
‘Why are you travelling if you just admitted you can’t afford to travel?’
After that, things with Ivan got even less friendly.
Peter Crispin is an author from Yukon, Canada. He has a great appreciation for the natural world, and tries to share that through his fiction and memoir work. A student of the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies program, Peter wrote about his trip to Egypt in 2009 for Dr. Ranjini George’s Memoir as Spiritual Practice class.
2763 – Summer Writing School: Meditation & Writing Retreat
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Create Cultural Memories through Literature and Art:
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