Cairo to Istanbul in a G-string
100 camels and 2 kilos of bananas: you marry me?
One week in Egypt and I didn’t have to spit on anyone yet. Cairo is not the hell hole everyone says it is and Egyptian men are really not as sleazy as their reputation has it. I actually find most of their comments rather amusing, my favourite one being: “I like your shoes.” Many ask me to marry them like they would ask me for the time of day, the best offer I got until now is 100 camels and 2 kilos of bananas. I said I’d mention it to my father and see if it was OK with him.
Ok, now where are the bananas?
Cairo taxi drivers ripped me off shamelessly, but much to my comfort I was not their only victim, other fellow travellers admitted having been just as royally screwed. Actually, one taxi driver made so much money off me my first day in Cairo that he took the next day off and invited me over to his modest house for lunch where his Bedouin wife served me camel meat and buffalo milk.
I took this golden opportunity to arrange with his wife Saamia for Halawa. Halawa is depilation done with a homemade sugar-based wax. I thought I’d get this done before going to the beach in Dahab. Again, I got taken to the cleaner on this one, but I got a hell of a lot more than I bargained for…
Saamia gave me the Bedouin treatment, which means removal of ALL body hair. I only had in mind to get my legs done, but she wouldn’t hear it. She spoke no English and my pidgin Arabic couldn’t save me this time. So before I knew it my underwear was off and my most intimate parts were being waxed bare.
I have a hard time imagining what could possibly be more painful than having all your pubic hair ripped off by a bully Bedouin woman. Saamia spent half an hour on my legs, and another half hour between them. Being as stoic as I could, I held in my screams, biting hard onto the towel that had been thrown at me to make sure I kept quiet. After this, I think I could have my fingernails pulled off without flinching.
Like anyone coming to Cairo, my first trip was to the pyramids of Giza (also organised by my taxi driver…), which I insisted on visiting by camel. “Horse easier for you” the helpful Bedouins all told me, but a horse, although a much smoother ride, just didn’t fit my idea of an exotic desert trek. So Habibi, a tall, beautifully adorned male camel was brought to me (in spite of my insisting pleas for a she-camel – TE Lawrence would never ride a male, as they are stubborn and much more difficult than females). My guide Ali and I then took off for a two hour ride that would have us come back just after sunset.
Ali encouraged me to ride Bedouin style, that is with your right foot tucked under your left knee (or is it the other way around?). “Ya madame, anti yaani you’re a natural!” he shouted at me as I cantered smoothly up the first sand dune supposedly like some Bedouin girl, rather proud of myself and already over-confident. Satisfied, Ali turned around and whipped his horse into a mad gallop he would keep up for much of the ride and which Habibi needed little convincing to imitate.
Habibi and I
Until I mounted Habibi, my riding experience had been limited to about half a dozen horseback rides in beaten trails. A camel’s gallop has nothing to do with a horse’s smooth run where you have basically nothing to do but let yourself get carried by the momentum of the horse. No. I was riding an earthquake. To make matters worse, Habibi had no patience for the lousy unexperienced rider that I am. He stubbornly ignored all my instructions, simply following Ali’s horse, whether that meant throwing me off his 12-foot high back or not.
By some sort of miracle, I managed not to fall off. In the face of such a life threathening emergency, I resorted to the rodeo riding technique I had learned in a western bar years ago, when my turn came to tame the electric bull: left hand on the saddle, right arm stretched up above the head and shoulders thrown back. With my goofy Gilligan hat and army-style pants, this didn’t go without entertaining every other rider that crossed me. “Hey! You cowgirl!” one guide finally shouted sarcastically through his chuckles, as I held on for dear life half way off my saddle, right arm still up in the air.
Two hours of this led me to a very important conclusion: G-strings are not suitable camel riding apparel. With only thin quick-dry pants between my bare bum and the rough saddle of a galloping camel, I was left looking as if I had slid accross 100 yards of carpet on my bare arse.
In fact, the bruise was so bad that a week later it still hadn’t healed up and was threatening to fester. I only brought two pairs of nylon full back undies and wearing this would never allow it to heal or even form a scab. I needed cotton underwear.
So I had to go shopping for underwear in Egypt, in the small town of Marsa Matruh. On the main commercial street I first asked a saleswoman where I could find lady underwear. Sign language was not enough, so I ended up having to draw a pair of panties in my diary for her. She then wrote down under my picture what I believed was the name of the store where they were sold three blocks up the street, and told me to look for a woman in a headscarf.
In reality, what she had written was the word “panties” in Arabic, and I went around showing this to every salesman I met, carefully hiding the picture with my thumb, thinking I was asking about a store. After having embarassed myself to a degree I until then did not believe possible, I was finally made aware of what I was doing and shown the pantie-selling store ran by an old galabaya-wearing man (who also sold ladies’ headscarves, hence my confusion).
I was presented with a selection of oversize granny undies that seemed to date back to the Second World War. The best I could find were electric pink and yellow parachutes which I can surely use again for my first pregnancy. Two pairs set me back a grand total of 75 cents, so overall it was still a good investment. Now let’s hope this bloody bruise heals up, ’cause I’ve got some more camel riding to do in Jordan.
So much for G-strings…