Young touts

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

Luxor is known as the hassle capital of the world. You cannot step out on to the street without being approached by locals trying to sell you anything from a taxi ride, to scarves, to packets of tissue. Most of the touts are friendly in their persistence and will usually back away with a smile after the second or third time you say “La shukran” (“No thank you” in Arabic).

There were several instances of greater persistence, though. The first day we were in Luxor, as Pat and I were out exploring the city, a kalesh (horse-drawn carriage) driver began to follow us. Since sidewalks are uneven, filled with potholes, and often non-existent, most people walk in the street. As we walked along we repeatedly declined his offer of “Kalesh, kalesh? Only five pounds. Kalesh? Where you go? I take you there. This street closed. Kalesh, kalesh? Five pounds.” On several occasions the driver manoeuvred his horse in front of us on the street so that we were hemmed in and forced to stop and walk around him. It was very frustrating and the only way we were able to escape his persistence was by walking in to a restaurant and having a very leisurely lunch.

Before going to Egypt I had read with some trepidation the experiences of travellers and their encounters with aggressive touts. From what I had read the touts are particularly aggressive towards women, and often make sexualized remarks to women travelling without male companions. I hoped that I would be safe from aggressive flirtations since I was a married woman travelling with my husband. So, naturally, it was just my luck that Pat was laid low with the Egyptian stomach bug for three days while we were in Luxor.

There was a palpable increase in the level of pushiness and flirtatiousness from the men as I walked around the city by myself. The wait staff (entirely male in Luxor from what we saw) were far more chatty when I was dining alone. I was given the Egyptian name Warda (Flower) by the waiter at our hotel, and I was on a first name basis with all the male staff at the hotel by the time Pat had made a full recovery and was able to venture out of the room. Fortunately, I never felt like it was anything beyond harmless flirtation with the staff at the hotel, but I did have a few intense and uncomfortable moments while wandering the souq by myself, and I know that I was intentionally brushed up against by Egyptian men in Cairo on several occasions.

The Egyptian children learn to “work” the tourists at a young age, and my fondness for children seemed to draw them to me on several occasions. While with a small tour group at the Tombs of the Nobles, Zeenep (age eight) and her friend, Mahmoud (age 14) approached our group with some very poorly handmade stuffed camels and dolls. They immediately singled me out as the sucker of the group, and in all honesty if I had had any money remaining in my pocket I would have promptly bought whatever they were selling. Sadly, all my pocket money with the exception of two 50 piastre notes had been used as baksheesh to the various guards in the tombs earlier that day. Both children spoke English quite well and were going for the hard sell with me. At one point, as I walked in to one of the tombs saying no thank you to them for the fifth or sixth or tenth time, Zeenep said, “Maybe yes, maybe no?” And then with great confidence, “But maybe yes.” Although, I did not buy any of their dolls I did give them my last two 50 piastre notes in exchange for a photo. I think it was one pound well-spent.

Despite a few negative encounters, I found the Egyptian people to be incredibly warm and friendly. Even when they are trying to sell you something, which is most of the time, I found myself smiling and (usually) happy to chat with them. It is all part of the Egyptian experience and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.