The Fifth Part in which Steve disappoints a Small Child
We toured Luxor Temple, the grand centerpiece of our new balcony-view. It didn’t disappoint. As I stood among the stones contemplating one great marvel or another, an old man standing several yards away gestured for me to approach. I ignored him. He gestured again, more urgently. I was made of solid temple stone. “Please!” he yelled. “You must!” There’s some weight behind “must”, and I figured if I was careful not to accept items, help or advice I’d probably be okay. I walked over to where he stood. He just smiled at me. I smiled back. He gestured toward the temple’s interior. I turned to look. It was a striking scene – the great seated figure of Ramses II framed on one side by a towering obelisk and on the other by an artistically disintigrating temple wall. “Beautiful, yes?,” he asked. “Yes, it is very beautiful,” I replied, meaning it. He held out his hand. “Baksheesh.” It took me a moment to realize he wanted me to pay him for a prospect 3,500 years in the making. It was touch and go, but at last I smiled back and, with a sympathetic shrug, said “no baksheesh.” He was furious, and started yelling at me in his native tongue. I retreated in embarassment, but he was right on my heels, maintaining a steady fire of unintelligible venom as I fled across the floor of the ancient wonder and clean out of Luxor Temple. And so it would go.
At a small, deserted temple south of town, we climbed a short flight of stone steps to see if there was anything interesting at the top. There wasn’t. A robed figure met us on the way down. The stairs were off-limits, he said, but he’d forgive our transgression for a fee. “No baksheesh,” I said. He also yelled at me.
At the Artisan’s Village on the West Bank we walked a few yards up the hillside along a well-used path to get a closer look at the façade of a worker’s tomb. A man yelled up from below that the much-traveled hillside could only be trod for a price. “No baksheesh,” I said. He yelled again, but less gently.
We surprised a couple of young British tourists climbing out of a hole in the sand. “It’s a tomb,” said one. “Bloody brilliant.” It was bloody brilliant, and when we emerged a half-hour later covered with dust and glory a dusty robed specter was waiting for us demanding payment. “No baksheesh,” I said. His rage was Biblical, and we actually had to run away from that scene.
Burning with thirst at the Valley of the Kings visitors center, we ordered a couple of soft drinks at the lunch counter, paid for them at the register, and stood patiently awaiting delivery. After several arid minutes we went back to the cashier and asked when we could expect relief. Looking decidedly put-upon, she rose from her stool, fetched two cans from the cooler, handed them over, then rubbed her thumb against her fingers in the universally recognized gesture for “fork it over.” We pretended to not understand. “Baksheesh,” she barked, impatiently, explaining the obvious to idiots. I feigned surprise. “No baksheesh,” I said. We left her still hollering and shaking her finger at us. We ran straight into a tour bus in the process of unloading a cargo of middle-aged package-tourists. “You can go anywhere you want, and see any tombs you want,” the tour guide shouted to his flock. “You have 20 minutes.” They all went straight into the visitors center and ordered soft drinks.
I’ll admit to one weak moment. As we rested alongside a rural road near Qena, a small two-wheeled donkey-cart appeared carrying a load of fresh-cut grasses. It was driven in the most cavalier fashion by a little boy and a little girl, both perhaps 6 or 7 years old. The young carters were animatedly discussing their own innocent business and almost didn’t notice us. At the last minute, the girl looked our way and her eyes lit up like Ra on high. “Baksheesh!” she piped, excitedly. The boy instantly took up the cry, and they both yelled “baksheesh!” over and over as the donkey slowly pulled them away up the road. I was tempted, but only a fool won’t bend a principle for a child, and I was such a fool. “No backsheesh,” I said. The little girl lifted her chin in a haughty gesture surely borrowed from a much older sister and cast me a look of such magnificent disgust, such bottomless loathing, such complete and irredeemable disdain, that I laughed out loud. Then I chased down the little wagon and gave them each one Egyptian pound. Sweet Apricot thought I was a sap, but I thought the performance was worth every piastre. The little girl seemed happy with the money, but no better inclined toward me.
Next Time: A sticky situation!