23 May 2024

I’m doing one of my favourite things now. I’m sitting in a soek or a bazaar or a public marketplace at a table in a pavement cafe and watching everybody walk up and down. It’s pretty interesting .

There’s a guy on the table next to me and he looks like some sort of a local authority or celebrity or person of interest. Not sure what term you would use. Everybody comes up to him and shakes his hand and he half rises and smiles back. It all seems very friendly and there doesn’t seem to be any fear in people’s faces. So I’m guessing he’s not a local mafia don. But then again, you couldn’t be sure because the Egyptian people smile a lot.

A few days ago I caught an Uber in Cairo and the driver was unusually very young and wore a hoodie and dark glasses. He looked very westernised and had an aggressive vibe about him. As is often the case in Cairo, and Egypt, drivers don’t really obey the rules of the road. Indeed they’re often are no rules of the road. People generally take the shortest route to wherever they want to go. Another car came down the road and blocked our progress. The driver in my cab shouted at the other driver in a very aggressive tone. I could see the other guy looked embarrassed and smiled a lot. It was like he was smiling in the face of the aggression from the driver in my Uber. So when Egyptian smile you can’t be quite sure.

On the same vein, I read a post on Facebook or WhatsApp or somewhere else where somebody said never trust in Egyptian who smiled and speaks English. Only trust Egyptians who don’t speak English. Initially, I was horrified when I heard this but a few weeks later I understand the reasoning behind it. I don’t think it’s fair as most Egyptians are just trying to make any living they can in the country that is a kleptocracy. From the very highest levels in society all the way down there is graft and bribery and scamming. So I don’t take it personal. All Egyptians I’ve met have been incredibly nice people and I’ve not met one who was an arsehole. At least none who weren’t wearing uniforms

There is another guy on the right and he is sitting down and his job is to polish shoes. He sits in a cross-legged position and has a little platform thing in front of him for people to put their feet while he polishes their shoes. He had some interaction with the guy on my right hand side and I could see that there was a mutual respect between them.

The guy near me on the table is dressed in what look like a very expensive long robe. And the rings he has look expensive. Whereas the guy who is shining shoes is probably very very poor. I’ve noticed this in many occasions, a lack of the class distinctions one might experience in the west. Even though people have a very menial job, they are working and they are deserving of respect. At least that’s my understanding of what I see. I’m sure I’m interpreting it through my eyes and the eyes of my own experience and possibly something else is going on and there are nuances I don’t understand.

The shoe shine guy, who is an older man probably in his 50s or his early 60s, offered to shine my shoes but as I wear sandals I smiled and said no thank you. He smiled back in a graceful manner.

The cafe is very near the railway station and for some reason there are hundreds of soldiers walking up and down. It’s not that they are mobilised in military formation but they are on the way somewhere maybe they’re going to camp or they’re coming back from a camp? Several several of them came to have a tea near to where I am sitting. It’s touching to see them embrace each other and kiss each other with huge smiles with obvious and overt affection for each other.

As I’m sitting here a group of Western tourists walk past. They look pink and plump and wear shorts and obviously haven’t got friends who said you really shouldn’t be wearing shorts, you really shouldn’t. One characteristic I’m beginning to notice in westerners here in Egypt, and indeed in Arabia in general, is a sort of a stressed sourness.

The hassle can be intense if you take it personally but it’s not personal. This is the way the people here work and they really try to sell the wares in their shop. They even do it to their own people. But when the local say no they don’t persist. When westerners or tourists say no, we are missing something or there’s something in our communication that invites them to continue on asking and being persistent. Maybe it’s because they think we are fattened calves and all westerners are dripping money and their job is to extract as much money as they can from these big fat white water buffaloes.

But as I said, it’s not personal. It’s the way they do business here. I found that if I roll with the resistance and smile back and just say no and walk on and don’t engage it’s okay. Sometimes I do engage and there’s a little bit of a banter going on. Especially when the person speaks English, as a lot of them seem to do here. I think it’s them having the craic and they have fun in bargaining and bantering and trying to sell something to somebody who probably hasn’t thought of buying what they’re selling. I found that a few times I just had the craic with them and the engagement was very enjoyable.

But not all westerners see potential enjoyment in the persistent attempts by local people to sell their goods. As I’m sitting here noticing the looks in their faces, I think I recognise that as something in me as well. It’s a type of red-faced sourness.. And when I think back of the times I feel sour it’s when I’ve been stressed out and agitated and feel overwhelmed. This, of course, is where some perceived threat or memory dysregulates my autonomic nervous system and engage the sympathetic nervous system, causing my digestive system to alter in response to fight and flight hormones in my body. This will lead to a general feeling of my stomach of pain or upset or stress or sourness. So it’s not cool to be sour so I don’t and I try to avoid that.

An old lady has just walked past and she looks ancient and her skin looks like she’s being out in the sun for years. She’s holding a little tray where she is selling what I think is mint. Mint tea is very popular here in Egypt. It’s not a tea bag but when you order they put tea leaves in the cup and then top it up with water and put a sprig of mint in the cup. That’s mint tea. I think her way of making some money is to sell springs of mint to people. There’s a look of unbelievable suffering on her face and a resignation that this is how it is. Her features are all twisted out of shape and she looks like she’s had a very hard life.

I think men have a hard enough life here in Egypt but the women who are unsupported or whose husband has died or have never married or who don’t have the support of an extended family around them, I think life can be hell.

A group of young lads walk past and they look like they are in their late teens. They have their arms around each other’s shoulders and show open affection for each other. I was thinking how pretty different things are in the West and how men in the West can be pretty closed to affectionate friendship with other men. It’s not a gay thing at all it’s just men feeling more free to express affection towards each other. It’s endearing to see.

A group of policemen just passed by. There are police at every corner in Egypt. It must be one of the largest institutions in the country after the army. These guys didn’t have the fancy uniforms of other police but instead they wear combat gear and look scruffy. They had truncheons in their hands and they were walking in a very truculent and obnoxious manner. One of them caught me looking at them and gave me quite a nasty look. It was quite as scary though and I imagined what it might be like to meet him in a police cell or detention camp somewhere. He looked very thuggish, like a torturer.

I got speaking to the manager of my last hostel when I was in Luxor and he was saying that the government here is all show and that no matter who you vote for the government gets in. Those weren’t in his words but that was the basis of what he said. He said that inflation is getting really bad here and the people have no hope really of anything changing. He gave a fatalistic shrug and said, inshallah, God will help,God will provide. I said nothing. I didn’t tell him that all the gods are deaf or dumb or dead.

Newburgh in other art countries as well we got the idea that the biggest threat facing the government is not external but internal. I think the other stock processes and the elites here are terrified of their own people rising up. There are signs in Iraq and Iran of people riding up against the entrenched authorities here and they are being beaten down. No doubt the same would happen here in Egypt.

A guy came up to me in the cafe and left a bowl of sliced strawberries on my table and said welcome to Aswan. That’s very common when you go to someone new that they give you something as a gift. It’s mainly a glass of hibiscus juice which is delicious. I know I shouldn’t really eat fruit that has been washed or even worse has been unwashed. And also I should be more careful of the water on drinking. However I’ve been here so long now that I’ve been a bit nicer and I’m not too concerned about being i’ll. I was in once and I met a criteria of being an independent traveller into far that I was able to shit through the eye of a needle and knock a stone off of a wall 100 metres away.

There is a yourg family sitting about 20 m away from me and the interaction between them is very interesting to my eye. The father who is probably in his late 40s and looks very traditional with traditional garb and a beard. His wife is dressed in usual black but doesn’t have a face fail on. They have two kids sorry they have it three kids a girl about 10 the boy about six and a older boy who looks like 18 or each year. He looks a bit salty and is sitting at an angle to dress up the family. The young boy and girl are engaging in a game for the girl put her finger in the boy’s mouth and he bites her and she is trying to avoid being bitten and he is trying to bite her. The expressions are both of your faces are very lovely to see. They are full of life and ambitiousness and youthful joy as in innocent game. Then they stop and the girl hugs the boy for a long time. The father and the mother talk each other and there seems to be a real warm to be between them and to my eye a equality between them. Through all of this the teenage boy is not involved and is disengaged. He looks westernised with his hair slick back and sunglasses and jeans whereas the dad is wearing traditional garb so I guess and I can only guess because I really don’t know I have no evidence at all to support this but I’m just making a wild guess that I might be some tension between the dad and the son. Probably not the first time in the world that there has been tension between fathers and teenage sons. new

Two ladies have just passed. Maybe they’re in their 60s or so but that’s very old over here. They both are wearing traditional clothes with long skirts and their arms and hair covered but are faces exposed. However, the clothes they’re wearing are amazingly bright and colourful and they have a sort of a breastplate made out of embroidered cloth and full of sparkles and sequins and they look amazing. The older woman, the smaller one, is wearing a pair of shades and she actually sashays as she walks along. They both look really cool and interesting and I wonder what it would be like to sit in their company and have a cup of tea.

That’s another interesting thing about Egypt. Most of the stereotypes I’ve had are being stamped out of date. Although it is in Islamic country, there is an enormous variation in types and sorts and habits and customs and the people I observe. I’m very conscious that I’m on the outside looking in and I’m filtering all this through my own experience and my own understanding and I could be completely wrong. I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than I see but it still looks interesting and different to how I thought it might be .

I’m really taken by the sense of humour and the sense of play amongst the Egyptians. They think they are always laughing and smiling and telling jokes and having the craic. Nothing at all like the Gullf Arabs.

As I’m writing this the call of the sound to prayer begins to ring off from the different mosques around the area. I wonder if they have a coordinated that they all start at different times or if they’ve made an acoustic map of the area to see how the different sounds overlap although I doubt that very much. It seems that one starts and fades away and another one starts in the distance so you get a sense of a panorama of sound from the different mosques. Some of them have really good voices and some are well they need singing lessons. Officially there are five cult to prayer a day but there is another official one at sunrise. The sound of this has been around me every day for the past 3 months. That’s hundreds of calls to prayer and I am still unmoved. It’s a very evocative sound and in a way I will miss her when I get back to Ireland where they have even muffled the church bells now. People complain. I think if somebody complained here about the call of the prayer they might experience a sudden detachment from their head.

I have gone back to my guest house now and then setting up on the roof terrace overlooking the Nile and the sun is beginning to set. There are hundreds of little boats, most are tied up but several dozen are cruising up and down the river.

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