Friday, January 9, 2009

Egypt 2008: enforced shopping in Cairo

I am the slowest blogger ever ... I mean, I am really embarrassingly slow. I should probably just never mention Egypt again and maybe ... just maybe ... everyone will just forget that I ever went there. :-) That might be clever ... but of course I'm not going to do that. ;-)

October 11th.

One thing that does tend to happen when you travel in developing countries is that your guides tend to drag you along on (often unscheduled) visits to 'centers' or whatever of local arts & crafts ... places that they of course claim to have no sort of contact of any kind with, they just thought you'd like to see it, it's soo typical of their beautiful country, etc, and of course everyone assures you that you don't have to buy anything, absolutely not, that's not what this is about. But invariably at these ... events? occasions? ... there is a certain amount of pressure in the air. ;-)

Our first such 'pit stop' on this trip was on our very first day. On our way from Memphis to whatever random roadside spot where we met up with the others, we stopped at something that was supposedly a school for carpet weavers. OK, not supposedly, I guess it was a real place. School. What we were told was that young people learned the craft of carpet weaving there, and what we understood was that they worked there for years as part of their education. The carpets sold there were presumably made by at least mostly by these students. But who knows how much of the sale price they actually ended up with.

Since there were only the two of us, we really felt the pressure to buy something there. We were the focus, so to speak, of quite a bit of attention. We kinda felt like we had to buy something. But that was actually OK, because I'd been thinking that I wanted to buy something like that as a souvenir - not a lot of small crappy items, but instead one or a few larger items that were good quality. So a carpet - a small one that I could hang on the wall - seemed like a really good idea. Although not ideal to buy it on the first day and have to lug it across half the country and back ... but what can you do, this seemed to be my chance. There's a picture of what I ended up buying further down in this post. :-)

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the showroom, so I don't have a lot to show from this place. Here's a shot from inside the weaver's hall that they showed us.

This is what the entrance looked like. Very authentic, I'm sure. ;-)

My carpet. Again, it's not very big ... it's probably not much bigger than the computer screen you're reading this on right now. :-) The motif depicted is the 'tree of life' which is an ancient symbol in Egyptian culture. I liked it a lot and I didn't mind being pressured into shopping when this was the result. :-) It's in pure silk, all of it is silk, and it's very tightly woven. Nice. :-)

So, after this we met up with the others and went to see the pyramids and the Sphinx. Very nice. :-) Then it was time for lunch. A buffet lunch, the first of many. It was OK, pretty good food. From our table we could see our minibus parked outside - most of the time we were in buses from this same company. Planet Tours ... I can recommend them. :-)

And check this out: this was the view from my seat at the table. I mean, OMG, like, wow. It was pretty mindboggling to be sitting there and eating a pretty ordinary lunch, and to be looking out at this view. o_O

After lunch, our schedule was empty, and the other four were going to visit the Egyptian Museum. We hadn't booked this excursion, but CH asked very nicely if we could go along with Hatem and the others - we could have gotten there ourselves, it's not too far from the Grand Hyatt, but since they were driving there anyway it would be much easier to just hitch a ride with them. No problem. :-) But first we went on another of those unscheduled 'visits'. The oldies were really annoyed by this, which was pretty weird to CH and me, because they'd travelled a lot, so they ought to know that this is just how it's done. And it got even weirder when we got to the Museum ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This no-pressure shopping event was to a ... perfume store, kind of, where they sold all sorts of essential oils, and also decorative glass bottles which they made on site. They showed us a pretty fascinating display - a guy made one of these bottles while we watched. That was actually really cool. :-) I got some pretty good pictures, especially one. Read on ... :-)

Not quite in order ... but this was the best picture I got of the two of them together. The guy in the striped shirt was our, ahem, host ... allegedly a scion of an ancient beduin family who had mastered the craft of perfumery, if that's the word I want, centuries ago. He told us a lot about it all, actually. Most of it was interesting. And he gave us hibiscus juice or tea or whatever we wanted to drink. :-) Bribes, yay ... :-)

The glassblower. He used gas to heat very thin-walled cylinders of glass, and then twisted it and blew through it and used tongs on it and who knows what all to shape the section that he was working on into a pretty little bottle. Seeing him work was fascinating for more than one reason. I work in sales, and what I sell is machinery and tools and - please note - protective clothing and gear to professional customers. In Norway, there are a lot of restrictions on workers, they have to protect themselves so much, wear all kinds of clothes and equipment to protect themselves while they're working. I mean, it's the law. But this guy, nah. Or rather, I'm sure, this country. Nah. :-) Face masks? Protective eyeglasses? Gloves?? Never heard of it. :-D

It was fun to watch, anyway. :-) I mean, since he didn't burn his face off and nothing exploded.

Look at this!! He was blowing on the glass so hard that the bottom part, which he didn't need for his bottle, exploded into tiny shards ... and I managed to catch just that moment. Glass flying everywhere. V. happy with this shot. :-)

Part of the store. It looked quite nice there, a bit of an Arabian Nights kind of vibe. I guess because of all the glass bottles and the divans, or whatever, along the walls. IMO this was a pretty interesting visit ... almost anything & everything is interesting to me when I haven't seen it before. :-)

Some of the stuff they wanted to sell us. (Not the 7-Up. ;-) I had a will of iron though. I've got too much essential oils and incense and shit lying around anyway, I don't need no more. :-) I already did my duty shopping that day, so I let someone else pick up the slack this time around. Most of the others bought something, though ... it was just Einar and me who restrained ourselves. :-)

I do too have self control.


Rose said...

Love your carpet! That is gorgeous!! Great shot of the glass exploding, now I would have missed a shot like that, well done!!

Paz said...

A girl that does not like shopping!
loved the shot of the glass blowing, as I said before it you have to wait a long time for the right picture but it can also happen without you planning it too.
My job is very Health and safety orientated and we have to have 30 page safety statements for each job we are doing, I also find it funny sometimes horrifying when I go abroad to see the way people work.

Leisha Camden said...

It's not that I don't like shopping - I do, mostly, unless I start thinking about it too much, in which case I can get sick of it (and of myself, almost) pretty quickly. In that respect though the kind of shopping we were politely forced into doing in Egypt is more ... I don't know, morally correct. You're not buying plastic crap that you don't need from someone who's earning a good living regardless, you're buying actual ... arts & crafts, or whatever ... from people in a developing country who are living in a situation that is, from my perspective, kind of on the edge. If that makes sense.

The exploding glass was so fun to be able to catch like that, I just took lots of pictures while he worked and was just lucky enough to catch him at the right moment. :-) My little carpet really is beautiful, and very obviously quality craftsmanship, so I didn't really get annoyed by the gentle force applied to get me to buy it. Or the price (1200 Egyptian pounds), because it's obvious that it's high quality work, and that's just something you've got to pay for.

The way people work abroad - Paz, I've got a picture coming up from Alexandria that you're really going to like ... ! ;-)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful carpet - looks like you made a great purchase there :)

Leisha Camden said...

I think so. :-) A memento of the trip that I imagine I'll have for the rest of my life. :-)