Said Waits

luxorIt’s a quiet Sunday. My travel buddy, Mark, and I are lounging around the flat enjoying the sort of hangover that comes from a three day bender in Prague. The humidity is brutal but it looks like rain. The cat is grumpy. All is well.

This lazy Sunday is surely the calm before the storm. For tomorrow we shall fly to Ethiopia and the calm ends.

By all accounts the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, is supposed to be a hectic, wild, topsy turvy town. Harrowing crosswalks, intense sidewalk crowds, a constant cacophony of car horns and street venders. One travel book suggests that to visit Addis is to be “besieged” by a variety of Ethiopians: kids, students dying to perform a (very expensive) coffee ritual, beggars, hotel proprietors.

While I am used to being besieged by my female admirers, Addis Ababa sounds relatively intimidating. If I take into account my only other experience in Africa, it does not ease my worry. That was the very definition of being besieged.

We arrived in Luxor and weren’t able to get off the bus before four men from competing hotels threw brochures in our faces and screamed their wares. Air conditioning! Showers! Clean floors! Free breakfast! The intensity, volume, and rapidity were dizzying. We escaped to a small side street where we hid to catch our breath and gave ourselves a pep talk. We then made it to a hotel and that is where we met Mohammed.

Mohammed was a friendly, quiet spoken, and gentle man. What he lacked in the volume and intensity of his countrymen, he made up for in persistence. He was simply the most persistent man we had ever met. Once we got in our room, Mohammed tried to sell us a tour of Luxor that cost $120, which was far beyond our budget so we politely declined. All over? No. We stretched out on our beds and tried to unwind after a twelve-hour bus ride through desert heat. But every five minutes or so Mohammed would appear at the door with a new pitch. Each pitch had a slightly lower number ($121, $118, $113) and slightly more services (free lemonade, lunch, a T-shirt).

By Mohammed’s tenth or eleventh visit (no hyperbole), we were at wit’s end on how to shake him. At one point, we pretended to be asleep and listened for fifteen minutes at his light taps on the door. We escaped the next morning at 6 am to walk to the Nile, where we hired a flotilla for $1 (Mohammed warned that we’d get charged $50) and continued our walk to the Valley of the Kings. A cab pulled up and that is when we met Said.

Said was a cabdriver who brought us to the Valley of the Kings. He told us he would wait. We told him that we were walking elsewhere after and that he needn’t worry. He told us he would wait. We told him not to because we were going somewhere else afterwards. He told us he would wait. I think you can see where this is going.

After a half-day tour of Luxor and going into the tombs of Pharaohs, we walked through the desert to Hatshepsut. We were exhausted and enjoying the kind of sweat that begins to designate your body parts as tropical hot zones. We were joined by a Korean teenager who climbed up a hill out of nowhere. After Hatshepsut, we prepared for a long walk back.

A cab driver called to us that Said was waiting for us. Said waits! He then disappeared speedily, surely to track down Said. When Said arrived he followed us down the road in his cab dropping his price in increments and shouting these developments through the window. We escaped once more to a dirt path and had a coffee with a nice woman who chatted with us in the shade of her hovel and watched Said’s cab drive by in little sweeps.

Surely one of the major joys of travelling is experiencing new cultures. The food and drink, the personalities, the quirks. Even the little peeves and trying bits become endearing with a little time in between you and a hot day of stress. And despite the occasional aggravation, each of the people we met on that first trip to Africa was generous, pleasant, and friendly.

This is one area where Africa differs so much from the Czech Republic. In Prague a waiter might suggest that you try another restaurant. In Africa, a waiter will do anything to get you in their restaurant. Failure to do that is regarded as dire.

In any case, as I sit and write, make my packing list, I wonder if Said is still waiting for us in the Valley of the Kings.

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)