Money Funny

After getting our money back from the shady bus-ticket salesman, the rest of the day went great. We rode through the crazy traffic one last time (no lanes, no crosswalks, no stop lights, with random buses stopping wherever, mule wagons, horse carriages, bikes, motorbikes, cars, trucks, vans, etc. turning, diving, weaving, and dodging) before hitting the tourist road on the Nile to Karnak. We kept riding past Karnak, where Luxor showed its poor side again as the city transformed into unfinished buildings, rural checkpoints, dirty strips of stores, and fields of wheat and grass in the shadows of palm trees.

On the way there, we had a bike race with a kid and a friend on their shared bike. They seemed distressed that Laura beat us all (I’m used to her bad-ass biking), but smiled the whole race. Out in the rural concentrations, children ran along with our bikes, yelling “Hello!” and “Welcome to Luxor!” They didn’t grab us this time. I heard birds chirping, donkeys beying, and watched the wind blow shifting patterns in the fields, and felt good to be on a bike in the countryside.

We eventually ran out of time, so turned around and headed back into Luxor. A man jokingly raced us in his mule wagon, hitching up his makeshift rig to full gallop as his wife smiled at us. Laura beat us all again, and the man pretended that he was mad that he lost, still laughing as he raised his fist at our triumph.

Before hitting Karnak, we stopped at a launch area along the Nile to get close to the water one last time before leaving, and perhaps never seeing the ancient river again. A boat sat along the shore, getting loaded for a crossing to the West Bank, a truck sucked river water into a tank for some industrial purpose, and a man was cooling down his horse. The views where amazing, and Laura and I both where glad to finally find public access to the mostly shored up river.

Heading for the grassy edge along the river, the touts descended upon us. We kept saying no and turning people down for simple things like helping us kick-stand our bikes, and for boat rides, and simple begging. The man with the horse asked if we wanted a photo with it and we said no.

“We’ve lost money doing that before,” we told him, referring to the amazing hustle we fell into at the Great Pyramid.

The guy instantly backed down and asked if we smoked. No. Do we smoke other things. Well…. He pulled out a rolled up smoke and we instantly tried to tell him that we didn’t want to buy anything from him. He didn’t want to sell it to us, and told us it was free as a gift. We where still skeptical at his angle, but spent the next half-hour with this young man and the children that followed him around.

We met his horse Rambo, the one swimming in the Nile when we arrived, talked about his business, and the trials of being an Egyptian in Egypt (“Tourists can do anything. Egyptians are no good to do things in public.”) He invited us to a wedding that night, telling us that it’d be a great place for tourists to smoke and drink (drinking is a sin in Islamic society). As we kept talking, this man turned out to be a genuinely nice person who understood that tourists don’t like getting hassled all the time.

In broken English, he told us that it was “money funny.” He spent most of his working life hustling tourists, but also made time to be genuine to a few here and there. Never once did he ask us for money and when we said no to his invitation for a horse ride, he never asked again. Laura tried to give him backsheesh since he didn’t ask, and he turned it down. Later, after he offered the smoke again for free, she made him take the money, telling him how rare it has been for us to meet Egyptians that do not want it. He took it, embarrassed and humbled at our generosity.

His “money funny” comment made me think of two things: he either had figured out what karma was and/or instinctively knew about the Rastafarian tradition of sharing the irie (i.e., feeling good and happy). Before we parted ways I gave him 1,000 thanks, called him a habib (the first time I’d told someone that on the whole trip) and hoped that he’d contact me (I gave him my em, but he would most likely use that to show tourists that he had tourist friends).

Traveling in Egypt puts us in our own special class of people. This guy taught me that we can drink in bars, smoke whatever, and not bear the punishment that Egyptians face (lose of license, arrest, beatings, etc.). We have our own well-armed police force, nice roads to get around on, and many chances to spend money. In a country where one party rules, and people get arrested for moral crimes, tortured, and bribed (we saw two bribes on this trip), I understand why I constantly have dollar signs floating around me.

Money is funny – and we’re here to give it up to the folks who barely make $80 a month to live. Sometimes if feels good for that dollar sign to not get noticed, so that a heart connection can happen instead. Here, along a small bit of grass on the shore of the Nile, a random Egyptian showed the love, didn’t have any alternative motive, and left us with handshakes, smiles, and good feelings.

Taking this warm memory to the bus station later that day, we met another nice Egyptian who sat in front of us as we moved towards Dahab. This man told us he made very little as a kitchen cook, but he still shared his candy with us, as well as sunflower seeds and smiles. He practiced his English with Laura, and then called a cousin in Cairo so he could practice his English with Laura too. The cousin kept asking for her phone number, but was nice and happy to speak with an American.

After hours on the road to Dahab, we finally descended to the bus station outside the town center. We where inundated with touts for the local hotels, but had already made reservations. After fending them off with another Anglo couple, we all ended up in one truck taxi with them all! I kept screaming “who’s driving?! take us to our hotel and don’t stop!”
We had to drop off the other couple who had reservations too. The touts left with them, and the driver finally took us to our really nice Bedouin-camp-style hotel where we fell into a long nap.

Five more days in Egypt and then we planned on taking the bus north to cross the boarder with Israel. Set up for scuba-based tourism, Dahab had much in store for our next leg of the trip. More than we expected due to the last great hustle from a nice Portuguese man who talked us into a hypnotic spending frenzy.