Friday, August 15, 2008
No. 8, August 15, 2008
When I read earlier this week that the area around the Pyramids had been cleared of peddlers, my immediate thought was, "That's great!" Hawkers who won't take no for an answer are perhaps the biggest bane of tourists to Egypt -- disputatious taxi drivers being another. Visiting in June, I found the Giza Plateau, site of the Pyramids and the Sphinx, to be the worst place in the country for hawkers.
The area teems with men in turbans and galabayas attempting to sell visitors statuettes, "papyrus" paintings, camel rides or seeking to pose for photos -- for cash, of course. It's difficult to keep in mind that 40 centuries of history are looking down on you from the Pyramids -- as Napoleon once exhorted his troops there to do -- when the representatives of contemporary Egypt are so much in your face. At least it was for me.
The situation at the Pharaonic sites farther south, Abu Simbel, Philae, Kom Ombo, the Luxor and Karnak temples and the Valley of the Kings, is much more controlled. Each site has a sort of mini-bazaar whose merchants favour a persistent hard sell, but no hucksters right around the temples. Although in Aswan and Luxor the carriage drivers and felucca crew seeking hires were tiresome.
Now similar controls are likely to be put in place at Giza as part of a $26 million modernization project and security upgrade that will include 20-kilometres of chain-link fencing with cameras, alarms and motion detectors, as well as a visitors' centre, cafeteria and bookstore.
It seems the peddlers may not actually be gone yet, having been forced out by police specifically on the day the press were invited in for the project announcement. However a different perspective on the coming restriction is given by the comment made by a camel-ride seller, now outside the site to an AP reporter:
"I've been working here for 25 years," he said. "Now I don't know if I will be here tomorrow. I have five children, a wife. What will happen to us?"
Maybe this development is not that great for everybody, after all. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that what is merely an annoyance to the visitor is a struggle to earn a livelihood for the Egyptian. Officials have said that the new restrictions will not be "sudden" or "unkind." Hopefully not -- other employment is not likely to be easy to come by for them, to say the least.
I'm also brought to the realization that with persistent hucksters being the worst hazard that most tourists are likely to encounter, and with all its historical and cultural riches, Egypt is indeed a good place in which to travel.