Trip Start Oct 07, 2009
67Trip End May 25, 2010
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The day going into a rest day is a day off for me. I don't have to cook dinner, and my list of real obligations is short. I love these days.
"What do you want to eat?" Rizk asks
"Whatever, what do you want?" is my lazy reply
"Anything but falafel. I'm sick of falafel. If you want to eat falafel, then you and Ramy can go get falafel, but I'm not coming."
"Okay, okay. I'm happy to eat something new. I don't need falafel."
The three of us load into the van and drive into town. We drive around for a bit, making last minute turns. It doesn't seem to me that they know where they want to go. A short while later we stop in front of a typical falafel joint.
"I thought you didn't want falafel." I question Rizk
He shrugs "I'll just have tea."
I know there's much more to Egyptian cuisine that falafel, fuul and koshari; but these classics never get old for me. I order the full meal deal: falafel, fuul, stewed eggplant, pickles, salad, and chips. I happily pack it back as Rizk sips his tea.
Back at camp I do a quick re-organize of the truck. I've gotten a lot better at this since last year. Actually that's a lie. I haven't improved. I just do it quicker. My new found efficiency leaves me plenty of time to re-explore Luxor, and grab some kofte and kebab for dinner.
The evening is spent drinking imitation whiskey (Johnny Warder) and puffing sheesha with the rest of the staff.
I woke up early; well before most people were up. I've since finished my book of short stories and I'm now suffering through a fat book on the history of the Balkans. The author has omitted no details, and reading it is a little like drinking from a fire hose. I have to read in the mornings while my mind is still alert. I finish a chapter, then head into town for breakfast.
Hot air balloons float lazily above the distant hills. I walk along dusty streets reeking of donkey piss and find myself at the same falafel joint as yesterday. The man behind the fryer greets me, and points to the row of dirty stools lining the wall behind him "Welcome. Sit." I order the same as yesterday, casually chew through it, pay, and leave.
I walk beyond the tourist bazaar. The vendors are still setting up, so don't pay much attention to me yet. One block beyond the bazaar lies the real Luxor. I find a vendor in a white gallibaya who provides me with a hot drink to ponder the morning with. I sit and sip, observing the fading yellow building in front of me. Clothes hang out to dry, and the whole building looks so old and dirty that it could just peel off like old wallpaper. A couple old men sit in a mechanic shop across the alley, sipping tea and chatting. I finish, pay, thank the vendor, and walk off.
As I walk away the vendor calls to me. "Mister, your friend, he is calling you."
I look down the alley but don't see any familiar faces. "I don't see my friend."
"Wait, mister, your friend, he is coming."
An old man walks deliberately up to me, shakes my hand, and greets me. "Egyptian?"
"No, Canadian." Maybe the beard threw him off, I don't think I look particularly Egyptian.
"You have time for tea? Please, come, sit."
I sat back down on the gnarled bench that I was previously occupying. He ordered tea for himself, and coffee for me. Even below his gallibaya I could see he was a sturdy man, built like a knotted rope that had just started to fray and soften over time. His eyes were watery and yellow, the edges penetrated with red streaks. Behind his short wiry beard, thick gums conceal a partial row of tobacco blackened teeth.
Our drinks were delivered. He placed my coffee in front of me, then took his tea. He pulls out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, offers me one, which I refuse, then places it between his lips and lights it with a match. He leans against the building and takes a deep inhalation of the smoke. He then coils forward and coughs so hard I thought he'd wind himself. He coughed a bit more, then spat out a bit of lung butter; the product of decades of regular smoking. After clearing himself he sits up and takes another cautious draw from his cigarette.
"Are you traveling alone?" his brow was deeply furrowed which gave him an expression of constant concern and thoughtfulness.
"No, I'm with a group." I spared him the details.
"This is not good. There is more to life than looking at monuments, and artifacts. You must talk with the people. You must live like and Egyptian when you are in Egypt. If you never try, you never know." He holds his tea in the thick hands of a tradesmen. "What do you think of Luxor?"
"Luxor has two faces" I state, nodding at the tourist bazaar one block down the alley.
"Which face do you prefer?"
"The face I'm sitting in front of now."
He smiles and chuckles a bit, then reeling forward and clears his lungs with a series of deep wheezy coughs. "You are welcome in Egypt."