20 January 2009

finding a more real world out there

An interesting post by a man who travelled to Haiti...

I saw this on the Couchsurfing.com site.
Permalink is at: http://www.couchsurfing.com/group_read.html?gid=464&post=2176671
copied below as is.

Adventures and Travelogues >> Adventurous

Escaping America
Posted 12 January 2009 - 12.47 by Rob Marshall from Mount Laurel, United States (Permalink)
Ever come back to your home after being in another country and just see things differently?

I came back from a missions trip in Haiti to America last year and things have never been the same for me. I love America. I really do. It's been a privilege to be raised here, but I can't stand it, anymore.

In a normal life, Americans only care about themselves (with the exception of the select minority). America gives away free nights at five star hotels for late departures at the airport. Free food for any inconveniences. This place is full of abundance and self.

My heart still longs to reach out and hold the Haitian orphans again, to smell the poverty, and to break my back to do whatever I can.

I was raised to think about myself and look out for number one, but I know there is more to life than that. I need to escape! I don't care where to as long as it is away from the McDonald's, Burger Kings, and all you can eat buffets. The beauty parlors, the malls, the high school drama queens, and the desk job 9-5s.

This is my plea for help. If anyone can help me get away from this place even for a little while, please let me know. Especially if there is work to be done and people to be helped.

Posted 12 January 2009 - 23.50 by MICHAELE from Alexandria, United States (Permalink)
Wow, I'm so interested! Could u tell me about your experiences?

Posted 13 January 2009 - 11.58 by Benjamin Amankwaa from Accra, Ghana (Permalink)
Hi Rob,

Your post contains some passionate passion for the welfare of the poor and the needy! I am glad to have met someone like you in a world where many people are possessed of exaggerated ideas of their own importance without attaching any interest to the welfare of others.

Having said this, I was wondering as to whether you would like to come to Ghana. There are many opportunities here for you to serve and help others, since that is your passion. Let me know what your thoughts are.

And, in the mean time, Cheers!

- Benjamin

Posted 13 January 2009 - 12.40 by Rob Marshall from Mount Laurel, United States (Permalink)
I could talk about Haiti for days. Haha. It has been without a doubt the most important experience I have had up to this point. Even though that trip only lasted two weeks, they were the happiest (and the saddest) two weeks of my life.

There were nine people in my group. We built over 70 bio-sand water filtration systems which are ecological filters using local sand to turn even the most polluted water into drinkable water (98% pure). Arguably cleaner than most of the bottled water in Haiti.

We also delivered food and school supplies to children in schools throughout Port-au-Prince and into smaller villages. We spent a lot of time in orphanages. In the Haitian culture, it's uncommon for the men to spend time with children. With little to no love, most kids grow up misguided or worse.

I was blessed to be in Haiti. I miss it with my whole heart. More than any other mission I've been on. I've been on relief trips for victims of Hurricane Katrina and others, soup kitchens for the homeless, outreaches for troubled children, and other trips.

One of my goals right now is to get out to Uganda this summer to help a Pastor with an orphanage and water system. Time to fundraise. Haha. If you're interested in anything like that, Michaela, ask me anything you'd like. And if you have your own experiences, let me know! I love hearing about things outside of the U.S.

Posted 15 January 2009 - 17.45 by Tioti & Heather from Key West, United States (Permalink)
There is nothing in the world like your heart being touched by the unexpected. Reading your post was as if I wrote it myself, it happened to me after I returned from my first trip to Cuba. I came back confused and nothing made sense anymore. Everything that I have ever been told about Cuba was a lie, from the news and what our govt has put out there. I remember landing at the Miami airport, with my girlfriend of ten years picking me up. I thought it was just culture shock at first, all the neon lights, signs and traffic. I just wanted to get back on the plane and fly back to Cuba. The next few months were very hard. I went through a huge depression and was walking around like being in a dream state, I cried a lot and didn't know why. it was hard, it was like I was living a lie being back in the US. I didn't want to be a part of this country or the delusional people that lived here anymore.
That was ten years ago and yes I dumped that girl when she started bitching about things that really didn't matter and were of no consequence of whats real. Couldn't understand how a person that has everything could be so unhappy when I was at a place that everyone was happy and had nothing more that the simplest of things. That's a big part of what is going on in your head, and for you now, it's hard to listen to everything that's going on around you, when it has nothing to do with life. I remember being somewhere in line when everyone around was taking about the ending of some sit-com like it was the most important thing on earth. I was a fish out of water. All I can tell you is, what you now feel in your heart and know in your mind is a glimpse of whats REAL, and it will not change or go away. It's not that you saw poor people, homeless people or even starving people, it's you saw that in the hardest of times, from people without anything, an unexplained energy came from their eyes and smile, a sense of purity and innocence of what is real. There is not a day that goes by that my mind doesn't drift back in time to that trip. It chance everything!
and there is not a day that goes by that I'm not dreaming of leaving the states, but for now I live in Key West and it is a close as I can get to being here and not being here, tioti

12 January 2009

The joys of an expat lifestyle




Monday, 13 December 2004 07:28:11 pm

Why I pine for an expat life...

This was first written as an email in 2004, and based on my life in Kobe Japan (photo on left) and in Vientiane Laos.

Dear S,

You expressed dismay when I suggested life in another country can match and even surpass aspects of living in your own country.

There are positives and negatives in any situation, here are the positives for me:

1) Social life as an expatriate is much faster, more ALIVE, and full of new and unknown opportunities.
As an Engineer I have to put numbers on it and would say that as an expat the degree of community acceptance and social knitting with neighbours, work mates, local shops, church or club etc... is about 4 to 5 times faster than normal life in Australia.

For example: In 6 months as an expat in Japan, Kobe city, I had achieved a degree of social integration and networking, knitting and linking that took me 2 to 3+ years to achieve in Australia.

In Japan especially I noticed this phenomenon especially. After 6 months I was already a ' golden oldie' in the expat circles I moved in. I ‘knew the ropes’ and helped others. I’ve been back to Melbourne after a long absence a few times. I didn't feel that kind of community connection even in 3 years of working and studying and living in Melbourne.
The friendships I made in Japan were no deeper nor shallower than those I made living in Australia.
Japan was only one instance of this speeded up social interaction phenomenon. I have noticed this in other places I lived overseas (Laos, Thailand, Switzerland).

2) Lifestyle - " the foreigner"... the 'gaijin' the 'falang' the outsider... this appeals to me personally for some reason. Admittedly I have had good jobs overseas as teacher and engineer, as well as volunteer and as a backpacker.
The status of being outside the dominant society is something I have enjoyed as an expat. I have never really had any desire, or hope, to be accepted totally as a local. I have enjoyed the respect, the curiosity and the freedom to look at a society from some small distance as a quasi outsider.
Yes .... it has its drawbacks because some societies see you as a white imperialist, as Mr Moneybags, or a "backpacker", but there are ways to live with that, and to blend in (for example: even now, when travelling in Thailand as tourist, I dress such that, I am 'mistaken' as an expat, “oh you live in Bangkok ?”, or “How long have you worked here ?” once I have achieved that level, I am satisfied that I have hit the right mix of dress and casualness and blend-in-ness)

3) As an Expat I see that Australia is only ONE of many universes...
It is good to be able to stand back and see Australia with an outsider's eyes – sense of perspective.

When I returned from overseas - what I saw in Australia is... well that's a different topic, - ask me another time or email me :-P

4) Being back in Australia: I see how many good and wonderful things we have in Australia and that we can stand up to strengthen these good things. I see key things that need help as well.

[Editor: orig article had more on the undesirable changes in Australia since first leaving the place. That's another topic.]

Well there you have it, that's it in a nutshell for "why I like expat life" and how I feel about being back.

NB: I don't claim these things as UNIVERSAL truths, there are many expats who did not experience this kind of thing, these are purely my own observations.

These nations are the most hospitable to expatriates, according to a new report.

07 January 2009

Egypt diaries

A radio documentary on Cairo by Australia's Radio National
Well done Hagar and Andrew !

if you want to be notified by email of updates to this site, please subscribe at: http://groups.google.com/group/Hyco


Arriving in Cairo, or Al Quahira, Wed 10Dec08

All the sensationalism from the media, the fears of others who have never been there themselves, the well meant warnings of friends etc... all came bubbling up as I lined up to change some money.
As a solo traveller one feels more vulnerable one has no idea what is going on.

I realized how much I had to rely on others, on the honesty and integrity of others whose language I only knew 2 words of.

Of course I had read about the things to watch out for and this was not my first time travelling, but still it is very vulnerable moment coming out of an airport and knowing no one, making your way to a place 'somewhere' out there.

It can feel a bit like going swimming in cold sea water in winter, in Melbourne. After a minute or so it's ok, you don't feel the cold anymore.
In fact is refreshing...
It only took half an hour in the taxi and I felt relaxed and refreshed, 'yes, this place is good, I can get around and figure out how to travel here' .

Mind you I have to confess: I stood outside the airport terminal for a while pretending to wait for a "friend", wearing my suit jacket neat clothes and trying to look like an expat returning back for the 10th time. Inside I was nervous, but my 'disguise' must have worked because I was not once accosted by anyone. Eventually I worked out the system and took a bus to the car park for a taxi, the kind the locals use. My driver is shown in the picture below:

I guess this is the reason why tours and package tours are appealing. I can fully appreciate the feeling of safety that comes from being on a tour or with others in a group.
Yet I also know if I have too much of that safety I get grumpy and could become a nitpicking complaining prima-donna who whinges because there is no sugar for the tea etc...

The difference between first and second hand information hit me again after arriving in Cairo. I don't know what nameless and unnamed demons popular culture the fears of other people at the mention that I was going to Egypt brought up, but once I was here, it was all ok. There was and never had been anything 'real' to worry about - just vaporous demons of the mind.
I have had this experience a number of times, living in Laos during the 2000 unrest, one would have thought that the place was a total warzone, not so. Life as normal with a few minor hiccups.
It makes me wonder what countries within myself I have been afraid to travel to, believing in second hand information and unfounded vaporous fear ? hm.......

It's hard to believe that last week I was treading the mill at work, worrying about emails and all the stuff of daily life - even feeling like I was on some interminable treadmill which will never end... 0-0-00
and now here I sit in the center of Cairo, the buildings are oozing old fading empire glory, huge old 7 storey behemoths, that have large, I mean HIGH ceilings, and ornate Victorian era balconies... the perfect setting for a 1920's movie.

I try to remember this next time I'm at work, walking that interminable treadmill, - I'll tell myself that: "just 3 weeks and an airfare away is a different universe, are the REAL pyramids, the real mummies and (daddies ha ha ha -= sorry_) "

this central part of Cairo is a bit like the old crumbling buildings in the movie Bladerunner, minus the rain. A blimp with advertising would fit in perfectly.

The people here look strong and energetic, and it feels safe. I can feel that old world energy here, the energy that goes away when things become toooooo clean, tooooo organized.... and toooo modern.... we only know we have lost those old energies when they have gone... because those old energies have no words to them and the modern world believes only in things that can be put into words.

people here are not obese, there are mosquitoes in the hotel rooms, fans on the ceilings, and kids play wherever. People (well ok only men) sit around in the neighbourhoods smoking sheesha (water pipe) and life and noise and people are all around.

Of course to live here as a local, would be a different life, a tough life.
But as a tourist coming past for a short time, it shows me a picture of a past era.

I notice that people here have time to talk, they are not as rushed.
They chat, they smile more, on public transport, everywhere.
That does not mean naïveté, the taxi driver and I smiled a lot as we haggled, but it was a game, a play, we acted our parts.
Even in smiling and generosity I sense that people know what is what and have their focus. There is a sense of respect and honour here as well.

Yesterday: visited the old Cairo section, using the subway. Old Cairo is Coptic Cairo. Ruins and old churches, including a place that is claimed to have housed the Holy family in their sojourn to Egypt.

This morning, breakfast set in the old Pension Roma, a setting fit for a 1920's novel, those huge ceilings and SOLID building really holds and atmosphere.
A conversation struck up with two guys who run a jewellery shop in the UK, trade with China on a holiday passing through. "how to get to the pyramids the cheap way? " A young lady tells us, she is here doing her research for an ABC Radio Australia program in Cairo for a month. "take bus 355, or 357 to Giza, from the Harbi square".
NOTE: The pyramids are in a suburb of Cairo, local taxi or bus can take one there.

We talk for a while, then people leave. Before I get up to go an American engineer and his family join chat with me, it turns out he working on Medical equipment accreditation, just what I am interested to get my research project commercialized... we exchanged cards.

When I arrived at the Pension ROma I thought this would be a great place to plonk oneself and write a novel. seems I'm not the only one with that idea.
On the other side of the room a french lady writing her novel, next to an American who did home guard service in Nicaragua.

now enough time out writing,
enough time tying on a computer, it's time to go to the "Citadel" of Cairo.
Why that place ? the sound of the name alone conjours images inside me that I want to follow up to confirm or deny them for myself.
The maps and the books all talk of this as the seat of power and machinations for almost 1000 years.

Salem Alaikum...

------------------------------ mail 2 -----------------------------------------

Saturday 13Dec08

Aswan town is built along one side of the Nile. On the other side and ...high on a steep cliff overlooking the town the skyline is dominated by a large rocky cliff.

On the very top is a domed structure open to 3 sides.
The silhouette of the dome stands like a sentinel of a past empire, alone and stark on the very ridge of the skyline. I can see the sky shining through the pillars.
Even from this long distance separated by the Nile River at the bottom, I can birds fly around the dome like moths to a lamp. There are so many of them they form a small gray cloud around the dome.

There are no people up there. The whole cliff and the whole mountain is an ancient cemetery. Tunnels are cut into the rock of the cliff and old Egyptian tombs up to recently are found there.

It's what the trusty guidebook marked on the map as the "Tombs of the Nobles..."

the solitary dome standing out against the skyline brings up images of vast deserts, mysteries buried with their dead, and a powerful silent presence hovering, waiting and guarding.... something.
No one lives there, it looks deserted.

At the foot of the cliff, the river Nile. Large luxurious, tourist steamers, and tiny Feluccas, small ferries, a few islands and then the town of Aswan.

There is a ferry to the other side of the Nile.
The inevitable entrance ticket (not cheap by Intl standards even)
Tomorrow we go and check it out. This is a place i would really like to visit.

I need to remind myself occasionally: "this is the land where the real thing lives. The real mummies are here, the real mysteries are hidden here".

------------------------------ Sunday 14Dec08 ------------------------------------------------------------
We took the ferry across the Nile, walking up the cliff to the dome early in the morning. Walking required different leg movement because of the small hand sized sharp rocks mixed into the fine desert sand.

The dome is the grave of a local sheik 'Kubbet El-Hawa'.
At the top in the dome, the wind is strong, the birds disappear and leave us alone.
The view up and down the Nile is superb, the desert dust in the air throws a soft fuzzy light on everything that is more than a few kilometres away. The Nubian villages on this side side of Aswan are all painted in a strong purplish indigo blue that stands out from the earthy sand colours.
The scene and the colours have that special African 'something' about it, earthy strong, powerful.

I leave my small offerings of bread in the four directions in each of the four arches of the dome.

We go down to the tombs that are hewn into the rock 2/3rds of the way up the cliff.
The ancient Egyptian tombs with old drawings are guarded by a steel door and a lock.
the caretaker lets us in (mentally I put aside in a coat pocket some money for "Baksheesh", nothing happens without Baksheesh here, nothing. ).

I have to remind myself that the drawings, the colours, the hieroglyphs are real. This is not some wallpaper, this is the REAL THING !!!!
Everyone has seen Egyptian Hieroglyphs, I find it hard to believe that I'm here in the land where they are real, and the ones looking at me are 1900 BC.
So used to modern reproductions i find it amazing that they look JUST LIKE THE ONES IN THE MOVIES.

The smell of bat shit, which is the smell of old ancient ruins; pervades everything.

After that more tombs, more crypts, more bat shit smell.

It looks as messy and dusty and decayed as in some Indiana Jones movie.
Holes in the ground and passages that go God knows where everywhere. No anally retentive safety fences or protective glass or signs warning you that you may be in the real world and that the ground may be ever so slightly uneven....

No high security, just a local dude with a key.
The tombs are crumbling, there is no money to maintain them despite the quite sizeable regular flow of tourist money charged at each site of only vague interest.

I guess for the locals these ruins what they grew up with. if the funny foreign devils want to see them so badly and pay for the priviledge then hey that's nice income :-)
People are poor here, though I don't know how much the tourist money helps the poor [1].

Anyway, we made it to the Tombs of the Nobles, I really HAD to go there after seeing them from the other side of the river.

Next is the Philae, the temple of Isis. In antiquity The priestesses of Isis took the venom of the snake in gradually larger doses to help them to 'see' to safeguard their people. Many died in the process.

Isis is and energy and essence I personally relate to very much.
the idea of actually going to the temple is amazing. I guess I can now understand people who see their sporting hero or get an autography from their favourite pop star/footballer/movie star/ etc....

For some reason we decided to walk to the temple, to the spot on the river where the temple is located.
The way to the temple of Isis took us into a totally local neighbourhood of Aswan, women in black Burkha, kids... but people did not worry, did not stare or bother us just let us pass along.
we end up at the Nile bank but but ... but Erhummm...... its nowhere near Isis Island...

ok back we trudge, this time its time to take a taxi. Any financial transaction in Egypt involves a certain prior psychological fortificatoin and preparation.
This time we bargained hard, 10 LE (Egypt pound) we offer the driver.
"no 15"
we walk off - its just around the corner.
"Ok 10"
we get in.
"10 and 10 for each of you "
we get out, walk away in earnest.
he backs the car up, wants to do it for 10.
we keep walking.
"ok ok 10"
"for all of us ???"
we get in,
he drives us to Philae, the spot opposite Isis Island.
"you want me to wait, ? no taxi when you come back !"
At this point we don't trust him anymore....
"No, don't wait, see you, bye".

I can see he is right, there are NO taxis and he drives off with a satisfied smile.
Oh well worry about it later.

We pay USD10 to get an Isis Temple ticket, then start bargaining about a boat, another US10-14 or so.
Half or more of our daily budget in Egypt goes on entrance fees and Baksheesh.
Hope is helps them.
As Leonard Cohen sings

Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the deal is rotten
Old black Joe still pickin' cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows [1]

In the midst of negotiations a tour group of Foreigners comes along. We listen to their negotiations, Their leader John generously takes us into the group, and suddenly the guy who had inveigled us loses his potential customers.
More people more bargaining power.
John gets the unbelievable price of US 3 for a return trip per person. (Locals $0.70)
On the boat we thank him and he tells me that he's a Brit, studied Philosophy at Uni, till recently in the police force and will join the Armed forces in the UK.
It shows, his skills in people handling, standing up to the ferry guys and taking care of people and being a natural leader are obvious.
Our group of Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Aussies etc... would have no chance individually, but we got the boat at a fair rate as a unit.

The temple of Isis .............there is nothing I can say at this point. ................
I wandered round in a daze, imagining the Snakes, the Priestesses, the whole place, mindlessly taking pictures, telling myself this was NOT a movie set, this was the thing movie sets are modelled on.
I'm stunned when 45 mins are over and its time to return, time has moved really fast.
At this point, for me, the whole trip to Egypt is worth it many times over...

We get on the ferry back to Philae
The tour group we joined is big, their bus is totally full they tell us.
ooooops...how to get out of here back to Aswan ??? hm......

We hang around a bit, contemplate walking,
hitchhiking... no!
-> better hang about a bit longer.
Their bus arrives, John and our boatload and others who are part of that larger bus tour get in. We hang around and there seems to be room.
John gives us a grin and we jump on. The driver is a different one from the way in, and does not know who belong to where. Anyway all foreigners look the same don't they ?
JOhn takes it on himself to count the tour members allowing for +2 ring ins and makes the driver wait till the 4 late stragglers arrive.

Ok back to Aswan...back to our Nuba Nile Hotel.
phew.... that was close....
Thanks to whoever looked after us upstairs.

Pizza with John, Alex, me, to celebrate.

At the hotel we had planned to leave for Edfu Town half way to Luxor and site of one of Egypt’s oldest temples of antiquity dedicated to HORUS (god of time ? not sure).
The prospect of arriving in Edfu at 8pm by train, taking local transport to a town 4km away and hitting a hotel does not thrill....
It would also require psychological preparations.... to brave the energies out there...

change of plan: another night in Aswan, tomorrow morning, we stop at Edfu, then continue to Luxor.
THis Feels like a better plan. :-)

Luxor is the cornucopia of ruins, relics, tourist hassles, temples upon temples upon temples upon temples... etc..... a reg
We thought it wise to leave it to last before heading back to Cairo for the conference....




NOTE: the original temple of Isis was being drowned by the rising waters of the artificial Lake Nasser dam - . IT was moved 30m higher up by UNESCO in 1972 - 1980 to save it. So not the original site, but hey its close.
The original site and land is preserved under water.

But in the words of Leonard Cohen: [1]

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose

Everybody knows
Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows
Everybody knows, everybody knows

That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

'dance me to the children that are asking to be born....'
- Leonard Cohen

----------------------------------- mail 3 -------------------------------------------------
17DEC08 Cairo

It has been said that each illness carries within it its cure,
likewise: every success carries within it its own limitations, if not destructions.
Tourism in the extreme provokes its own self limiting effects... more on this below:

GST - direct pay as you go tax Egyptian style - experiences of a walking wallet.

In Australia everything you buy, almost every service and goods are taxed, the Government makes a 10% cut.

In Egypt everything you buy, from a taxi ride to friendly advice is rewarded with a little bit of 'Baksheesh'.

The guards at Karnak temple, all the major monuments might show you a good spot to stand and see a monument from, let into a little used chamber, remove a 'no go' barrier and let you witness a messy dusty, Indiana Jones style burial chamber, - and then it is understood that you pay for this service. Half or one or two Egyptian Pounds is fine depending on how you feel, what was offered etc....

Now I must confess that as a Westerner, used to fixed prices this can be extremely annoying at first. I am still going through an adjustment and learning curve to cope with "Direct Pay as you go GST".
At the start of my recent visit to Luxor the center of Egyptian temples and mummies etc... I felt rather shocked, but by the end of the day I had gotten to the point where I'd just look at whatever special treat I was being shown by the current guard then gave him a pound or so.

Heck who cares, if it is the Government taxing me at a fixed rate, on the sly, or the guys here directly without the middle man ?

By the end of the day it had become automatic: go in, see, pay a bit. I had a pocket full of small notes for just this purpose.
Actually it creates a nice feeling, the guard smiles, I feel a little pin prick of happiness and the we have had a nice pleasant transaction... all is well.

At the Valley of Queens the ticket seller was so friendly and obliging as to give me change for 5 pounds in tiny notes - "for the guards" he told me.
I didn't even have to ask him. Now that is service !
Naturally for this small service he took half a pound for himself.
Chicken feed ! - given that most tickets are 30 - 100 pounds ($6-20 USD) and you spend from 200 - 400 pounds in the most temple heavy or tomb heavy areas.

Add to the above description of 'Direct Pay as you go GST" the idea that:
THE RICH PAY MORE - (well ok, UNLESS THEY ARE also VERY POWERFULL which often tends to go together.)

There is in most societies the idea that if you have more you should pay more, and if you are poor you should pay proportionately less. It rarely works that way but that is another story. The basic idea is there and is a noble one.
The idea is reflected in the sliding scale of taxation by the Australia Tax Office, the rich pay more than the poor, - in theory anyway.
The same idea applies in Egypt, except that again it is direct, if you are a tourist there is no impersonal Tax office to assess you. You are assessed as RICH by the mere fact you are here, bought a plane ticket worth many years income for much of population.
No one wants to know if you paid for your ticket by washing dishes for 2 years in some dirty dive, or whether daddy paid for it, you are rich by being here, that is IT, - finito, end of discussion !

Within the category of rich tourist there are subtle shades of grey:
It depend how rich you look: are you wearing garish clothes showing lots of jewellery and bare legs and arms ? go into a higher Baksheesh bracket.
Are you simply insensitive to local culture and wearing skimpy clothes showing too much skin ?
Do you look like you are working here - a local expat ?
Do you look like every half pounds matters a LOT to you - poor and haggard and penny pinching ?
Are you able to bluff and stand up to the bargain ? good on you, go down a Baksheesh bracket
Psychological resilience and preparation is a factor on both sides.

Every transaction can become the ultimate micro economic free market in action negotiated in person face to face.

I'm told it becomes easier after a while. It kind of has.
Its almost a habit if something can be a habit in one week.

Add to the above mix the further factor that like the American hospitality system, many people are on a retainer, and expected to earn their real wages from Baksheesh ( i.e. tips) to make ends meet.
They rely on a certain level of tips as part of their income.
This is an accepted thing with taxi drivers and in hotel and hospitality but makes for interesting combinations when applied to Government jobs, etc...

Just as Alex and I thought we had gotten used to the system we found there were further depths to be plumbed:
Luxor station, waiting for the train, with sleeper car to take us to Cairo.
A Policeman (P), well a guy with Uniform, a handgun, a machine gun of sort on his back comes up to use and very nicely shows us where the sleeping car will be when the train arrives.
We follow him. (my internal sentinel goes off quietly - 'alert level orange' bleepbleepbloeep) - alert but not alarmed we follow him.
P: "You have children ?"
"Well no, ...blah blah blah... do you ?"
P: Yes I have daughter
Oh how old is she ?
P: Nine months... ..blah blah blah..
We talk about how old he is
how long married, etc...
he tells us about the job, he is on for 22 days and off for the rest of the month, to see his family.
I'm thinking that its nice to find a person to just chat with.
Famous last thoughts.

P:" My daughter she have a new dress, for the wedding of my sister in 10 days..."
Oh how nice....
P: But I have problem, she not have money for the celebrations....
Ker- CLUNK!!!!!!!!! Kaboooom
"Mamma Mia, here we go again.. Mamma, how could I resist you.... ... "

P: I'm just going away for a minute, come back soon.
subtext: get your money ready for when I'm back.

P: Can you help me ?
We play dumb, look at each other, in shock and amazement and smile and keep playing dumb, (dumbness as a survival mechanism... worth a PhD thesis...)

After an embarrassed silence we prattle on about other things,
he tells us again for the 5th time where the sleep car will be, car number 1, the last one on the train so not hard to find...

Train comes we get on and shake our heads.
Can one become to used to this ?
I think there are limits...
There are countries where Govt employees are on a quasi retainer and must raise their own income from their job. Kind of like contractors on a retainer.
I don't know how much Government employees earn in Egypt. Perhaps that is the system here too, I don't know.

Looking back on it: There was no real threat, it was a simple request.
The thing that really hit us hard was that by our standards a line of trust was broken. The was the move from a friendly discussion to becoming a target as a walking wallet, - Purely cultural ? perhaps but it was still a shock.
That is the lot of being a tourist in the POPULAR spots in this country.
Outside the main attractions there is no problem.
If I was a poor Egyptian...how would I approach those walking wallets ?

I should say that generally this is only a problem in the tourist areas.
In Cairo, in Aswan, in the towns and cities where tourists are not marching through in HUGE armies of busses and river cruise boats, this is not a problem at all.

If Baksheesh is given it is part of a relationship, part of an exchange that can even make things more personal.

My haircut cost the same and as a local's, The sweet shop charged local prices for a half kilo of sweets. The off the street taxi (as opposed to the ones hanging round big hotels) tend to be reasonable and fair.

Our old taxi driver in Luxor was a real gem, he was recommended to us by a couple who showed us his card: it read:
I am told I am a very good driver - I don't talk much but if I can help you I will.
I do not have a BROTHER WITH A SHOP !!!
Mr Abo Setta, - outside Luxor Novotel Hotel.

He was a good as his card: didn't talk much, did not try to steer us to shops or try to sell anything (unbelievable) simple drove, picked us up, showed us a great Restaurant, let us pay for his lunch without fuss, smoked his sheesha (water pipe) and drove his old exhaust fume filled car to wherever we were going.
A cool dude.

About to meet local Cairo people, who work and study here through an internet network called www.Couchsurfing.com .

Ok enough of this side of travel, thanks for listening....
----------------------------------------------------other experiences ---------------------------------

Cairo: looking for Ahmet Orabi street where our hotel is supposed to be:
Heiko: " Sharia Ahmet Orabi ???"
Man in street: "...arabic .... 50 piaster (half pound) .....more arabic....car NOW...arabic. come with me..."
Heiko: "...uhmm thanks". - keep walking and looking for Ahmet Orabi Street.
Eventually I ask a couple, the girl looks western, no hair shawl, he looks a tough Marine type striding down the road and making taxis go around him without a qualm, they speak perfect English, are Egyptian and show me where to go... relief phew...

Cairo: THE Pyramids trip:

young men step into the way of the slow moving taxi forcing it to slow down so they can jump in the cab with us to then presuade us that the road ahead is closed and that the only way is in via a horse carriage, or camel ride...
However in our case the taxi driver keeps going slowly, as the guy holds the doorhandle of the car and runs alongside for a while...
"No,...No. ...No." we tell the running man
after a while he gives up.
Our driver was protecting us, not from anything bad, just from a lot of hassle. The guidebook already warned us about all of this, so it was not a total surprise.

The pyramids are definitely not the place to go to on a solo trip unless you are prepared, have a good sense of humour and can deal with the little tricks and scams. The pyramids have the most refined and brazen techniques we've encountered anywhere so far. Tourist Police on horse, on Camel and on foot abound, and they are necessary here. The hassles are all just verbal and psychological, but can be off putting, hence the need for humour... :-)

It would be best to do the pyramids as a large group, with a trustworthy Egyptian or as a tour group, or else be prepared to develop a thick skin.

These pressures and ways to extract money from tourists are the results of extreme poverty in the country, plus the concentration of rich foreign tourists NB: all tourists are rich by definition.
These things only usually happen in the overrun, totally touristy areas: Pyramids, Valley's of the Nile etc... - however as a tour group most people are safely screened from all this..

I try to imagine an equivalent situation happening in Australia where I would be in the same situation the the tourist salespeople in Egypt are in - that is: with the same disparity of income as Foreigners and poorer Egyptians:
It would be a scenario in which the foreigners carry on them 10 to 100 times of my annual income i.e. 0.5m to 2million Aussie dollars. They will spend most of that money within 2 weeks. Those foreigners arrive on fancy transports, that I will NEVER ever get to use or pay a ticket for. They live and come from places I only see on TV, and movies and where money and riches are everywhere.
Not surprisingly I might feel that those super rich foreigners would not really miss the odd 1000 or 10,000 dollars, would they ?
It might be worth trying to get some of that. One success, one foreigner paying me, would bring the equivalent of two days or two week's income.
The foreigners complain that my hassling them annoys them.
I'm simply offering them some deals, if they pay me well that's their problem :-)

Other clever sales methods are used by the locals on the locals: for example we are in a slow 3rd class train to Edfu ( to see the temple of HORUS, the falcon god, husband of Isis (?) ). Suddenly a lot of shouting and a guy with a big bucket storms into the carriage. He reaches into the bucket and pulls out long plastic strips filled with small pouches of nuts, seeds of various types etc..
they land everywhere, on people on luggage on the floor.
I pick one up, open the peanuts part of the plastic strip and eat them.
Just what I wanted.
The same guy returns three minutes later, and everyone either gives the strip back or pays a Pound, I reach for my Baksheet stack of notes and pull out a pound.
Clever way to sell them. no asking just toss them out.
Effective and well done.

-------------------------------- 20Dec08 Alexandria, ----------------------------------------------

Next to the Pharaoh Egypt hotel in Cairo where we stayed for the conference is a most unusual restaurant, the Okamoto Japanese restaurant.
It looks like something from Tokyo plonked straight into the noisy dusty street of Cairo.
There is a little zen rock garden at the entrance, a sliding door and a long quiet corridor that smells of Japanese food, Tatami and emanates Japan.

The place is run by an old bent over Japanese lady, and her Japanese husband.
the restaurant has the odd Japanese tour group, otherwise the only ones who come are a smattering of 5 to 10 customers per night.
This become our favourite place to eat, a world totally removed from Egypt, From Cairo, where the walking wallets become human again.
Even the music is old "Enka" which was old back in the 1980's, - Enka is soulful romantic-tragic-longing filled sob-story music popular after WWII in Japan.
We ate there 3 nights in a row, on the last night we tell them its time we moved on, it feels almost sad to leave the place. Like giving up a refuge.
The whole restaurant and the couple running it are so amazing and incongruous, if a writer wrote about it people would think he was being too fanciful, - an example of truth being stranger than fiction.

This morning as we left Cairo for Alexandria, the air was so dark it was like breathing from an exhaust pipe, even at 4am in the morning, the air on the 6th floor of the hotel stank of petrol. Haze gathered from 100m onwards and a smog covered everything.

3 hours to Alexandria: This city is calmer than Cairo, it has a dignity and peace and humanness I had not seen in Cairo.
Old world charm lingers here, the air coming in from the Mediteranean sea is fresh. People are calmer, they actually just talk to you, without always an ulterior motive. Refreshing.

The shops are nice, clean, the traffic is slower, cops help people cross the street, foreign tourists numbers are low - mostly local Egyptian tourists come to Alex. A key difference.

This is the place to sit and have a chocolate pancake, hot tea, some Greek baked thing, sit on the promenade, watch the people, and just RELAX, something that is virtually impossible in Cairo.

We don't feel like walking wallets, foreign tourists are here but in low numbers and interspersed - therefore not everyone tries to subtly steer every conversation to the topic of getting money, its not desperate here in Alex.
Here it is like I had imagined Egypt would be :-)

An Egyptian man helped me find the hotel in Alexandria,
he looked at me smiled knowingly and said, don't worry... implying 'I'm not a guide or going to steer you to some shop..."
I trusted him.
He showed me the way to the Hotel.

------------------------------- 21Dec08 -------------------------------------------
Happy Birthday Mum !!!!!!!!!!!!
Time for you both to travel and see the world ?! need a guide to Egypt ? good price for YOU! ha ha ha

We drop in on the Cecil Hotel, of WWII fame, Winston Churchill and the British Secret service are supposed to have stayed there.
Ok fine, woppi dooh.

Nice, but uncomfortably expensive.
Then we visit to the Library of Alexandria, - a modern huge building, clean, immaculate, well run, and Wow!!!!!!!!! like something from a top Western Uni it stands out in Egypt.

Alexandria is a different place from anywhere else in Egypt we have seen so far. Some young kids just want to practice English, most are generally retiring and accept foreigners without a fuss.
The tea houses are nice old fashioned places, and we can sit outside and just talk and watch the crowds.

Internet is glacially slowwwwwwww

all for now....

'dance me to the children that are asking to be born....'
- Leonard Cohen
Hyco's list here

To follow the path:
look to the master,
follow the master,
walk with the master,
see through the master,
become the master. - more

Strange places on Earth....

- No hand's a winning hand, till you dare to lay it down - Tom Robbins

Aswan, Egypt, Tombs of the Nobles