Warnings and wonders on a tour of Egypt

By Bill Reed
This article appears on page 18 of the December 2015 issue.
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The pyramid of Khafre at Giza.

We hopped on the donkey cart at a dusty corner in the Bahariya Oasis, about half a block from our hotel. The driver of the cart spoke no English and we spoke no Arabic. The lead donkey walked with a slight limp as we started down the main road. 

The instructions given to our guide, at my request and over my wife, Betty’s, objections, were to arrange for the two of us to have a ride into town (about a half mile), circle the center of town and come back to the hotel. None of that happened. 

After going about 100 feet, the driver turned down a dusty road enclosed by mud-brick walls. I was given the reins and did my best at guiding an animal that instinctively knew there was a novice at the controls. A spare donkey trailed us.

After several twists and turns, none of which were anywhere near the center of town, we stopped. The driver handed Betty a big bag, and we headed off into an empty field full of dried palm fronds, burnt logs and not much else.

The driver arranged some palm fronds for us to sit on and motioned for us to sit. He opened the bag and dumped the contents out onto the dirt. The bag held a number of bottles containing water in varying degrees of opacity, a hot pepper, something white that reminded me of cream cheese, two pieces of the very good (and ubiquitous) Egyptian bread and some bread that was hard enough to break a tooth. (He gave us a piece, and it was good but hard as a rock!)

A shallow bowl showed up, and in went the cement-like bread and some of the water. Betty noted the floating particles, but I said they were pretty small and not to worry about them. 

As this happened at the end of our trip, and we were to get on a plane the next day for the long trip back to the US, Betty was holding back tears. (It must be pointed out that we had no ill effects from this, so all’s well that ends well.)

All this was topped off with tea boiled in the blackest pot I have ever seen. Into the cup of water in the pot went about a half cup of sugar. Egyptians like their tea sweet!

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