Baksheesh: A small sum of money given as alms, a tip, or a bribe.
The request of “Baksheesh” while in Egypt comes frequently and often for no apparent reason. Baksheesh, like a Tip in the west, is an amount of money paid on top of the agreed upon price. A way of showing your appreciation for excellent service.
The mere fact that you are enjoying your day, walking around, seeing the sights, should not constitute a cash payment to all locals of that city. In Cairo however, and the rest of Egypt, that is precisely the interpretation.
The requests inevitably become white noise and after a while they are treated with the same attention to detail you would assign the annoyance of a fly-by insect; you know it’s there but with a wave it will be gone.
This became rote within minutes of exiting the dark wood lobby of the hotel.
At first I simply set out on foot. In complete denial of how the heat, dust, and noise would affect me. My goal, as always, was to take in my environment then settle on a plan of action that would ultimately have me standing toe to toe with the famous Sphinx while contemplating the many theories regarding his loss of nose.
Walking in Cairo is interesting; my head was swiveling as I took in all the madness. Given the last couple of days though this was all beginning to take on an air of familiarity. The chaos was my new normal and I found myself inwardly enjoying the crazy.
My route took my past mosques, into markets, alongside the Nile, and to a park that became my place of peace. It was here I made a promise to myself.
I would never stop traveling.
Sitting on the banks of the Nile I watched as cruise ships plowed the water and created a wake that came to greet me as a surge of excitement. On board were travelers just like me, only older, but just as adventurous. Who knows what their past was like. They may have crossed the Sahara on foot for all I knew which would certainly trump any extreme journey I had entertained to that point.
I would never stop traveling…only when I’m older I will do it all again but in style.
I could see me looking out over the bow of that ship. I could hardly wait. One thing was for sure; I had a lot to see and do first. It did not occur to me how much the world would change over the course of the next few decades. It did not occur to me how very fortunate I was to be traveling at that time and it did not occur to me how very fortunate I would need to be in order to make that dream come true.
I am still happily working on it.
By late morning the heat was becoming more a suffocating smog rather than a light haze so I ponied up and grabbed a taxi. The driver maneuvered through the pre-lunch post-prayer road treachery and spilled us out of the city confines into the beige topography of the desert.
It was immediate.
City buildings, shops, markets, houses…desert. The fingers of which permeated only slightly. Remarkable given the fact that it could, if conditions were right, swallow the entire place and vanish it from the face of the earth. But it was gentle and stayed on the outskirts allowing the city to encroach more and more as years crept by.
Giza sat there before me. Three colossal pyramids upstaged only by the Sphinx who sat front and center.
I exited the taxi and made my way over to the small brick wall that was acting as a kind of photo opportunity base. From here you could capture everything the archaeological area had to offer. Compose it in one frame and forever more have a keepsake of your time.
“Me take your photo sir?” “Baksheesh, yes?”
“Yes”, I nodded as I handed the boy my camera for a full portrait of me outranking the Sphinx; snatching the lead spot. Behind me was the small brick wall and a pair of camels. Behind them was the Sahara, Egyptian history, and an incredible testament to craftsmanship.
In front of me was Cairo and the awareness that the craftsmanship over my shoulder had been lost, or forgotten, to the passing of time. Tilted buildings, some crumbling, and others slightly more than rubble…for as far as the eye could see.
“Smile Sir”, I am going to take your photo in 1, 2, 3…
…and with the “ee” of three still sounding in my ear and the expected smile beginning to spread, he bolted like a bat out of hell, camera in hand and squealing as I began to give chase.
A gallibaya is a traditional long shirt worn by men in Egypt. It descends from the shoulders all the way to the ankles. I never realized someone could run that fast while wearing one but this kid could.
I chased him over the wall and down into the shadow of the Sphinx. He weaved and side-stepped and clearly knew the terrain well. I had a fleeting thought that this was not the first time he had pulled this stunt.
Being a lot bigger helped in the pursuit but to any onlookers it must have made me appear like the potential perpetrator of a crime rather than the victim. It was a good distance before my hand grasped his shoulder and brought him to a stop; sand and dust kicked up all around us.
I was sweating and breathing hard. He, for a second, was motionless. Then, all of a sudden, he held his head up high and smiled the smile of foiled mischief.
He handed back the camera with one hand and with the other opened his palm and demanded…
“Baksheesh” “Sir, I took picture, baksheesh, it is normal”.