Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Eartha Kitts visits The Fayoum

21 years, 11 months and a few days. Today, I shit myself.

Full on, stomach-lurching, sodden-french-knickers, shit myself.

We have returned from The Fayoum, and I will not romanticise the details. Unbeknownst to me, The Fayoum (and, within, Fayoum City) is not a tourist-orientated region, in nor out of season.

So you can imagine my disgust - indicated only with a particularly arched eyebrow - when I was told that we couldn’t leave our hotel without a police escort.

Our hotel, Honey Day Hotel, was dank, fly-ridden and uncomfortable, and our Rough Guide informed us it was frequented by prostitutes - I’m not sure if there’s a direct correlation, but I wouldn’t like to presume that its clientele is influenced by the hotel’s uncommon license to sell liquor.

We spent the evening hot, bored and tired (I have resolved to buy a pack of cards in Khan El Khalili today). The food need no space for description.

Naturally I was taken aback when our 5-strong police escort was ready outside Honey Day for 6am the next morning. However, despite their heavy presence, it wasn’t peak season. They were bored.

I could understand that.

We travelled south to Wadi Rayan, through the Egyptian side of the Sahara. It made for spectacular viewing. Light beige sand stretched out, the landscape punctuated by rocks and clumps of sand.

It took a while for me to realise why I was finding it difficult to make my eyes focus on any particular point. Like on the moon, it is difficult to get depth perception; the vastness all-consuming and the colours melted into one another under the blazing heat of 7.30am.

I do not know the name of the village through which we drove, but it was a humbling experience.

Like most Egyptian roadsides, it was densely littered with remains of old plastic, and the poverty was abundant.

Old Coca-Cola signs were over many street stalls, which sold refreshments. And in front of one particularly derelict building a fight was breaking out between locals; spectators didn’t seem to take much notice of us, nor our armoured police vehicle that drove ahead.

Some of the children waved and smiled. Many didn’t.

I was very quiet as we bumped and ground our through these streets, as large eyes stared at our air-conditioned minibus.

We stopped at several Ptolemaic temples and tombs throughout the trip, and it was at one of these sites where I saw guns, in real life, for the first time. The guides, or the guards, of the sites all carried them.

The man-made lakes and waterfalls Wadi Rayan were lush and surrounded by plenty of young boys and men wading around, enjoying the coolness of the water. Several cried out for me to take their photographs as they jumped off the waterfalls.

Many children wanted their photographs taken.

The women did not come into the water. They remained fully dressed, many in burkas, in the shade - well away from the water.

But finally, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant, and it was all I could to do to stagger from our table in the midday heat to the toilet.

Our bodyguard-a-day, who never left our side and carried a gun stuffed into his belt, had not tried to stifle his laugh when he realised what was going on.

In short, I have spent the last few days between toilets and air-conditioned spaces, assured that it’s merely a case of the bacteria in my stomach ‘adjusting’.

I would proffer that anything (flora or otherwise) that was once in my stomach is now in one of the toilets in the Egyptian Sahara - probably one of the three without running water, and piss all over the floor.

My father, I think, has the final word on the matter. On his return from India many years ago, he announced to my dear mother, ‘Happiness is a dry fart’.

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