Saturday, June 12, 2010

Getting busted by Egyptian security (Sunday, May 30)

So, all around the Valley of Kings are signs that say, “No Camera.” The ones that don’t say “No Camera” say something like, “No Photos.” At the entry to the site, there is a security guard that rifles through your bag and tells you to leave your cameras on the bus.

Basically, you’re not supposed to take pictures.

Gabe, Paul (our Australian adoptee) get to the Valley at 6:15 a.m. - an early start is crucial in order to try to beat the 120-degree heat in the Nile Valley - and pay an atrocious entrance fee, which buys us entry into 3 tombs. We get pumped. We hike to the furthest tomb in the Valley, Tutmosis III. It is cool.

We try to get into our 2nd tomb. It is closed. We try our 3rd. It requires an additional ticket of additional atrocious amounts of pounds. We head to our 4th choice. It is closed.

It is hot.

We get to our 5th choice tomb, which is basically one of the last few that is open and free with our original ticket, and I am pissy. We walk past a sign that says “No photos.”

We get inside. Halfway through the smelly, humid mess of a hundred tourists crammed into one tomb, I surreptitiously (I think) pull out my little Canon and take a picture here, a picture there. No flash. I understand that lights can damage ancient wall paintings. I am maaaaaaaad, but not so mad that I am about to ruin antiquity. We take a few minutes, turn around, start making our way out. All of a sudden, a hullabaloo.

“Angry” Egyptian security guard grabs my arm and starts shouting at me in Arabic (I say “angry” because of course, this is all an act). “No photo! No photo!” He grabs my hand, then my camera, and starts gesticulating, a hot pink Digital Elph in his hand. “No photo!”

I feign ignorance. “So sorry!” Gabe, by this point, has noticed that I have made a scene, and comes over. Immediately, the guard starts directing all comments and hot pink gesticulating to him. It is obvious the guard considers him responsible for his wife’s misbehavior. For the rest of the time, the security guard doesn’t speak or look at me.

So, the guard tells us – uh, tells Gabe – that we have to go to the director of security because I have broken the cardinal rule of visiting ancient smelly tombs with thousands of fat smelly tourists. He starts walking purposefully to the entrance of the tomb, which is a ways away. At each turn and new room (we happen to be in a very long, railroad-apartment like tomb) the guard slows his pace and sort of slyly looks at Gabe.

The man wants a bribe, and it makes me so angry I want to shout out that he can shove that hot pink piece of metal up his dishdasha all I care, I am tired of his tombs and tired of extra hidden costs of things and tired of Egyptians trying to hustle me for money and tired of the smell of old pee in my face all the time (note: long, hot, expensive, hassle-full days in Egypt make me cranky). Of course, he doesn’t expect me to make a bribe. He wants Gabe to offer to pay him money for his misbehaving wife, because obviously Gabe must be humiliated that I did something as stupid as take a picture.

Of course, I do no such thing, and Gabe doesn’t either. He stood and waited patiently as the guard lingered, not very subtly, at the entrance to the tomb, our last chance to bribe him before going to the head of security. We wait him out. As Gabe points out, bribing one person then opens us up to bribing people at every turn, while going through the beauracratic channels at least puts us in the right. Reluctantly, the security guard walks on. Eventually, Gabe and I find ourselves in the director of security’s air-conditioned office. He’s a young dude with perfect English and a raft of people bringing him tea – but more on that later.

He takes my hot pink camera and, without ever looking at me, tells Gabe that there are no cameras allowed in the Valley of Kings.

No fucking duh.

He flips through the camera, asking Gabe to watch. They count 7 illicit pictures. Security director tells Gabe he needs to pay a fee of 50 pounds per picture - $70 USD for stupid blurry pictures of a smelly tomb that we weren’t even excited to see in the first place. We need to buy 350 Egyptian pounds worth of tickets in order to get the camera back, and delete the pictures. There is a looooong pause – security director waiting for us to counter offer and pay cash to him instead. Gabe gets up and walks out to go to the ticket booth, while I continue to sit in the office.

Suddenly, traffic in the director’s office gets crazy. Every two seconds is another man stepping in with a “Salaam aleykam,” another offer of tea, another cigarette, another long unabashed stare at the Asian woman with uncovered hair sitting like a kid in the principal’s office. In the 20 minutes that it takes Gabe to buy the tickets, at least 12 men come in and out of the office to stare, and not one of them breathes a word to me. Neither does the director, who fondles the camera and flips through the pictures, the vast majority of which are from other sights.

Gabe finally comes back, hands over the tickets, and with the director watching over his shoulder, deletes the pics. They shake hands. We leave. Not ONCE in the whole process does the director even look at me.

We finally get out of the Valley having seen only one tomb that we were really interested in, out 350 pounds and hugely apologetic to Paul, who waited patiently in the 100-degree heat through the whole debacle. After my stint as the greatest attraction of the Valley, I am feeling excessively unapologetic for taking my non-flash pictures and wishing I had demanded baksheesh out of every man who had come into the office to ogle me.

Lesson learned: Broken rules are not a big deal if you are willing to bribe your way out of them, and you will defy all of the authority figures if you don’t.

PS. Paul is awesome for not making me feel like an ass that day. I know I was an ass. Hearts, Paul!

PPS. This is a really long post with no pictures. You know why? Because I have no photos of the goddamned Valley of Kings.

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