Sunday, November 9, 2008

Esna place like home

Rumor has it
that there is a tourist bazaar in Esna. We never found it. What we did find was our "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" experience for this trip.

Esna is a town halfway between Edfu and Luxor. Its main claim to fame is the Electricity Bridge which is a small hydroelectric dam with a set of locks attached to it. On the maps of stops along the Nile sites like Kom Ombo, Edfu and Luxor are in bold yellow type, their location designated with little bull’s-eyes. Esna is in small black print represented by a dot the size of a period. Our cruise ship arrives there after sunset and moors to wait for our scheduled passing through the locks in the morning. At other stops our intrepid guide Magdi has drawn maps to the local souks, the bazaars where we can bargain with the very motivated sellers of goos, gaws, and chotchkes.

In Esna we received no such map.

Even so we disembark and head toward the lit up end of town. Up until now any foray into town has elicited some fairly hard sell tactics by the local entrepreneurs, “Let me tell you something!” “You know how much?” “I’ll pay you to look!””Welcome to Alaska!”

I don’t know what that last one means but we heard it a couple times. In Esna though, we got more silent stares than invitations. I don’t know if it was the time of day, the part of town we were walking in or what, but there was definitely a different vibe nothing overtly sinister, but there definitely a different edge to things. That was until Hanna showed up.

Hanna is a bright dark eyed girl of thirteen who may be five feet tall standing on her bare footed toes. She appointed herself our personal tour guide. She spoke broken but really quite passable English as she gave us the nickel tour of her town. “Is me pharmacia, is me dresses for mama, is me music tape for dance, is me barber for papa.” I thought she was saying is me as in a crude conjugation of “this is my…” but later when perusing our Nile guide book’s Arabic phrase section I find that isme means, my name is, or it is called.

So Hanna wends us through the streets and backstreets of the town. She shoos away hoodlums and joins in on bargaining for a skirt that Sara buys in one of the shops the proprietor laughing and shaking his fist at her after brokering a deal that all agreed was “good for you, good for me.”As we walk along a young man comes up to me and informs us we are in the Egyptian Market not the tourist market and offers to lead us to this other location. Hanna lets out a little hiss to Sara - “Pickpocket” she says and I eye the guy up who smiles and slinks away like one of the many stray cats we’ve seen on this trip.

We stroll through the market and everybody knows Hanna. One man scolds her for not having any shoes on, looking and laughing to us as if to say, what a crazy little girl to be running through the mud dirt in her bare feet! Donkey carts loaded with giant galvanized wash bins and cooking pots pass us as do pickup trucks their beds loaded with young men hooting and shouting. We later learn that these rowdies are most likely members of a wedding party. I notice that the ubiquitous police force, armed with submachine guns we have seen everywhere during our trip are nowhere to be seen. I wouldn’t say that I am worried, but I am definitely keeping aware of my surroundings.

We give Hanna a tip which equals maybe half a buck and tell her we need to head back to our boat now. She points down a dark alleyway and I offer to just go back the way we had come figuring that maybe she has some big brothers waiting for us around the corner. Right about then, a young man comes up to her says something under his breath and Hanna hands over the money we gave her and he dissolves back into the street. Turns out that he is the guy looking into the camera in the picture I took of Sara and Hanna.

Well, against my better judgment we follow Hanna through some alleyways and sure enough we pop out on the main drag right in front of our boat. We give our little guide another tip – this one twenty times the amount taken from her. I wonder if she got to keep it?


The locks at Esna

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