CAIRO: Leave Me Alone!

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There is a psychological disorder known as “Paris Syndrome.” It usually effects Japanese visitors to Paris who are so disappointed by the reality of Paris that it shatters all of their preconceived illusions of what it’s going to be like. This, in turn, sends them mentally reeling to the point where some have needed hospitalization. It sounds hard to believe and perhaps even a little silly, but I’m a firm believer.

When I woke up the next morning, I wasn’t quite as delighted as the night before. Back then I had been lost in a bit of a fairytale. But, when the sun was shining through the dirty window in my very basic room, I can’t lie; I wasn’t happy at all. It was like the kind of room you’d get if you were traveling through Europe in the last century. I wasn’t accustomed to a place like this at all. Annoyed with myself for booking a hotel on the outskirts of town, I sighed and made my way up to the balcony for breakfast. I was given a slice of this strange sheep’s milk cheese and some flatbread. That was not the gastronomic triumph I had read about on some reviews on Tripadvisor. (I later went through that website and by reading all of the reviews, I had a much better picture of the hotel experience — but more on that on a different day.)

I wasn’t sure about any of the other guests at the hotel. I’m not one to socialize, you know, so I just nibbled on that stale bread and sour cheese. When I couldn’t palate another bite, I asked Kamal, the main guy at the hotel in the daytime, where the ATM was and he pointed me in the right direction. I was helped along by many locals who were glad to show me where the ATM was, but then wondered if I wanted to take a taxi ride somewhere. Most of them were not at all amused when I didn’t want a ride anywhere at all.

With my cash put away, I crossed the street to the gates of the Pyramid complex. The hotel is in a prime location for this as the Sphinx is only 300 feet away. There are hardly any tourists, so I was able to buy a ticket to enter the Great Pyramid. This was my main interest, so I was very happy. They sell a very limited number of these each day to keep humidity down inside.

From the instant I bought my ticket, I was latched onto by guides. I couldn’t shake them and it was incredibly frustrating. I didn’t want anything to do with them because I knew that they just wanted my money. I understand that it is their livelihood to show tourists around, but they don’t stop and they’re very aggressive. I finally gave up trying to shake the one that had hooked on me hardest and ignored him as I walked to the Great Pyramid.

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I wanted to look up at it and appreciate it and stare at it for hours, but that awful man would not leave me alone for one second. So, I hurried up the stairs that led into pyramid and was glad to finally have a moment alone. I scurried through the main entrance and out of the sun and into the cavernous tunnel inside. There was not a soul but me. Nothing but myself and the ancient stones.

The temperature was much cooler than I expected and it was rather like walking through a cave. When people were first trying to get inside of the pyramids, they didn’t know where the entrance was, so they tunneled and blasted until they found a way in. Rather a monstrous way to go about it, but it worked.

After you exited this cave-like area, you find yourself on that infamous slope leading up to the supposed burial chamber. The ceiling is very low, so it was clearly never meant for people to be trooping through. You bend over and shuffle your way up. There aren’t any steps, so they have placed iron supports and slats over the stone so that you are able to get a grip and start climbing. It begins to open up after a bit and you can see all of the stones that support the weight high above, which is rather beautiful.

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And then, there you are, the burial chamber with the empty sarcophagus. You exhale and look around and it’s really very uninteresting. I don’t mean that it’s uninteresting to be there. Of course it is. You’re all alone inside a wonder of the world with tons of rocks piled atop of you. If it should choose to collapse — and why should it? It’s survived earthquakes! — you would be gone before you knew you were going. I mean that there was nothing engaging about the chamber. It’s ancient and all that, and the rocks they used were insanely huge, but it’s just a rectangular room after all.

I was glad to sit down and look around and get a feeling for the place. There are so many alternative ideas about what the pyramid might be besides a tomb. I’m open to everything. I must confess that it would be an awfully strange tomb, though. Other ones are engraved and painted with scenes from their religion. The insides of the Great Pyramid are barren. It’s stark and rather modern in its simplicity. The burial chamber is just a big box with a smaller box inside of it. The walls are smooth and cool but unadorned. It’s rather odd.

Before long — longer than I had anticipated, though! — one of those awful guides showed up to show me around. I said I didn’t want help. I said I didn’t need assistance. I said I studied ancient Egypt. Nothing mattered. He smiled and said, “Look at the granite.” I sighed and left. He followed me and continued narrating everything I already knew. Then as I was getting ready to exit, he said, “Make me happy.” I thrust the lowest bill I had at him. He said, “Do you know what this is?” I responded. “I read Arabic numbers just fine, thank you.” Then I left in a huff.

That horrid guide outside was still waiting pretending to be overjoyed to see me. “MR. BEN! I WILL TAKE YOUR PICTURE. DON’T MOVE!” And so I stood there, exceptionally annoyed as I was being photographed. I don’t even remember how the guy got my camera. I was naive and foolish on that first day in Cairo.

After climbing down to fetch my camera and rid myself of the dreadful man, he somehow got me on a camel. I did, in fact, want to ride a camel. But I didn’t expect to be angrily shouted at about what price I should be paying. I ended up paying £300 to get rid of him and off that wonderful animal. That’s roughly $40 and absolutely ridiculous. I was so worn down though that I just wanted them to go away.

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They were insistent on following me so I finally had to get quite angry and told them that I wanted to go alone. Finally, they got the hint after they drained my wallet. But for the rest of the day, I could hear them calling at me from a distance, “HEY! MR. BEN!”

I tell you, it’s enough to drive you out of your mind. You come to enjoy yourself and experience history but you spend your day fighting off terribly rude beggars. I wouldn’t go to the Pyramids again unless I was in some kind of tour group that wards them away.

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I was so glad to finally be free and off on my own. There were very few tourists to deal with and there were actually more camels than people on the plateau. Nobody at all was around the second pyramid, the one that I think is the most beautiful, so I had a good wander around all four sides.

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In the cliff behind it are hieroglyphs engraved in the wall. I don’t know if these are ancient or modern. I tried to look them up online later, but didn’t have much luck in my research. I will have to try again later.

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I didn’t expect it to be, but the smallest pyramid was my favorite of the lot. Not for the pyramid itself because that’s rather uninteresting, but for the temple remains that are out front. I’ve always been more interested in temples than pyramids anyway.

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It was a wonderful time to hide away from the sun beneath an ancient pylon. It was at that time that I realized my skin was burning. I had been far too hurried and excited to get going that morning that I forgot to put any sunscreen on. I put some on my face, like I do everyday, but I hadn’t given a thought to my arms and neck.

I don’t remember how long I sat down there, enjoying my peace and quiet, and it was perfect. There was even some lizard down there to keep me company, but whenever I’d move, he’d scuttle beneath a rock.

Finally, I got up and decided to quickly deal with all of the nonsense out there. I’d surely get into it on my way to the Sphinx, my final destination on this outing. I wasn’t wrong.

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“Hello, my friend!” Somebody shouted to me as I walked by, turned out to be the camel handler. He was certainly my friend after I paid him enough to feed his family for a month.

When I saw the entrance to the Sphinx area, I knew it was trouble. I didn’t get to enjoy myself for one moment. They lined the sidewalks hawking their wares. Then this boy followed me and told me he’d show me the way. I told him no. I told him I knew the way. I knew this scam from my research. I’d have to pay him, too, or else I’d be chased down by older and much angrier people. So I didn’t talk to him much, tried to enjoy what I could and gave him a tip before happily going out of that godforsaken place and back to my godforsaken room.

It was almost a sweet relief to hide away in there away from all the madness outside.

I was very unhappy, reader. I was the most unhappy I’ve been on this trip. I wanted to go home. I wanted my bed and my cats and my espresso machine and my good Internet connection and my kitchen and my other clothes and my garden and all the things I don’t care at all about when I’m back home.

What I was suffering from is what I proclaim to be the newest psychological malady: Cairo Syndrome. Going to the pyramids was not at all like what I had expected it to be. In fact, it was horrendous. This shattering of my illusions was very damaging to my psyche and has scarred me. They pyramids are stunning and beautiful and amazing to see in person, but the atmosphere there is wrong. The people are criminals. It’s a nightmare. Go with a bodyguard.

You can’t live your whole life in fear, though. There are bad people stirred in with the good. And there are always more good ones, it’s just hard to remember sometimes. I decided that I couldn’t sit in that terrible cell-like room for five days. I had to get up and get out. The beggars at the pyramids had taken all of my money, which I resented. So, I went back to the ATM to stock back up and even was brave enough to go in a shop. This cheered me slightly, but only for a little while. I went to bed more miserable than I have been in years.

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