Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In An Antique Land

A few miscellaneous notes on Egypt:

I never realized there were so many ways to wear hijab (Muslim women's attire including a headscarf). Although many women in Cairo dress Western-style, the vast majority still cover their hair, and burqas are not uncommon, among young women and old.

However, there is a distinct undercurrent of Muslim women's fashion of which Westerners are mostly unaware. Rastafarian headscarves, denim mermaid-flare skirts, curve-hugging black rib turtlenecks and intricate embroidery are just some of the options available to traditional-minded women in Egypt. Some other ensembles I've seen include:

- purple heather tunic with patchwork purple, blue and white hippie skirt, complementary patterned headscarf and lots of chunky turquoise necklaces and low-slung belts
- gray pencil skirt with black leather boots to cover legs, black ribbed top and headscarf with black sunglasses
- tailored black pants with white blouse and headscarf, red lipstick and black-and-white houndstooth scarf - very Chanel!
- tiger-print French-cut pants with black tunic and gold coin belt with zebra-print scarf
- long denim skirt with rose colored top and white cotton scarf tied up African-style

All in all, Cairene women really know how to dress, and still keep with the tenets of their religion. Nevermind that I don't agree with their religion; it's great that they can incorporate their beliefs into the modern world.

I am also continuously amazed by what people will say to convince you to buy their goods or services. At the pillared hall in Saqqara, a would-be guide chased after us and when we declined to use his services, he shouted down the hall - "But I am not a guide; I am a tribal chief!" Riiight.

Another man "swore to his God in heaven" that the fair price for some cheap bellydancing armband that I bought as a small gift for someone was US $40 (about 180 Egyptian pounds) - pointing to the "fine handwork" and "high-quality gold plate". Nevermind the "Made in China" stamp, eh?

A tout in the Khan el-Khalili (huge tourist bazaar but also frequented by locals) came up to us and said "Hey, I am not sketchy dude. I just want to be BFF with my American friends. You want to come my papyrus shop?" Impressed with the colloquial English as we were...no thanks.

We also enjoyed the various signs around tourist sites. As you drive up to the Pyramids, you'll pass King Tut House of Perfumes, Cleopatra Nefertiti Restaurant, Sphinx Papyrus Institute (not to be confused with Sphinx School of Papyrus - both of which are souvenir shops) and a few others that we passed around Dahshur and later, in Aswan:

...just in case you wanted to buy something from Che Guevara while in Egypt.

...a simple spelling error, but still. Louts flower?

...not the best name for a camel safari business.

And of course, product differentiation is alive and well in Egypt. It's always important to make your product stand out with a unique name, logo and market niche. Copycats never survive, because they don't have a distinct image to set them apart. Hence:

Another thing I love about Egypt is the prevalence of cats. I am not sure why; Brendan remembers reading somewhere that Mohammed thought dogs were unclean but he liked cats, so cats are generally liked in Islamic cultures. I read as a kid that cats were sacred in ancient Egypt. Neither of us are sure how true these things are, but it can't be denied that Cairo is teeming with well-fed, tame and generally clean street cats. Being a cat lovers (we like dogs too!), this is wonderful, especially compared to the sad and often hungry cats of Taiwan.

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