However, we were on a tour and our tour director Hassan made sure we had some shopping opportunities where the hustle was more subtle. Before we boarded our boat in Aswan to sail on the Nile, he took us to a manufacturer of perfume essences because some of us had expressed an interest in the lotus essence that the pharaohs loved so much.
Alfayed Perfume is amazing. After we walked in and were settled in comfortable seats, we were given a brief presentation of what they make and how they do it with lots of assurances that they make and sell the real stuff. Then the women and men were separated and given brief massages with different essences.
If we said we wanted to purchase a particular scent, they would tell us we could get three more of our choice plus a “free” hand-blown on the premises essence burner for just a few more Egyptian pounds. (A US dollar is roughly 18 Egyptian pounds.) If we said we didn’t want to carry that much fragile oil in our luggage, we were assured that they would pack it well and it would be no problem.
The scents were truly seductive and inexpensive, so we got caught up in the moment and somehow ended up with four good size glass bottles filled with fragrant oils. It was a hustle but a good one. Everything was well-packed as promised and arrived safely. Now Noel has a lifetime supply of massage oils.
I did have one run-in with a vendor in the Valley of the Kings when I saw a stone carving of a scarab I thought would make a nice paper weight. The seller tried to do a bait and switch with me after I thought we had agreed on a price. It was really a mistake to deal with any of them.
In Luxor Hassan took us to a papyrus “museum” where we shown how papyrus is made and then were encouraged to look around at the various pieces that were available for sale. Most of the work was pretty gaudy, not to our taste at all, but we did find a really nicely done small scarab and a terrific Ra-Behdet, an illustration of the protective winged disk that is found carved over the stone entrances leading to most of the ancient temples.
From time to time Hassan would take pity on some small boy who was peddling postcards, beaded bracelets or whatnot and Hassan would present his merchandise to us. He has a very kind soul and I liked that about him. We did some cruising in fallucas, the traditional wooden boats on the Nile and the boatmen would offer us inexpensive but attractive costume jewelry, nice stocking stuffers.
When we returned to Cairo toward the end of our tour, we visited the medieval Khan el-Khalili market. It’s quite large and very touristy at the entrance, but the further you get into it the more interesting it becomes. We were too tired to explore too far, but I sensed there were some really good values in 18 carat gold and silver jewelry to be had. Noel and I retreated to a nearby coffee shop.
On our last full day in Egypt after exploring the Sakkara necropolis in Memphis outside of Cairo, we stopped at a carpet factory that the government has set up as an apprenticeship program for children starting at 9 years old to learn the weaving profession.
The children work for 4 hours a day and go to school for another 4 hours. They are paid and after 4 years they receive a certificate showing they have completed their apprenticeships. There seem to be several of these factories in the area. The carpets are all hand-woven, some by the children with the help of the adult artisans. The factory looked like a clean decent place and the children seemed healthy and happy. There are a lot of very young children as well as adults who make their living as beggars and street vendors in Egypt, so apprenticing in the carpet factory would seem to be an improvement. We were assigned a salesman and dickered a bit with him. Then per Hassan’s instructions we brought him in to negotiate the final price with one of the supervisors. We ended up buying a finely woven silk runner.