“Trust me, my name is in the Bible,” said Dr. Moses

16 01 2008

Whenever anyone says, “trust me,” or “honestly,” or “to tell you the truth,” they are lying. I know this now, but on a very hot June day in Cairo outside the National Egyptian Museum, Dr. Moses looked quite official with his white hair, laminated name tag, and clipboard in hand.

“I work at the American University of Cairo,” he continued, “and can be your guide inside the museum for sixty Egyptian pounds.”

This was much cheaper than the group tours of the museum, and as most of the exhibits were not explained in English, I figured that ten bucks was a decent rate for a two-hour lesson in the country’s foremost archaeological museum. Plus I was a guide in Paris at the time and knew you could learn a lot in a museum with the right person. I shook the hand of Moses, and my travel partner Joe and I proceeded into the giant building.

Dr. Moses led us through halls of alabaster jackals, past statues of scribes with crystalline eyes, around rooms full of stiff mummies, by the intricate throne of Tutankhamen, and around the mask of Akhenaten. I had seen exhibits of Egyptian artifacts before, but not in this abundance or array. What would be a highly touted roving exhibit in the U.S. was pushed into the corner of one room of one hall of one side of the enormous museum. Dr. Moses, true to his word and his namesake, told me the stories behind the silent stone sarcophagi, which important displays were often overlooked, how to discern the gods and pharaohs from one another, and how the whole collection came to be. I was soaking it all in, thrilled with my budget guide and all the awesome stories I was learning.

And then he took me to his brother’s perfume shop across the street.

Dr. Moses continued on with his lessons, as if the tiny store with two-way mirrors was merely an extension of the world’s greatest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. “Lotus oil, worn by Cleopatra, is only produced in Egypt. Amber is the most sensual of all fragrances, and clove was used to anoint embalmed bodies.”

Things were getting a bit weird in the plush red velvet room and I started to imagine my embalmed body, smelling of the finest patchouli and sandalwood. I was growing ever more uncomfortable amidst the bottles of perfume oil on their glass shelves, sparkling like stolen diamonds. Was the tea we were continually being served drugged? Did Dr. Moses and his fraternal conspirator have evil aspirations beyond selling some kids a few vials of perfumed oil? I whisper my suspicions to Joe, who replies with a chuckle over my paranoia- so typical of a green traveler like myself. “Just finish your tea, buy some Lotus oil for your mom, and let’s get the hell out of here,” he said.

So I forked over what was probably way too much money for a small “unbreakable” vial of the purest perfume oil either side of the Nile River. Dr. Moses’ brother was quite crestfallen that I had not bought a whole liter of lotus essence, but after many a la shokran (no, thank you) we were finally granted leave and said our goodbyes to the brothers. Joe patted our new friends on the back and we left the jewel box store.

Dodging donkey carts and squealing taxis we made our way back to the hotel. Feeling a little bit stupid and a lot American, I apologized to my travel partner for imagining things.

“You weren’t,” he said. “When I said goodbye and patted the brother on the back, he had a gun strapped to it.”

In shock, I dropped my unbreakable vial of perfume oil. It broke.

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Shilo Urban

NOTE: I did not post this story to scare anyone away from travel to Egypt but rather to share something that might help other travelers- plus everyone loves a story about an “expert” getting snookered. I traveled all over Egypt in the summer of 2003, right after the start of the Iraq War, and I never felt one ounce of anti-American sentiment; in fact, when people with whom I came into contact found out I was from Texas, they fell over themselves to tell me how highly they thought of my homeland, how they wished more Americans would travel to Egypt, how much they wanted to go to Las Vegas and whether or not my father was a cowboy (and how many camels he would take for me). Egypt is the most amazing place I have ever been and I would go back tomorrow in the blink of an eye! The best part of Egypt is not wandering around in the giant temples, or sailing down the Nile at dawn, or even crawling in the tomb space inside the Great Pyramid. The best part of Egypt is getting to know the Egyptian people: the bartenders, translators, bakers, shop owners, guards, guides, bead sellers, waiters, carriage drivers, dog owners, cabbies, and yes, even Dr. Moses, whose name is in the Bible.

So what are you waiting for? You know you have always dreamed of traveling in Egypt. Start a real plan today!

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