How is Luxor now?
Luxor now? Well, there’s nothing much actually happening here, as I’m sure you’re aware. But, I’ve been pondering life etc. all the more! As your 'Starter for 10' here are a few official figures for you. (From Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.)
Last October CAPMAS revealed the poverty figures for 2010/11 and they weren’t uplifting reading! Urban poverty (less than a dollar a day) in Upper Egypt rose from 21.7% in 2008/9 to 29.5% in 2010/11. In the same time period, the proportion of rural dwellers in Upper Egypt who were also living on less than a dollar a day rose from 43.7% to 51.4%. Of course these figures were calculated before the effects of the 25th January revolution had properly taken effect. And then circumstances since the purge of the Brother Muslims have become much much worse!
That’s a lot of people struggling to keep their heads above water! To me, these frightening figures just confirm what I’ve thought all along, which is: That the (would-be) ruling intellectuals with their power-bases in Cairo and the other Northern cities don’t consider the people of Upper Egypt as being worthy of anything other than disdain, or perhaps more likely; they just don’t consider them at all!
Please, let me tell you about a long-standing friend here in Luxor. His earlier life is shrouded in mystery, to some extent, and I know that he’s a waste of space economically speaking, or as far as displaying any sort of personal responsibility goes! But I love him, nevertheless. (I’ll change his name, to save any possible embarrassment.)
We first met Tareq in the no-mans-land (as far as tourists were then concerned) that lies along the railway track up and past the local Egyptian market. I was trying to find out what sort of food a man was selling (like hot cakes!), and if I might try some. Tareq appeared from around the corner, asking if we needed any help. Well, with a little of his help, we managed to get some of this ‘stuff’ for a couple of Egyptian pounds, and thoroughly enjoyed our first taste of Egyptian street food…wonderful falafel!
This was only our third time in Egypt (if I remember correctly) but we were becoming aware of the scams and various tricks which it seemed every Egyptian was a master at! Never mind, we accepted Tareq’s invitation to have tea at his home, where we were introduced to his shy wife and three young sons.
Over subsequent visits, we came to rely somewhat on Tareq’s help when purchasing bits and bobs. We had realised by then of course, that this wasn’t a free service, and that he collected small commissions for his trouble. We didn’t mind this, as he took away a lot of the stress and timewasting from our short holidays, leaving more time for us to enjoy and learn more about this strange land and its even stranger people!
Eventually, he told us the story of why he and his family lived in what was clearly supposed to be a small tailoring workshop; his mud-brick house had just fallen down with age, a year or two previously! In the winter, it was dreadful to see them living in the little sewing room, five of them huddled together on the tiled floor with only a couple of rubbishy old blankets to keep out the winters chill.
We learned that his father had been a wealthy manufacturing tailor and merchant, giving alms generously to all and sundry, and well known for his many and myriad acts of kindness. In fact, Tareq was still a much revered man on account of his own kindness, even though he had next-to-nothing to give! When we once took a taxi from the far end of town, and wanted to go directly to where Tareq was living, I gave the driver directions as we went. When we landed at the door, the driver was absolutely amazed that a foreigner should actually know this man. “But this is the house of Mr Tareq, do you know this good man?” If I remember correctly, I think I had to struggle to get him to take the fare, he was that impressed!
As well as him making his small commissions from us, Freda always made sure that we left him a wad of cash when it was time for us to go home again. It was OK, and many regular visitors have Egyptian families which they treat the same, it’s not an uncommon feature of repeat tourism here in Luxor.
Anyway, us still working in England, and having several comfortably off friends who were of a charitable nature; we managed to raise enough cash to rebuild Tareq’s family home for him. Not to any luxurious standard, mind you, but enough to keep his little family from the worst of the winters privations.
Another taxi driver confided in us that Mr Tareq had, in fact, drank away his family fortune! I found this very difficult to believe, until one day Tareq gave me a very serious lecture on the terrible consequences of drinking alcohol. It would certainly explain away his ‘fall from grace’ as it were. (Or his decline into abject poverty, anyway!)
We don’t see him all that often, now. We no longer really need his help, and he knows that we no longer have the cash to splash around that we did when we were working. So when we do meet, it’s as genuine friends and a great delight with much hugging and kissing.
He’s been missing from his usual place for quite some time now; I thought that it might be because of the lack of tourists for him to ‘help’, but when we came across him elsewhere we found a very different Tareq! When his youngest son needed medical treatment, his only way forward (or so he tells me) was to borrow the money from two gangsters in the tourist market. He’d since sold all of his possessions to make re-payments to these two, and was now hiding from them because he couldn’t find a way to pay the rest of the money back.
Tareq’s story might hit you as just another sob-story from a wiley Egyptian scam-merchant, or it might touch your heart, who knows? The point of me telling it to you, after my ponderings that is, is not to pull at your heartstrings, but to try to relay the fact that there are probably hundreds of Luxor families in similar positions to this, simply because there are no tourists from which to gain those little snippets of commission any more.
I believe that there's a catastrophe of Biblical proportions just waiting here in the wings, and I don’t think that I’m strong enough to wait here and watch it happen!!!!!!!!!!