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Monday, March 7, 2011

6 Pitas and Change

Egyptians will do anything to get a pound out of you. The world watched as Hosni Mubaric was ousted from power, his legacy of corruption lingering long after the scent of his aftershave evaporated (Egyptians are a perfumy bunch). Infamous corruption on such a grand scale isn’t relegated to a few top dogs, it trickles down through the government and into the private sector. These guys are scammers. They come across slimey, but you can’t really blame them for trying to rip off tourists who pour into Egypt by the bus and boat load? If they can get 10x or 20x the price out of one of these pudgy, pink legged, goucho wearing tourists forking over fistfuls of play money for a tacky trinket, why not!

Here is an example: The other day I queued up for some hot pitas fresh out of the oven. I put three pitas in my bag while sampling the fourth. I asked the baker how much. Since I was fresh off-of-the-boat I had no idea how much they should cost. Ten pounds he shouted. No I said, knowing they weren’t that expensive, so I handed him one pound ($.30). He demanded more so I upped it to 2lbs and walked away.
Later I found out that the food riots at the heart of the protests earlier this year forced the government to subsidize bread throughout Egypt; now, pitas are 10 piasters a piece, one tenth of a lb.

So the next day I cued up smugly and asked for 6 pitas. I didn’t ask how much they were, I just quietly handed over my 1 lb coin and waited. The man held out his hand expecting more money and I did the same asking for my change. There was a roar from the crowd of vendors who had gathered around with their empty boxes waiting in line for fresh hot pitas which they resell all throughout the city. They loved it. The baker put a 10 piaster coin in my hand and cautiously looked up. I motioned with come hither fingers that I expected more. He finally busted up laughing amidst the cheers from the other buyers and forked over 50 piasters, giving me one free pita for my moxy, I think. The waiting vendors hooted with approval, I am sure they were delighting at the shrewdness of my negotiation skills. They love this stuff and have somehow managed to make a sport out of it. It’s hilarious. I nodded my appreciation as I turned back toward the car swinging my piping hot pitas and munching on my prize.

How on earth am I going to buy bread at home? There are no cheering crowds in Oregon lining up to watch money change hands. There are no winners and losers.  It is going to feel so mundane. I am going to feel so ordinary.  

Sending you kisses with wheat bran specked lips,

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