Having had a day to settle in and catch up on some zzzz’s we finally got the chance to discover Port Fouad and Port Said. Initial impressions of a dirty industrial working city soon subsided as the smiley, helpful local Egyptians made us feel at home very quickly. I think we had heard so many bad stories of Egyptians that we were expecting a hellish trip through this part of the world. So far, however, we’ve found the two ports to be interesting and safe places to explore. And explore we did…
We were based in Port Fouad, which is really an island to the east of Port Said, and is mainly residential. It was here that I experienced my first taste of the Egyptian hospitality. On a mission to find some bread and cheese I wandered the dusty, dirty back streets, tripping up on tiny, scrawny kittens playing in the piles of litter that decorate each street corner. I popped into a small, dark grocers with packed shelves and a high ceiling. There was a faint smell of a long-forgotten familiar aroma. I attempted to pay for my food in US dollars but the shopkeeper returned a rather bemused look and couldn’t understand what I was trying to do (pay in dollars and get change in Egyptian pounds). Fortunately there was a group of young blokes, one of whom spoke good English. He kindly translated to the shopkeeper and they promptly made up an exchange rate on the spot. I wasn’t shafted though and the English-speaking guy, whose name was Kalid, asked me if he could be of any further assistance. Considering for a moment that I would have to pay him some baksheesh for his efforts I replied saying that I needed to find an internet cafe. “No problem” he chirped and off we wandered down the street.
My new Egyptian friend and I had a pleasant chat about the usual (football and girls, it’s the same the world over) and, although Kalid didn’t know where the internet cafe was, he made an effort to ask around. Eventually we found it. He sat me down in front of a computer and he asked for the hourly rate. All this time I had been trying to work out how much baksheesh I should pay him and so I started fumbling around in my wallet, leafing through $20 notes. Aside from the large American denominations I only had the Egyptian change from the shop and so I offered him this, expecting him to laugh at my paltry ‘present’. “I do not want your money, Jamie” he said, looking me in the eye. With that we shook hands and he left. I was dumb-struck!
The internet cafe was nothing special but the guy in charge was. He was as camp as a lace doily and so it was with complete disbelief that I found myself in a conversation about finding him an English girl to marry. Seriously, this guy genuinely believed I could call up an English girl who would be willing to fly over and marry him! I’d told him I was with a rally and he enquired as to the number of single women on the trip. When I explained that they were a) married and b) an average age of ‘retired’ he curtly replied “I do not want an old woman”. Where had this chap got the notion that English girls were so easy?
After my hour and a half was up I promised him I’d return next day with some telephone numbers. I promptly ran away.