Friday, March 02, 2007

Marketing genius

The Nile was sort of like a Disney ride in spots, with cruise ships including our Royal Lotus strung out in a row one after another. But all had to anchor for at least some time on the river around Edfu and await a turn to go through the locks.

And that's what gives the merchants in that area their chance. Like pirates, they paddle out toward the delayed ships with stocks of blankets, headdear, scarves and galabayahs, the long embroidered gowns worn by both men and women. One guy steers, the other stands on the bow and yells up to passengers offering things for sale. And then amazingly they toss their wares wrapped in plastic from their little boats up to the top decks of the cruise ships. That means they have to have arms the equal of at least minor league talent pitchers.

They throw up a lot -- the plastic packages came sailing over the side in volleys like cannonballs, knocking over beer cans and dishes, crashing into people's head.

If was pretty funny seeing all us tourists trying on clothes and then yelling over the side,haggling with the tradesmen. When you made a deal you wrapped up money in a plastic bag and hurled it down.

They sold a lot! It was just funny and fun and we realized but didn't care that the same stuff we were grabbing up was the same crap we passed by in dozens of market stalls or which had been thrust at us in countless places by persistent hawkers to whom we responded by chanting: "Laa shokran! LAA SHOKRAN!" (Arabic for No thank you!)

The Egyptian hawkers were amusing for the most part with hilarously ridiculous come ons designed to inspire shopping in their places: "Come in! Everything here is free! We have just your size! Where are you from? America. Oh, we have good deal for America!" But they were as persistent as mosquitoes, just as in Zanzibar. One woman in our group even shorter than I was accousted by a scarf salesman who towered in front of her waving his waves so that it looked like an assault. Especially when she turned to us and wailed, "Save me!"

Walking from the parking lot to the entrance of all attractions required walking a retail gauntlet. One member of the group showed off his coping stance -- arms at the side with elbows ready to fly into the chest of hawkers who got too close.

I was more unnerved by the beggars. In Cairo a woman pushed around a wheelbarrow containing the withered and spastic body of a child in search of alms. Old women, limbless creatures, children, oh dear.

Such need and in the face of that I have such trouble haggling to pay $5 instead of $8 for a scarf or bracelet. That, I realize, makes me a sucker.

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