As soon as we checked in to the Mena House Hotel, and saw our room, we were impressed. Yes, it was only a standard room in the outer wing of the hotel, but as promised by our tour agency we got a Pyramid view room, ‘a room with a view’. Well, almost all of the rooms had a pyramid view. This hotel had good reviews, not only for its location, but also its facilities, the restaurants, the spa as well as the golf course. However, as we all know the political situation in Egypt is not good news for tourism, which made the hotel loose business and the international hotel operator who used to operate this hotel did not renew their contract and left the Egyptian government to run the hotel with limited guests.
Those affected by this situation was not only the hotel organization but also those who rented spaces in the hotel; not all restaurants were in operation, the retailers selling souvenirs or other odds and sods looked dusty and shabby with old stock, and with limited hotel guests its hard for the shops to stay in business.
But business must go on, as life goes on as well.
“Come inside…. there is more inside…” lured the man who looked after the shop when I window shopped down the hotel corridor.
I decided to go inside all 3 shops one by one, just to be fair to all of them; however, not all shops responded to me well, some of them just sat there and ignored me. Usually whenever I travel, I don’t buy a proper souvenirs from the place. What I normally look for is either a local map or a good coffee table book about the country. As expected, they didn’t have those kind of books, so I carried on looking for anything and everything. However, not to offend the shopkeeper, I tried to look interested on the artifacts and other objects they were trying to sell.
“If you find something really interesting just say it and ask the man.” My husband whispered on my ear, “…any precious stone or anything for our house, just name it.” I am not a big shopper, but my husband is. It takes me a long time to decide before I finally buy something. Besides, as we are soon packing up our life as an expat to move to somewhere between a nomad’s life or normal life (which up to now I still don’t know what next), it’s not a good idea to add more clutter inside our already excess baggage.
Unfortunately the shop keeper happened to overhear (eavesdropping to be exact) what my husband said, and he said: “I have a bigger shop nearby…. just 5 minutes from here, if you’d like to have a look, I have a bigger collection there…”
“I’ll take you there in my car myself…. just 3 to 5 minutes away….” he tried to convinced me when I hesitated, “there will be no commission for me to take you there, compared to if you go to the shop with a tour guide…”. To me, its not about commission, but, yeah…. why not, as we had nothing scheduled that afternoon. So off we go to his much bigger shop on his vintage American car down the road from Mena House Hotel.
His ‘shop’ was much bigger with more variety of anything and everything about Egyptian Antiquity replicas that you can find in a pharaoh’s tomb along with the mummies; from jewelry, statues to rubbish; I could spend the whole afternoon there not knowing what to choose. The bad news was, I did not learn, read or do my homework before traveling to Egypt to at least trying to understand about Egyptian history, so I didn’t know anything about different material/stone used for the carvings, or even the shapes of the statues they made as souvenirs, and why people choose one Egyptian god to another…. I guess this was a good excuse for me not to buy anything.
“Take your time to look and if you need anything, Ahmed here (another shop assistant in this bigger shop) will be glad to assist you….”, and the truth was, we were trapped there, he won’t take us back to the hotel until we have bought something from his shop. What made it worse, they wanted me to buy something big and expensive. He kept on saying not to buy the small shape objects as it will not represent the antiquity period, as the artifacts they found in the pyramids were mostly big, and if I am interested in something cheap, then he said that it’s not authentic from Egypt, it’s a fake from China….
Because I love dogs, I decided to buy a medium size statue of Anubis head made of treated copper, which ended up looking really old and a genuine artifact, except for the stand, which is a modern concept. They also made me buy Bestet, or Shekhmet or Tefnut (I am not sure which one is which, as they all look the same, the statue with cats head), “…because they goes together!” was their answer when I asked them why should I buy the second statue. But I don’t think it matters anymore in the modern world.
In the end, because I am a softie, I had to pay for both, and they were not cheap, their excuse was those little souvenirs were made by a famous Egyptologist professor (or rather a sculptor) who just died. Before we left the place, they gave me another Anubis statue, and it made me feel I was being ripped off, and payed more money for the 2nd statue that I needed to… and ended up having 3 little Egyptian souvenirs for my small little home that I haven’t yet lived in.
I have no regret of buying the beautiful Anubis I chose, but as I left the souvenir shop with 3 items, do I want so many Egyptian mementos in my future home out of so many other souvenirs from different countries we have visited???
We stayed in a 5 star hotel, which was supposed to protect its guests from the nasty reality, of pushy vendors and yet we went to the official retail shop in the hotel who managed to lure us out of the hotel precinct and tricked us. Why did the hotel allow this to happened? Did they rent the space to a bona fide retailer? or should I accept this, as this is Egypt?
I ended up having trouble at Cairo Airport as I had to prove that my special little Anubis souvenir which looked very genuine and the police officers at the airport required me to show them the purchasing receipt to prove that it was a souvenir and not a stolen artifact, which delayed us for 30 minutes at the airport when we left.
As you can see, there are three Egyptian ‘artifacts’, which one you like most?