|Our lecturer on essential oils|
We arrive at our hotel after a taxi driver has met us at the airport, late at night. Our plane didn't take off at the expected time. The driver is a Copt who hardly speaks a word of English, but he's proud to show us the cross on his rear-view mirror. He drives us through Aswan. We arrive at the hotel well after midnight, exhausted and hungry.
The next morning we speak to Abdul, who tells us he is responsible for guests who have booked through our travel service.
"Do you want half pension or full pension?" he asks. We tell him we had decided on half pension, but within one minute, he's talked us into the full pension ("With full pension you get free drinks snacks everywhere - a good deal, no?)
He asks if there are any other questions we have. I ask about the spa and how to get help for my sinuses, which are still bothering me, three months after our last trip to Egypt. Before I know it, he's talked us/me into going by car into Aswan for half an hour or so to get some powerful oils for my sinuses. "Nobody trust the doctor," he says, "everybody use the oils, and they work. We live sic in half hour", he says. He calls our room twenty minutes later to make sure we're coming.
"Don't tell anyone at the hotel that I take you there," he says. As we wait for our ride, a man asks if we want a falouka - a sailboat ride. "Good price - only 50 LE an hour," he said. "My name Mohammed. Welcome to Egypt."
The taxi arrives. We climb in and we're off, to who knows where.
Now we don't know what to do about paying the taxi driver. Who's supposed to pay here? Abdul has organized this whole thing! We are thoroughly confused, and we're on our own in Egypt.
After several minutes in the taxi, we end up at a perfume house. "These oils much stronger, much better than those in the hotel spa", saya Abdul. Suddenly a young man appears before us, offering us a welcome drink - hibiscus tea or some other tea. Behind him is a backdrop of hundreds of bottles filled with different oils. The room is clustered with cushioned benches in vibrant shades of red. Before he begins his lecture about oils, Abdul whispers in his ear exactly what our needs are - sinusitis, bronchitis, and muscle aches.
The young man gives us a piece of paper showing his products, and hands us each a pen to mark what we find interesting. Mint oil - inhale three drops and your lungs clear, your head clears. Eucalyptus oil - rub it into your forehead and your headache will disappear. Rub it in before bed, and you will feel great the next morning. He laughs a little, enjoying the show - we laugh too, enjoying his show too. The next oil - sandalwood - is to be rubbed into your skin. "It has collagen," he says, "good for the joints. Where do you have aches? We go over here and someone will massage you." We are ushered without our drinks into another area behind rattan screens. A woman greets me, and when I tell her my hand has a problem, she rubs some sandalwood and eucalyptus onto my hand. The pain disappears! Then she has me lie down on the bench, motioning for me to take off my blouse. But what about the men? She moves a cushion across the way, as if that could block all male viewers, and rubs my shoulders. It feels great!
The man reappears with our tea and note pads - and his sales pitch. I'm beginning to understand it now. They start off with one offer. When you start to accept it, they come up with another one that involves much more money, but which obviously, at least to them, is much better. Then when you reject that one, they come up with a third offer. If you take that, they'll throw this in, maybe that in too. In the end, we buy four bottles of perfume with a 25% discount, plus a burner we'll use as a gift, and a little sample bottle we'll fill with eucalyptus oil. We pay 2100 LE for it - over €200! We have enough oil for the rest of our lives, I think. And it weighs a ton. Now we'll have to pay for excess weight on our suitcases for sure.
Two hours later, our taxi driver is still waiting for us. Abdul leaves us with the driver, whom I end up paying 20LE as a tip. As we climb out of the taxi, a man appears. "I son of taxi driver," he says. "My name Mahmoud. You want falouka ride tomorrow? My price much less than at hotels. They charge too much." How much would it be? 30 LE an hour. Yes. Almost half the price of the first offer. Before long, we have a date to meet him at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon. "Abdul take you to perfume store?" Yes. "You get much better price you go alone. He get good commission." So that's why Abdul was so eager to take us. I did figure he'd get something, but a big commission? "You do everything private - much cheaper."
Yes. We're here on our own, without Mohammed as our buffer. We don't really know what we're getting into, and what is a good deal and what is someone else's opportunity to make money.
The same thing happens later at the health spa when I want to inquire about treatments and prices. There is even a list, but suddenly I learn that a €35 massage includes the massage, plus jacuzzi, sauna, hamam, and a facial. Then, "How long you stay here?" When he hears we're staying a week, he says, "You take three medicinal massages and I give you all - for €75." .
I have a fabulous massage and facial, which causes me to be late for the next appointment - with the real liaison person. I have no idea what Abdul's relationship to our travel service is. But now I've got the right man, so I apologize for being late and tell him about the massage.
"He give you a good deal. He knows you with the travel service." I say that he didn't know, that I hadn't mentioned it. "You tell him your room number?" Yes. "Then he know. He know all which room numbers go with which travel services, and then he give better deal." This man, Yassir, also seems to have deals for us, specials just for our service. He must get a cut on these trips, too. That's obviously the system here. We've got it down. If only we knew the cheaper options! Then we could use what we know to our advantage instead of being taken advantage of.