1. A well-dressed and friendly man approached J and me as we were walking towards the entrance of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. He introduced himself as a director of the museum, Dr. A, and we chatted for a few minutes. Unfortunately, he said, during prayer time, some tills were unmanned and the museum was now and for another 45 minutes open to groups only. We could walk about in the surrounding streets, he suggested. There was much to see, he said. He recommended a visit to the “government bazaar” that was right opposite the museum. Both his wife and his mother, he added, liked to shop there.
I knew that there was no way out once J heard the word bazaar. The friendly Egyptian showed us where we should cross the very busy road. I actually enjoy negotiating the crazy Cairo traffic but our friend insisted on crossing the road with us. We were, by now, accustomed to the friendliness of the Egyptians although I became somewhat suspicious as he continued to the point of handing us over to the man at the entrance of the shop. The “government bazaar” turned out to be an ordinary souvenir shop that like all such shops in Egypt has a government license.
An hour later, as we made our way to the museum, I suggested to J that not only had this been a ploy to divert us to the store but that there was actually no break in the opening hours of the museum. I was right; J was full of admiration for Egyptian entrepreneurship.
2. A couple of days later, as we were walking towards the Sultan Hassan and Refa’i mosques, another man approached us. The mosques, he said, were closed to non-prayers in the coming hour. He suggested that we might want to visit another mosque just around the corner. He was a music teacher, he said and was neither a tourist guide nor did he expect us to tip him. He simply enjoyed practicing his English and would gladly accompany us to “his” mosque.
We thanked him for the information but decided not to accompany him. Instead, we continued on our way to the “closed” mosques. The mosques were open to visitors and – not to our surprise - had no prayer breaks at all.