My friends and I were returning from my birthday celebrations at a certain restaurant in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, when a short man whose name I cannot remember overheard us speaking to each other in English. He quickly said his goodbyes to his friend and hurried in our direction. He greeted – we saw nothing wrong with that. He asked us whether we were tourists – we said yes. Now I am actually thinking we should have claimed to have been Nigerian students as one Egyptian had assumed I was, but then again my friend Richard was with us so that would not have worked. Richard is white.
On finding out that we were tourists the short man then showed a strange look of excitement on his face. None of us saw anything wrong with that and just assumed he was happy to be meeting black tourists in his country as most Egyptians would get excited on seeing us. An eleven year old Nubian child selling postcards at the pyramids of Giza had given me a free postcard a few days earlier as he called me his brother and said I look like him. I guess we assumed this was a similar situation even though the short man was not Nubian.
The middle aged man then proceeded to ask us where we were from and after we told him he responded with a very loud, “Goeie môre”. This was after 9PM. “Goeie môre” is Afrikaans for good morning.
I remember responding with a “yes, goeie môre”. Then there were wonderful stories about a certain friend of his from South Africa. I thought the only problem with this story was that the friend he was talking about was a well-known soap opera star in South Africa who had acted on Africa’s most popular television programme seen in many countries across sub-Saharan Africa.
The short man then led us to his perfume store where a photograph of the actress was neatly placed on his table. At this stage we were looking for a way of running away without being rude to this nice person, but could not think of anything at the time so we found ourselves sitting on the nice chairs in his shop and drinking sweet mint tea.
Ah African hospitality – or so we thought. Soon the real reason for us being in the shop with sweet mint tea in our hands was revealed.
We were given a history of perfume with no alcohol. This was an interesting lesson none of us cared about as we were still exploring Cairo and I just wanted to continue with my birthday celebrations.
The lesson started with a massive bottle which would cost about 250 Egyptian pounds. The price was strategically mentioned somewhere in the presentation, but I just don’t remember how exactly. On realising that we were ignoring his hints then another bottle came out. This one was smaller and cheaper than the previous one and this time we were also told that we did not need to take one of the perfumes that had been mixed already as a totally new scent could be created for us.
Each one of us was trying to say goodnight by this time and we could hear that Cairo was abuzz and wanted to breathe in the city for the last time before proceeding to other places but the short man was having none of it. He had opened his shop especially for us and was going to make his sale.
He slowly started to frown as his bottles were getting smaller and smaller with his customers saying goodbye in every way possible in the English language. All that was left was for us to run out the door. In my mind I could hear Richard shouting “run”, but I thought if we did that this man would somehow appear again before us with his loud “goeie môre”.
We remained polite and eventually stood up as the bottles kept on coming out, we slowly said goodbye as we were heading for the door.
The girls said they met him a few days later when they were by themselves. They say they spotted him after he shouted “goeie môre” in the middle of the Cairo crowds. On hearing that they made sure they disappeared within those crowds.