My husband and I were going to see one of the seven wonders of the world! Our day began with much excitement. We saw the famous Giza pyramids, climbed inside one of the smaller pyramids, and rode desert camels. To snap a few photos of myself in my Egyptian dance costume with the majestic pyramids in the Sahara Desert background would be a perfect ending to a perfect day. Our guide assured us it would be "No problem".
We found a remote location (there were no people in sight) where we could see all three pyramids majestically exuding their silent but powerful presence over the Sahara; as they have for millennium. As my husband began the photo shoot, my flowing blue veil created beautiful wavelike patterns in the wind. Posing, Egyptian style, I felt the spirit of Cleopatra, Nefertiri, Isis and all the other legendary woman from Egyptian history spurring me on.
I felt like a queen myself, until... lo and behold out of nowhere appeared a truckload of uniformed Egyptian police armed with deadly machine guns. They immediately stopped. They watched us until we finished the shoot, then they blew their piercing whistles demanding we follow them.
Stunned, I turned to our guide and asked what it is they wanted, but he looked just as confused as we felt. They took us to see four other armed men. The one in charge, Hassan, rarely made eye contact with us and when he did, he did so in a gruff and angry manner. He appeared to be carrying all the grudges of the world on his shoulders and I cringed. Later, our guide told us Hassan was the one who had decided to make a big deal out of my photos by going higher up the chain of command to no doubt, in his mind, put us in our place.
Then they firmly demanded that I turn over my precious camera. They called over a "photography expert" to take out and process the "guilty" film. But, this "expert" couldn't even figure out how to open the camera door, so I obligingly helped the "expert."
Thirty minutes later, he finally brought the developed film out for inspection. The four men took turns meticulously observing the film and then began interrogating us.
"What are you doing here in Egypt? Why are you taking special photos?"
Special? A few shots happened to be double exposures. Their "expert" assumed this was trick photography. The leader asked if we planned to use the photos for advertising purposes. We assured him we were simply American tourists and had no such intentions. In my opinion, only one of the six shots was any good. The others were too dark or fuzzy. How could they possibly think we were professionals?
They let us know that they usually charge 1000 American dollars for these kind of shots. Yikes! What did they mean by "these kind of shots?" By now our guide was beginning to sweat. He stated they were threatening to pull his and the driver's license. He suggested we go to the American Embassy. But when we threatened to leave for the embassy Hassan simply commanded, "No you stay here", and I wasn't about to argue with four machine guns.
But, my husband WAS! He couldn't stay seated. Like a caged lion, he deliberately paced back and forth. They offered him cigarettes in an effort to calm him. He smoked the entire pack. I was dumbfounded, he hadn't smoked in over 17 years. "He must be really anxious", I thought to myself.
My imagination danced wildly. What if he decided to run, what if he decided to wrestle the guards to the floor or worse hold one hostage? I had to calm him down. I didn't know what else to do but beg him to wait it out. Fortunately the new man in charge, Colonel Hesham, seemed reasonable enough.
He calmly pointed out that had I been in my cover up the photos would have been deemed appropriate, but because I was half naked and BELLY DANCING they were bad publicity for the pyramids. Dancing? "Oh no, I wasn't dancing", I explained. And, even if I had been why would this be "bad publicity"?
Finally three hours later, our ordeal ended, but not until the police forced us to go to their pyramid headquarters, talk to a lieutenant colonel and a general, and wait while they wrote up tons of paper work. They had no typewriters. After countless phone calls we wondered who in the hell they were calling?
As they made final phone calls, they graciously offered us delicious mint tea and offered my husband another cigarette. Finally, the colonel asked me to sign papers releasing the six photos to them. Of course, the entire statement was written in Arabic. I simply had to trust the colonel's word that I was not incriminating myself.
Colonel Hesham joked that I was now famous in Egypt, since the incident was written in their permanent records. Real funny. He also proudly mentioned that he was going to keep one of the photos for himself, because I had the eyes of Neferteri. I was flattered, I think?
Later, our guide explained that a Persian woman had posed naked in front of the pyramids not too long ago and then had appeared on the cover of an Iranian newspaper slandering all of Egypt.
Now I understood! I was experiencing the repercussions of all this. The whole thing simply boiled down to the fact that I was half-naked and this was a Moslem country. In retrospect, I imagine seeing me go from one pose to another with my veil blowing in the wind may have appeared like a dance.
But then, in my American mind, so what if I had been dancing? Also, I believe these men were quite simply bored. This was probably the biggest excitement they had had all day, or all week for that matter. One of the officials mimicked a three second belly dance complete with pretend finger cymbals and hip lifts, and the colonel said the commander in chief joked on the phone that he was sorry he couldn't be there to take a look at my now notorious and naughty costume.
Looking back, the entire incident was hilarious, especially the part where I attempted to convince an Arab, moslem, military leader that belly dancing is an art.
"So colonel what is wrong with a belly dancer posing in front of the pyramids? To me belly dancing is a beautiful art."
"Oh no, it is NOT an art. Ballet is an art, and besides most belly dancers come from bad homes and are prostitutes".
"Is that so? Most belly dancers in the US aren't prostitutes. We study and view your country's dance as a serious art form".
"Oh, no no no, any woman can shake her hips and besides it is cheap looking." You can imagine my exasperation! Finally, we agreed that if nothing else, belly dancing is good exercise.
This story actually has a happy ending. No doubt feeling guilty and realizing we were after all only innocent tourists, the colonel offered to take us INSIDE the GREAT PYRAMID for free! Wow! A dream come true. It almost made the entire ordeal worthwhile. I had seen the pyramids four times now, but never before had I had the opportunity to enter the largest one and with no one else in it! Although it was past closing time, he gallantly made a special exception for us. So, fantasy come true, we were the only three people in the entire pyramid! It was as grand and mysterious as I had imagined it would be. In contrast to our somewhat grueling ordeal, I felt securely enveloped in its sacred and mystical silence.
Once outside the pyramid and in my Galabeya, (Egyptian cover up) the colonel joked, "Delia, you can dance now". Shame on him! Oh what the heck, I shimmied my hips for a brief second. The police laughed and off they went. This certainly had been an Egyptian adventure I will never forget!
MORAL OF THE STORY? Any dancer traveling to Egypt wishing to pose in a belly dance costume by the pyramids, DON'T, no matter what the temptation. Unless you wish to meet the charming colonel and his gang of NOT so merry men.
Posing like a proper belly dancer
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