Unexpected Market

Esna Dam, The Nile River, Southern Egypt

Merchants in small boats approach to sell souvenirs to the tourists onboard when the cruise ships stop to transit the locks at Esna Dam, on the Nile River in southern Egypt.
To Market, To Market

Touring Egypt 27: The sudden commotion surprised everyone in my party (though the shoppers among us did recover quickly). After a long, hot day, the evening was beginning to cool and tea time was in full swing on the sun deck at the very top of our cruise ship. We were anticipating the evening’s festivities and enjoying our drinks and snacks; it was dress-up night, when the passengers were encouraged to buy colorful clothing and makeup from the ship’s store so that we could all participate in a native Egyptian-style night. A couple of us had inexplicably failed to spend plenty to buy their costumes (though that was becoming more important to some of us as we consumed beverages other than tea).

For the past couple of days our ship had been traveling in a flotilla with what seemed like every other ship on the Nile. Characteristically, none of my party really knew where we were. (“There’s a dam somewhere on the river before Aswan; I wonder when we come to that? I mean the little one with locks we will pass before we get to Aswan. What’s it called? Esna? Yeah, that’s it: Esna. I think.”) On deck with our drinks, our little group noticed a disturbance. Going to the rail, we saw the ships in front of us were being attacked by lots of people in small boats. At first this was not welcome news: A couple of us were very concerned about tourists being victimized (and other non-American phenomena … Let’s just let it go, OK?) … But wait! They only want to sell things. And (here’s a coincidence), they are selling native robes! Cool! We want them!Vendors in small boats close on cruise ships at the Esna Dam locks on the Nile River in southern Egypt.
A cruise ship passenger (let's call her 'Nancy') prepares to return a robe to a vendor in a small boat at the Esna locks, on the Nile River in southern Egypt.
The Return
The small boats swarm each ship in turn, setting off small jousting matches at each: The boats try to tie up to the ship; the crews try to prevent them from attaching or coming too close. The entrepreneurs hold up their wares and shout prices. Tourists line the ships’ rails. Someone expresses interest and the vendor tosses a plastic-wrapped robe onto the deck. They shout back and forth, haggling. Some deals get made: The tourist puts money in the bag and tosses it back to the boat. Some do not; the robe (in the bag) goes back. Usually the vendor catches the bag; sometimes they miss but quickly retrieve it from the river … and move on to shout the next offer up to anyone standing on the ship’s deck.

Fast forward: I am posting on a weekday and as usual, I would rather not go to work tomorrow. But I work in an air-conditioned office — I do not have to row frantically around cruise ships, argue with tourists, and balance on a small boat while throwing and catching goods. (Which is fortunate, because there is no way I could stay dry and on the boat.) We all enjoy Egypt and we think we hate our jobs. But most of us don’t have THAT job, do we?

(Top [“To Market, To Market”]: Nikon D200, Nikkor VR zoom lens at 55mm, ISO 400, f/4.8 at 1/125 sec. with a circular polarizer and exposure compensation set to -1/3.)

(Middle [“Browsing”]: Same camera, lens, ISO, exposure, and filter. Lens at 130mm, f/5.6 at 1/80 sec.)

(Bottom [“The Return”]: Same camera, lens, ISO, and exposure. Lens at 18mm, f/3.5 at 1/80 sec with no filters.)