Egyptian Laundromat Adventures

So Andy and I, in our ungodly determination to pack light and bring as little clothes as possible of course found ourselves in the middle of hot and dusty Upper Egypt with no clean clothes left. We were in Luxor for two days and two nights, and on our first morning there, we realized how tragic our situation was. I was down to my last pair of clean knickers, and everything else I can wear that day has been worn at least twice already, and smelled like it. Like any resourceful person, we took all our dirty undies and socks out and started hand washing them in the sink. We found a stack of hangers in the armoire and used those to hang our clothes to dry. Left with half a dozen hangers, and giddy at the novelty of washing our own clothes, we then washed the rest of our shirts. Within half an hour, our pretty and charming pink-curtained room looked like a refugee camp. And of course we underestimated the amount of hangers we had left so we had to hang the rest of the clothes on doorknobs, curtain rods, and even on the actual window itself.

Turning our beautiful room in a makeshift laundry room.

Still left with a mountain of pants, shorts, and dresses, we decided to seek professional help. We figured this was easier than buying more hangers in the souk. The nice man at the hotel’s reception desk gave us detailed instructions to the best laundromat in town. So off we went, and we found it easily despite the fact it was located in the local market, far away from the hordes of tourists. We dropped off our remaining laundry and were told to come back by six that evening. We made it a point to let the laundry people know we were leaving for Cairo the next day and needed our clothes ready that night. No problem, they said.

We spend the rest of our day going around the city exploring the Temples of Karnak, the Valley of the Sphinx, and the Corniche. We did silly poses at Karnak, we ate ice cream sundaes down by the Nile, and even considered going on one of the many caleches for a nice sunset ride. At half past five that afternoon, we started making our way back to the market to pick up our laundry. Again, it didn’t take as that long to find the place despite coming in from the opposite direction from earlier in the day.

Enjoying the Luxor Temple while waiting for our laundry to be done.

When we got there, they told us we were early and to come back in twenty minutes. No big deal. I could use a little more shopping. An hour later we go back, and this time, shit has hit the fan. Our clothes will not be ready until the next morning. They were still hanging on the side of the building, dripping wet. They were clearly just washed in the last half hour. An animated argument ensues between the laundry people, Andy, and me. There were lots of cursing, pointing, Italian-like hand gestures, and a lot of spitting; them, not us. We eventually managed to convince them that we needed our clothes that very night, and that they promised us to have it ready by then. Knowing fully well the tenets of Arab generosity and hospitality, I decided to exploit these to our advantage. I made the poor owner feel guilty about the fact that he is letting his guests wander around his hometown in dirty clothes. This did the trick. Clean and dry clothes within the hour he says. He will even use his dryer just for us! Go grab some tea next door and relax while you wait.

Traveling in the Middle East always bring out the inner crazy cat lady in me.

At that point, Andy and I are all tea-d out, so we decided to just cop a squat right next to a man selling scarves. And of course this being Egypt, it took all of two seconds for the man to start chatting us up, and asking about our life stories, and how we liked Egypt so far. He was a really nice man, and the scarves he sold were among the prettiest I’ve seen in Luxor. He saw me admiring one of the scarves and spent the next ten minutes trying to persuade me to buy it. I told him I’ve bought enough scarves to last me a lifetime. He said maybe I could him sell it instead. Business was apparently slow lately.

Uhh.. Sell scarves in the market of Luxor? Why yes please! So I stood up, grabbed the pretty scarf I was admiring and started hawking his wares. His stand was right on the main tourist drag where the caleches pass by. At first I tried to be cute and sweet, and be the exact opposite of the pushy vendors I’ve had to deal with over the last two weeks we’ve been in Egypt. This got me squat! I then decided to do it like the locals. I started yelling at the tourists passing by trying to catch their attention. Nothing. I tried to do both at the same time. Zilch. Nada.

The scarf seller was laughing the entire time and was wondering out loud how a pretty girl cannot even sell one scarf! Gee, thanks mister! And here I thought I was helping out. He told me to sit down and stop scaring potential customers. He bought us some tea, and invited us to dinner with his family. As tempted as Andy and I, we had to politely decline his offer. It was past eight at this point, and all we wanted  was to get our clothes back, go back to the hotel, get some dinner, and start packing. He insisted. We stood our ground. After going back and forth three times, we thanked him profusely for the invitation and told him we cannot possibly in good faith burden such good man and his virtuous wife on our account. This effusive, hyperbolic, double negative refusal eventually won us the argument.

With the wonderful scarf seller who not only humored me for my lack of sales skills, but also invited us to his home for dinner and tea.

After saying goodbye to the scarf seller, we went back to the laundromat to pick up our clothes. Apparently in Egypt, a dryer means taking damp clothes and ironing them dry. Thank the heavens all the clothes we brought in were sturdy pants and shorts, and the two dresses I included were already destined for the Salvation Army when I get home. It was quite painful to hear your clothes sizzle and hiss every time the iron glides over it. Ten minutes later, with great panache and much fanfair, the man hands us our bag of clothes. Tired and hungry, we paid whatever he asked and didn’t bother to haggle. We just wanted food and sleep.

While our clothes survive the abuse at the hands of the Egyptian laundromat, my favorite red pants unfortunately never made it back home, and it wasn’t until we were in Cairo that I realized this. That night in the Luxor souk is one of my favorite travel experience for many different reasons. First, it showed me how much we in the West take things such as having a washer/dryer for granted. It’s a small innocuous thing, until of course you don’t have to access to it anymore and it’s when you need it the most. Second, Arab hospitality is not a myth or exaggeration or a relic of the past. It is very much alive and practiced in today’s Arab society, and it’s quite a beautiful thing to experience. And lastly, nobody but Andy and I can end up in crazy situations like this, and there is nobody in the world I want to be with when this kind of shit happens but him.

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