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Andrea Rowe

Egyptians love baksheesh. It buys you ramming tax rides and all-day City of the Dead Tours (with complementary Tutankhamun postcards), falafel sticks and fistfuls of turquoise scarab beetles.

You’ll pay baksheesh for rides on wonky camels, for that perfect picture point of pyramids, baksheesh for crushed lotus flower scent sprinkles on sweating wrists (guaranteed to make your man respond), and baksheesh for that warm fizzle of local 'cola, dampening the sand in your throat.

I tell you, baksheesh turns information into an entrepreneurial art form. A rusted Renault with a tuneless horn becomes your taxi for the day, an afternoon loiter by the gates snares the unsuspecting with a compulsory tour guide. The catch? Baksheesh, Always baksheesh. For shoeshines, direction-pointing and suitcase-carrying, you pay 30 baksheesh. For historical untruths, restaurant recommendations and a gold-toothed grin in a tourist snap … let’s call it an even hundred!

For rescuing a Western damsel in distress, it invariably costs you more.

“Sorry Chita, we can’t afford you today, yesterday’s camel ride just blew our budget,” my partner and I parrot to our self-appointed tour guide and tax driver. It was a phrase we practised in our morning shower over our milky broth breakfast soup, and through the corridor of our pension.

How to let your unchosen escort down gently, while educating him on the plight of the backpacker’s diminishing funds? But we were talking to a seasoned baksheesh-er.

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