Cecil’s Bar in Port Said Egypt

I have mentioned Cecil’s bar in Port Said Egypt in one or two I of my stories before this one.

In the other tales the bar was mentioned peripherally as somewhere that expats could go for an alfresco beer in the evening.

It was a place to relax, yet experience the vibrant street life that is Port Said on a busy shopping street.

Cecil had a fenced off area where customers could sit to avoid being tormented by shop owners, seemingly desperate to sell their genuine Egyptian ‘knockoff’ papyrus and carvings to tourists or oil workers like us.

This exclusion zone was very, very important when it came to the protection of Cecil’s clientele.

One evening, when a protracted stay in Port Said was coming to an end, my colleague and I were having a few beers at Cecil’s, preparing ourselves for the prospect of going offshore within the next couple of days.

I had somehow left home without shampoo, and as I would not be able to purloin enough hotel sachets without raiding other rooms on my floor in the Sonesta, I decided to take a walk down to a chemist about 200 meters from the pub to buy some.

However, I had hardly stepped outside the Cecil’s protective barrier, when I was accosted by a local shop owner, pushing his ‘tawdry tack’ on me in a very aggressive manner.

“You buy my real papyrus Mister” “you buy my carvings, genuine basalt rock”, both exhortations I refused gently, saying “no thank you, I have papyrus” and “no thank you, I have plenty basalt carvings”.

The scene reminded me of that one in Life of Brian, where Michael Palin’s character, the poor beggar selling a gourd, literally skips along beside Brian in the market, in an ultimately futile attempt to get him to buy it.

He asked me to come to his shop to see his collection of Pharaonic collectables.

The sea of humanity, all about 1 foot shorter than I was, parted as I made my way towards the pharmacy, but my man stayed with me “buy this” “buy that” “come to my shop” and all the time trying to direct me in the direction he wanted me to go.

When I reached the chemist, he saw that I wanted to go in to buy something, and then his patter changed to “what do you need Mister” “I get it for you, very quick very quick”

I managed to wade my way into the chemist shop, which was full of people, buying selling, I have no idea; they were just there, milling around.

Because I was taller than anyone, I could see the shelves behind the counter, and I spotted a bottle of ‘Clinic’ Shampoo which I had not seen in years, and which was probably out of date by several centuries.

No matter, I was able to get the attention of one of the salespeople and while pointing and saying ‘Clinic’ repeatedly indicate to him that I wanted a bottle of it.

My perceptive buddy also saw that I wanted ‘Clinic’ shampoo, and so engaged in a rapidfire exchange of Arabic with the salesperson, who then redirected my ‘Clinic’ to him, who then handed it to me saying “money, money Mister. At this stage I gave in and handed over 70 Egyptian pounds, which was about four or five euros at the time.

I handed it to him, he handed it to the salesperson, engaged in Arabic for a few moments, then the salesperson handed him a few battered Egyptian notes, and he handed them to me saying “your change Mister”

I gave him back the few pounds change saying “thank you, shkran” which is thank you in Arabic but he pushed the money back to me, saying “no no, you come to my shop, you come and by papyrus or basalt carving”.

The fact that he helped me by a bottle of shampoo, even though I didn’t need any help, obviously meant that he was then my personal Egyptian bric-a-brac seller.

In hindsight I should have just gave him some money and asked him to bring me a papyrus or a statue of something, but he really annoyed me with his insistence and by the time we got back out on the street, I had had enough, so I faced him, looked down into his face and said in my most strident manner “listen, I don’t want to buy anything from you, not papyrus or basalt statues, so please just ’Fcbuzz’ off and annoy someone else.

Well, the effect was as if I had hit him with a cattle prod.

He leapt backwards, landed about 4 feet from me, raised his hand, finger-pointing in my direction, and he shouted “you hate Allah” “you hate Allah”.

Where the hell did that come from I wondered? I had never mentioned Allah.

He continued pointing up at me, telling everyone that I hated Allah.

He also shouted in Arabic, and this had an immediate effect on the crowd surrounding us.

Suddenly they weren’t intent on their business any more, whatever that happened to be, suddenly they were concentrating on me and muttering threateningly in Arabic.

It was disconcerting to say the least to be surrounded by a now obviously hostile throng, a throng directing their hostility exclusively towards me.

I held up my hands, palms outward, showing that all I had was a bottle of clinic shampoo, but that did little to mollify them.

To my right over the bobbing heads of the multitude, I could see my friend enjoying his beer in Cecil’s, oblivious to my plight a little way up the street.

I continued to demonstrate my innocence by showing open hands, while edging my way up towards the bar.

Having started the social unrest surrounding me, my Egyptian Pharaonic souvenir salesman melted in to the crowd, and I saw no more of him.

The hostility of the assemblage was being ratcheted up with inflammatory sounding Arabic, and I imagined myself being beaten to death with flip-flops within minutes.

However, the boy with the AK-47 who normally sat docilely just outside the fenced off area of the bar, whether he sensed the bad mood of the crowd, or he heard and understood the divisive Arabic addressed at me, leapt into action, and was already bustling through the swarm to my rescue.

He waded heroically through the bobbing and weaving multitude, using his elbows and shoulders as he got closer to the centre of the mob, to shuffle them out of the way.

Some of the more ardent of the potential Lynch gathering dared to enter into argument with him, for which they got a good telling off in Arabic and then his distain as he turned away and continued to my rescue.

When he reached the epicentre, he waved his arms (and his assault rifle) in the air while shouting in Arabic, and then taking my elbow led me back to the oasis of Cecil’s bar, where minutes later he delivered me inside the fenced off area, while he resumed his seat outside and became docile again.

I did offer my deeply felt shkran and even tried to give him money as a gesture of my belief and thanks, but he refused gently, indicating that I should go back to my table and resumed my beer drinking.

I figured that I had had a close enough call, and I also figured that that young boy had saved me.

My colleague and I discussed the situation and came to the conclusion that he with the AK-47 was there to protect the clientele of Cecil’s from the outrage of the overwhelmingly Muslim population of Port Said.

Our bar keepers as far as we could discern, could only understand beer orders, so asking them about the purpose of the armed young man was useless, and as a result we decided on our initial solution.

Whatever his function, I was very glad that he was on duty that evening.

The end.

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