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An American Werewolf in Cairo

It's 1983, and we fly into Cairo around 11 in the morning and take a cab to a hotel in a funky section close to a hub of activity. We go to the pyramids, and I know they're the oldest man-made things I've ever seen, but I just don't give a shit.

by Scot Sothern
May 5 2014, 3:07pm

All photos by the author


We fly into Cairo around 11 in the morning and take a cab to a hotel in a funky section close to a hub of activity. We get a room with two single beds and then head out for food. We go to a restaurant with a dirty floor and cracked Formica tables. Dick orders, and then I order whatever he ordered, and five minutes later the waiter brings out two bowls of green slime. It smells like cum, so I skip the nutrients and opt for coffee and cigarettes.

We walk along dirt and rubble footpaths through neighborhoods that look like Bible-school pictures. Barefoot little kids and old men in biblical hand-me-downs. I photograph a group of kids who chant, "America, America, America. Reagan, Reagan, Reagan."

I photograph a couple of soldiers showing off their weapons. I photograph a golden alley of women and their children. Two kids peek at me through curtains, and I make an exposure. We enter a dusty mall of shops where barkers vie for our attentions. I check out a funky little perfume shop, and the proprietor comes out with a snap-top case of unique little bottles of scented oils. He tells me my wife would love this, and I can't disagree. I pay him his asking price in dollars then I take his picture. Dick thinks I should have haggled for a lower price, but it's only money.

We grab a cab and head for the Giza Necropolis. Traffic is dense, and everyone is speeding, weaving, and turning without regard for life or limb. There are no seatbelts, and the driver corkscrews his body all the way around to talk to us. He asks whether we're from America. I tell him yes and he says, "President Ronald Reagan," and when he doesn't expound on that I say, "Yeah, well, we all make mistakes." He says it again—"President Ronald Reagan"—and then asks me if I'm a cowboy, and I say, "Yeah, get along, little doggie, and maybe you should be watching the road." By the time we get to the pyramids my brake foot is cramped from pushing it to the floor.

I once saw the Alamo in Texas while high on LSD. It was dirty and boring, but I had a good time and laughed a lot. I wish I had a tab of acid now because this place is dirtier than the Alamo and almost as boring. I know it's the oldest man-made thing I've ever seen, but I just don't give a shit. It's hot and humid as a wrapping of steamy toilet paper. The gift shop is like the tourist traps on Route 66 in the 50s. I buy a sphinx T-shirt. I wander around and take pictures of people taking pictures. I like the pictures more than I like the place.

Back at the hotel bar, I ask the bartender for something cold and indigenous. He brings me a glass and fills it halfway with clear liquid from a bottle: arak. He adds icy water from a pitcher, and it turns milky. It taste like anise, and it kicks like a huff of ether. I get another, which I take to my room, where I shower and change. In the hotel restaurant I eat a few spoons of vegetable stew and drink another glass of arak.

Out to the street we go, bar-hopping. Some of the joints have dancing girls, and they all have arak. At the last bar I'm beyond drinking responsibly and feel a full-moon howl coming on.

On stage a harem girl is doing a disco belly dance. Each new glass of arak is a ceremony. Between songs I hear the dancer talking to the barkeep, and she's an American girl. My double vision has gone triple, and people surround me like a kaleidoscope. When the girl walks by, Dick flags her and asks where she's from. She says she's from San Diego and tells him she used to dance at a place where all the sailors go, and he tells her he's been there. She says she likes it better here, in this part of the world. She says she likes the way the men treat the women, and I ask her if she's fucking insane. The bouncer comes over and sends her to the other side of the stage to talk to a group of locals. The bouncer is big and flabby and tells us we are not allowed to talk to the girls. I'm spinning in place and ask him why the fuck not and how come those guys over there can talk to her? He says Americans aren't allowed to talk to the girls. It's the law. I tell him I can talk to whoever the fuck I want to talk to, and he tells me no, I can't.

Dick is trying to calm me down, asking why I care—she's not all that great. I tell him it's about principle, and he says, "Yeah, right." I take my arak and stagger over to the group of men talking to the American girl, and I shove in front of them and say to the girl, "Hey, how's it going?" She tells me I'm making a mistake, and when I open my mouth to explain myself, I regurgitate a gallon of milky bile. I disconnect into dream segments of being dragged outside and kicked to the curb. Next time I open my eyes it's hours later, and I'm still dressed, and I'm in bed at the hotel. I've overslept and need to get to the airport as quickly as possible to catch my flight to London. Dick tells me I nearly landed us both in jail, and I tell him, "Well, yeah, I guess I had a pretty good time."

Scot's first book, Lowlife, was released last year and his memoir, Curb Service, is out now. You can find more information on his website.

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Scot Sothern