Back in the bus, we quickly leave the desert sand for the lush green land irrigated by the Nile. (The ancient Egyptians realized both the value of their limited agricultural land and the drying power of the desert. Their tombs were located accordingly.)
Although it doesn’t look that way, we still are not far from the city itself.
We are on our way to a carpet school.
Now, before I begin this section, I have a confession: Before the trip I was told there might be an opportunity to stop at a carpet shop and was asked if I would be interested in purchasing a carpet. My answer was unequivocal: Absolutely not.
So here I am.
Inside the carpet school (cleverly named the Oriental Carpet School and located on Sakkara Tourist Road, which probably says everything right there), the demonstration area is like a large, relatively clean garage with a few young people working at different types of looms.
This place – like many others I’ve seen here — is called a “carpet school,” rather than a carpet factory apparently in reference to the fact that the children who work here do attend school for at least part of each day. (Education is compulsory for children ages 6-15 in Egypt, which is not the case in all countries with carpet industries.) While children are spending part of their day at work, they are also receiving an education and learning a skill that will support some of them long into the future.
While the brief explanation of the various types of rug-making processes is interesting, what really intrigues me is the speed at which these young people tie off the knots that form these intricate carpets. They work from patterns, but I can’t imagine how they can translate the printed design into a carpet at all, let alone doing it at lightening speed.
The showroom is plain and brightly lit, with piles of carpets of all types, styles, and materials. Since I’m not buying a carpet, I wander around taking pictures and checking on the purchases my friends are making.
But then my eye is drawn to a very large rug hanging on the wall.
One of the salesmen notices me ogling it and soon he is at my side, telling me how fine a rug it is and that the marked price (about $4000) is not final. He is sure my guide can help me negotiate a good price.
I have no idea how far down you can negotiate here – could I get it down to $2000 or $2500? The rug is beautiful, wool tufted with glistening silk and finely knotted. It would look good in my living room. . . but it still would be an awful lot of money and what if Lane didn’t like it. Besides, I really can’t afford it – this trip was enough of a budget-breaker after Thailand!
So I walk away.
But now the salesman knows I am interested and tries to find something else I might like. His first efforts are futile – wrong style, wrong size. He is persistent though and now he has acquired a helper. There isn’t much else to do here while other people mull over their own potential purchases, so I let them show off a pile of rugs.
Nothing is even remotely tempting compared to the rug hanging on the wall.
Always persistent, they move on to another stack. They remind me that every rug is unique and I won’t find a particular pattern in precisely the colors I want unless I commission it.
But they are figuring out what interests me (or what doesn’t interest me – either way, the end result is the same) and finally they pull out a rug that makes me say “stop.”
It is cotton with wool in a size and with colors seem about right for my living room (where the existing rug is badly in need of replacing). I THINK Lane would like it.
Romani and I discuss prices. When he and I agree, he gives the figure to the salesman – who insists it is too low. Romani tells him to go ask the manager. The salesman blanches and suggests Romani ask. Romani tells him to go. Now.
Soon the salesman is back, a big smile on his face and the deal is done. I am paying about 30% less than the marked price. I suspect this is still too much, but I am also pretty sure it is a lot less than I would pay for the same rug at home, so it seems fair enough.