A walk through the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with licensed tour guide Ahmed Mohammed, at the rate of 150 Egyptian pounds per hour.
Ahmed Mohammed: You see this statue? Man or woman?
AM: A man with breasts?
B: So it’s a woman?
AM: A woman with beard?
B: I have no idea — transgender?
AM: It’s Hatshepsut. Better to say, Hot-Chicken-Soup. So complex. She’s the only queen that ruled the country. She married her half-brother. Her husband took another woman, so she poisoned everybody in the food. She presented herself as pharaoh, dressed as a man. She wanted to say there’s no difference between man and woman. In my opinion, she was a very successful leader, but she lost herself as a woman.
B: It seems like there are quite a few visitors to the museum today.
AM: No, the museum is really empty because there are no Russians in here. The Russians haven’t started coming back yet, and seventy-five percent of all tourists to Egypt are Russian. Nobody knows why.
Here, I will show you the organs. You know Cheops? Inside there are five vital organs — you saw them?
B: I don’t think I saw any vital organs.
AM: This is Tutankhamun’s heart. [Points to a jar]
B: How do they know it’s his?
AM: It says in the hieroglyphics. This is his underwear. It is like Pampers. This, for after he take shower—
B: That’s a towel.
AM: It will be very hot in the afterlife; here’s an umbrella. The first umbrellization in Egyptian history, also from Tutankhamun’s day. Inside these jars they found beer, still liquid. How did Tutankhamun go to sleep in the next world? He needed comfort. That’s why he needs to sleep in three beds, one with the form of lion, one with horse, one with cow. You know where we have more Tutankhamun stuff ? The basement. In storage. I been working here nine years, I’ve never been in the basement.
B: Really. I heard there are police interrogation chambers in the basement.
AM: No, those are next door. But four days after the revolution they found one tourist walking around down there, he was looking to find more Tutankhamun exhibit. I heard this from security police. After the revolution, we took a lot of time to repair ourselves.
I don’t know if it is right to tell you this kind of information — tourists are going to think Egypt is not safe. Anyway, when Tutankhamun was alive, he slept in this bed. Very uncomfortable, very narrow. You know, when I was working here with a Russian tour group, when I told this woman that this is Tutankhamun’s bed, she asked me a very strange question: “Where is his wife?” I have nothing to tell her! I wanted to make a joke. I tell her, “Maybe under the bed.” She told me, “No, no, not like that. I mean, the bed is so narrow, they must have only done 67.” I asked her, “What?” She said, “You know, 67, they do it all over the world, especially in Russia.” I say, “How old am I? I’m thirty years old, I don’t understand what this means, 67.” For thirty minutes, she explains it to me. I’ve been married for nine years, I’ve never done 67. No joking!
Tutankhamun and his wife — first love story. She was his half-sister — first love story. They found two sarcophagus, side by side. And here’s his toilet, made of papyrus. All the tourist love it, especially from Russia. What happened to Tutankhamun’s wife after his death? She called the king of Syria and asked him to send someone else to marry. You remember this information. And here’s Tutankhamun’s footstool: he step on his enemies. In Tutankhamun’s grave they find two statues made of wood and covered in gold. One of a man, one of a woman. One to the left, and one to the right.
B: What used to be in there? [Points to an empty display case]
AM: No, no. [Laughs and steers me away]
[Changes the subject] You know who is my favorite actor? Kevin Costner. And my favorite singer? Whitney Houston. Here they are, Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in the Egyptian Museum.[Points to the two gold statues]
B: They don’t really look like them.
AM: What is that name? Body… guard? This is Tutankhamun’s Bodyguard. Very famous movie. Now, let me show you the mummy. Hey hey, give me fifty Egyptian pound. It’s okay. You see Braveheart? How they do it: they take out organs, heart, brains straightaway. They make liquid, they put organs into jars. It’s a procession for about seventy days. After that, you wrap the mummy. It takes forty or seventy days, many steps. Mummification is considered to be one of the most important secrets. The papyrus that explained it got burned. I got this information from tourists, many tourists tell me this. Also tourists, they tell me that Cleopatra, she was ugly. I did not know this.
American Egyptologists succeeded in mummificating today. But these mummies were left four thousand years, so who can make sure they got it right? Here, mummy of falcon. [Points] Here, three guts, drying. Here, key of life, funeral bowl.
B: Are you going to show me where the stuff was stolen during the revolution?**
AM: Just be patient…
Did you hear before about the curse? Pharaoh’s Curse. It means if anybody gets inside the grave, he will die or something strange will happen to him. It started with the king who built the second pyramid. A hundred years ago, his mummy was on a ship on its way to England, and the ship sank inside the sea. But it’s strange — they never found the ship.
B: Has pharaoh’s curse struck recently?
AM: It’s your decision to believe or not believe in Pharaoh’s Curse, but I will give you an example. You know the great ship of Titanic. How do you think it sank inside the sea?
B: It crashed into an iceberg.
AM: Do you know that one of the priestess mummies was on the ship?
B: There was a mummy on the Titanic? I’ve never heard that…
AM: That’s why it sank. You know the captain, Smith? He saw it and had nervous breakdown. After one hour, the iceberg crashed, the ship sank. You know about Tutankhamun? Forty workers, they enter his grave. Once they get inside his tomb, all of them die. The people inside Tutankhamun’s grave, all of them died for the same reason. Fever, understand? A few years ago, one of the tourists from Germany, he told me this story: that one of the German tourists was in Egypt and he succeeded to steal, or borrow, one of the small statues here, from Egypt. When he return back to his country, to Germany, with it, he died. How did he die? Fever. That’s why his wife was very upset. She took the statue and return it back to us and apologized to us. Six years ago, they wanted to make X-rays on Tutankhamun’s mummy. What happened? A falcon was flying around in the X-ray room. Computers stopped for two hours without any reason. The weather was very good — when they started to make X-rays, it became very windy. Tutankhamun wanted to say, “STAY AWAY FROM MY AFTERLIFE!” In the end, when they went to make conference to declare the results, the Egyptologist, when he started making a speech, a glass of water broke in front of him for no reason.
B: What about lately? Have bad things been happening?
AM: If you want to hear my point of view, I think we have Pharaoh’s Curse. During the revolution there were people who succeeded to steal stuff from the Egyptian Museum. They wanted to sell this stuff, so they decided to make website. It said, “We have all this stuff; if you want to buy it, we want 5 million pounds.” Very cheap! I think they had eight or nine pieces, all of them 5 million each. So then the police pretended they wanted to buy them, and they caught them in old Cairo. A lot of the stuff is still missing.
You see this display case filled with Egyptian soldiers? [Points to a long rectangular glass case filled with about two hundred miniature soldiers bearing sharpened spears] A thief fell from the roof on top of it and crashed through the glass. He broke his back — that was the Pharaoh’s Curse. And all the wooden soldiers’ arms were broken. All of the spears they are holding snapped off. They glued them back.
B: They look pretty good for having been broken like that…
AM: Better for him that he didn’t fall on these. [Points to a second glass case filled with miniature soldiers bearing sharper and longer spears] When the thieves enter the museum, they switch off all the light. But then they can’t see where is the gold. They were searching only for the gold. So the police caught him on the display case, of course. In less than ten minutes, the Egyptian army arrived.
B: So the thief is in prison now?
AM: No, they took him to Mena House [the five-star hotel next to the pyramids]. I’m joking! Of course he’s in prison.
B: I don’t know. He could have been beaten to death or something.
AM: The revolution at first was a peaceful one. But it wasn’t a revolution — you know why? Because it started on Facebook. It was just some young people organizing an objection. I was at home during the protests. I didn’t go.
B: But do you think they are right to protest?
AM: All the ministers, they need to go to prison.
B: Even Zahi Hawass [the minister of antiquities]?
AM: [Ignores the question] This is the second place where thieves came in from the roof. [Points to a skylight] But they couldn’t steal anything because the light was switched off.
B: It happened at night?
AM: I don’t know.
B: So was there anything stolen from this room?
AM: No no. Well, little stuff… less important stuff. I’d like to be honest with you. They stole some of Tutankhamun’s stuff. But very little. Two statues, some sarcophagus…
B: I heard some antiquities were later found in the Metro, in a bag.
AM: During the revolution? This is the first time I hear this… You want to know all the secrets. Like Sphinx. Have you seen his nose? Broken.