Aswan & Living with the Family 22-27 Jan

Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
1
31
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Trip End May 28, 2011


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Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Sunday, February 6, 2011

Saturday 22nd January

Packed up the car and took our stuff to Alaa's home in El Gazeera in the West Bank. Everyone seems very excited to have us staying. We will only be there one night and then it's off to Aswan tomorrow.

Sunday 23rd    January

The train to Aswan is at 7.30am, we need to be there half an hour before so get to the station at 7 am as dawn is breaking. It is so quiet in Luxor at this time of the day as we cross the Nile from West Bank in a water taxi and it's also when you can see dozens of hot air balloons flying over the Valley of the Kings…one day I hope to do that. The train is an hour delayed, it is freezing and I appear to be the only person wearing flip-flops! Eventually it arrives, we are in 1st class, the seats are ok and recline so we can chilax for most of the journey. They serve drinks and the 3 hour journey goes by quickly. We get to Aswan around 11am, the hotel is a 10 min walk but we decide to jump into a taxi. It is on the Corniche, opposite the Nile. The Hathor Hotel - it is ok, 1 star! But miles better than the Egyptian Hilton…I mean Egyptian Nights Hotel in Cairo! We have a room with a Nile view. The weather is nice so we make the most of it.

I didn’t know too much about Aswan apart from the Dam…but just before we came I found out about the Philae Temple and Elephante Island, as well as the temple of Rames II at Abu Simbel of course.We ask the hotel if we can book a trip to Abu Simbel to tomorrow. It will cost us 70 LE each (7) and we will have to be up by 3am as the conveys that travel to AS leave at 4am…

We went for a walk by the Nile and head for Elephante Island which I had read about, with differing reports. We take a very short ferry ride across the Nile. But there are no signs and little clue as to what to do. I had heard there was a Nubian village…we are starving so we have  a liver sandwich (sounds gross but is really tasty). We then ask some locals what we can do, the answer was nothing…really not sure what we can do, all a bit vague, so we decide to go back to Aswan after eating. We then ask a taxi driver how far Philae is…half an hour. It’s early afternoon so we head out. You have to get a boat to Philae for 50LE but again we get into the temple for local rates something silly like 60p.

Philae is located near the old dam. I think this temple was relocated after the new dam was built, like Abu Simbel. I’m glad we went, it was well preserved with some interesting temples and carvings.  The weather was lovely and warm and we spent about an hour there. The taxi driver then picked us up and took us to the  famous high Aswan Dam. It’s huge…apparently half of it (southern part) has crocodiles the northern (running up to Aswan) is Crocodile-less. It was completed in 1971 quite an engineering achievement which has prevented the mass flooding in the region that occurred every year. Dinner spent in a restaurant that was actually a floating boat on the Nile and early to bed…as 3am alarm call!

Monday 24th January

We get an alarm call from hotel at 2.45am…and have to be in reception at 3.15am. We then get a mini bus with other a few other passengers and join the convoy of vehicles that travels to Abu Simbel at 4am. This is where a bus crashed killing 8 American tourists a few weeks back. The road is a bit bumpy along the way but the journey is not too bad. We arrive at just gone 7am and have just under 2 hours to walk around the ancient site that was removed some years ago from its original spot when the Aswan Dam was built 40 years ago. This was a major archaeological and engineering achievement. Again we get in for peanuts compared to the tourist rate which is normally 10 times the price we pay. It was pretty impressive, 2 temples of Ramses II and Nefertiti as well. The setting was magnificent situated amongst the backdrop of the Nile. I always try and transport myself back in time 3,000 years, and imagine the place as it would have been and without the hoards of tourists.

This is the busiest place, apart from the Pyramids, that I have visited in Egypt. Even Karnak which sees hundred perhaps thousands of visitors each day never felt as crowded, but then it is a bigger site. Two hours probably isn’t enough, it felt a bit rushed and I was expecting to be there in the heat of the day, hence the flip-flops, instead we had left by 9am…the sky was a stunning blue to compliment the Nile but it was a chilly Egyptian winter morning. We got back to the hotel at 1pm. I was concerned that we really needed to make sure we could get a train back tomorrow as Alaa needed to get back to take the tourists to Hurghada. There was a  really long queue at the station. Alaa got chatting to a local guy outside and in the end we paid him a few Egyptian pounds to queue up for us. And he was much quicker than we could have been. Then as it was such a nice day,  we wanted to enjoy a few more hours of sun so we went for a spot of lunch, to another restaurant/floating boat on the Nile. Another early wake up call as the train leaves for Luxor at 7am.

Tuesday 25th January

Got the 7am train from Aswan to Luxor, it is on time and we arrive back around 11am. We go to Twinky’s to get a box full of delights to take to the family. 75 Egyptian pounds worth in fact, probably a family’s week wage. But they are just so yummy. Alaa leaves mid afternoon, I‘m sad to see him go as we won‘t see each now for a while. He will try and come up to Alexandria to see me in a few weeks. His family are all very welcoming and friendly. Alaa's family home is quite humble, a small 2 roomed apartment - where his mother Rowhaya lives. Upstairs is Alaa’s eldest brother Tybe and his new wife Gihan. Their flat has hot water so I can use the shower. This is a close knit community and most of the people living in the village are related, uncles, cousins etc.
 
Just around the corner from Alaa's home is Hodda, his older sister who has five children. Gilan, Samur, Nodda, Mamood and Ziad. I buy the girls some makeup as a gift I‘m not sure if they will use it but at least its something they can have fun with if they want to. Alaa’s Uncle Mohamed, his wife Hodda visit with their new baby Tybe and invite me around for dinner - they have a lovely house, spacious and bright, unlike a lot of apartments I’ve been in which tend to be very dark. They also have cable TV, with English speaking channels.

I now have my train ticket to Alexandria, I couldn’t get an overnight sleeper so I have a seat in a 1st class carriage. It leaves at 11.30pm and gets to Alex around 12.30pm on Saturday. It is a fraction of the price 15 instead of  40 for sleeper train. Hopefully it will be ok.  Uncle Mohamed is going to take me to the station on Friday night to make sure I get on the right one! I am sleeping in Rowhaya’s bed…she is sleeping in the lounge. It’s not ideal but I will only be here for a few days.

Wednesday 26th January

So how do I fill my day…as it seems that all the women do is cook (baking bread), clean and then sit out in front of their homes chattering away all day. Without speaking Arabic it is pretty isolating even though everyone is very friendly it is very difficult to communicate with just a phrase book between us. But today I decide to go into Luxor shopping and invite the family and Nodda, Samur, Mamood, Ziad and Gihan to come with me. We take the ferry over to Luxor and then a horse and carriage (Kalash) to Television Street. I want to find a warm top to take with me to Alexandria as I think it maybe a bit chilly up there and I also need something that is suitable to wear in a classroom, as at some point I will be teaching some lessons.

We wonder in and out of shops and eventually stop at a women’s clothes shop called MOM and I find two tops for 150LE. We then get a carriage back up to Luxor Temple and sit on the grass area and have a drink before heading back to West Bank. In the evening the women and children sit out around little camp fires gossiping. the men seem to hang out in the many coffee shops that litter the streets drinking and smoking shisha pipes.

I sit out until 9pm but it really is quite boring and I get a stiff back from sitting down on a block of concrete for hours on end., oh to sit down in front of the telly, with central heating,  a nice glass of  red wine watching Eastenders…the girls Nodda and Samur though do their best to communicate and the boys Mamood and Ziad are adorable and frankly just won’t leave me alone. Mamood is stuck to me like glue most of the time he has even helped blow dry my hair!
 
I really miss Alaa, well we have just spent literally 24/7 together over the last 6 weeks and without one argument a few niggles but nothing major. It is interesting being here though with his family.  I have at times wondered if I could make a go of living here in Egypt? Well I know I couldn’t live my life like this, sitting around the campfire each night, I’d go barmy but seeing Mohamed’s house and knowing you can get the internet and cable TV…well maybe I could??

Thursday 27th January

I take the boys Ziad, Mamood, their cousins Kareem and Adham and my netbook to the football ground at El Gazeera leaving the women in the village baking bread!  The street where Alaa’s house is situated is in the shade most of the day, as it is surrounded by a couple of hotels and these block out the sun. I suppose that is ok when it is 40+ degree heat in the mid summer, but now all I crave is some sunshine.

Was speaking to Uncle Mohamed about the flat we saw in Karnak, but he said they don’t know what is going to happen to Karnak in the future, it could quite easily be knocked down just like the many buildings in Luxor around the Avenue of Sphinx (Mubarak wants people to be able to walk the 2km directly from Luxor Temple to Karnak Temple thus recreating the original Avenue from the time of the Pharaohs). But to do so a different building seems to be disappearing practically each day. The face of Luxor is ever changing and as I said before most of the people don’t know what or when it is going to happen next, it just happens. 

Anyway probably not a good idea to buy the flat next to Christina and Mohamed’s house. It was a good price, maybe even too cheap, but it would just be my luck to buy a dream flat on the Nile which the government then goes and knocks down.  Apparently a few miles away you can buy land reasonably cheaply so it could be possible to buy and then build  a property - if you have the money.  Foreigners tend to build apartments with 2 or 3 storeys, live in one and then rent out the others. Wouldn’t it be great if I could do contract work in the UK for 6 months and then spend 6 months in Egypt perhaps - miss out the UK winter altogether….that would be ideal. But maybe I just need to get Alaa out of here. The UK isn’t the best country in the world by a long shot at the moment, but we should be able to get jobs, we can make some money,  travel and then we could invest it in Egypt later - we shall see?

One of the neighbours in the village is a guy called Yassar who is a friend of Alaa’s that I actually met first in Hurghada back in April. Whilst at the playing ground with the boys my netbook stopped working.  Yasser is the uncle of Kareem and Abham and was passing by. He said I could come back to his house and try and get it fixed. He lives there with his family, father, sisters, nephews etc. Their house is about 4 or five storeys high. If you drive around Egypt, Cairo and Luxor you will notice that the houses all seem to look unfinished. I always wondered why they didn’t appear to have roofs and there was always metal spikes and concrete pillars sticking out. Well this is because each son of the family will usually build one storey when he gets married. I suppose it is only finished when all the sons are wed.

One of Yassar’s brother’s (who is currently back in Luxor) lives in Cambridge with his English wife. It seems that quite a few of the men round the village have married foreign wives and now live aboard. You can understand though why many Egyptian men would rather marry a westerner than a local girl for a better life in the west? Anyway thankfully Yassar manages to get my netbook working again. Yasser has the internet at his house so I go online for a few hours. I told him I was going to Alexandria tomorrow and he told me about some protests taking place there and in Cairo against the Government which started  a few days ago. He said he didn’t think I should go. It sounds like some communications are being cut off  by the Government too, the internet is down in some parts of the country, but we are ok at the moment. It will be interesting to see what’s happening.
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