Please take time to look at the photo book I have created. The collection of photographs are both old and new and feature family in Garagos and also various views of the village.
Peter and I have been planning to write a book about the village of Garagos for about 6 months. Garagos is a village 25 kilometres north of Luxor in Upper Egypt and the place where Peter's family have lived for generations.
Our most recent visit in particular has thrown up some very interesting stories about the village and has inspired us even more to put pen to paper (words to computer). However, the main problem lays with anecdotal evidence is that there is a lot of conflicting information especially as there is very little information documented.
During our visit in March we explored rafts of photographs which did shed a little light on the situation, however, we have known for some time that the source of this more 'valid' information lies in Cairo with the Jesuits priests - more than likely at Le College de Saint Famille in Fagalla, Cairo. Peter's father did tell us that there was a Dutch Jesuit priest called Father Khalil who had recently visited Garagos and was also writing a book about the village but he couldn't give us more information that this.
The lives of most villagers - most certainly the Christians in Garagos have been shaped in one form or another through the interventions of the Jesuits who came to live in Garagos. From the establishment of a dispensary, schools and also a the pottery that Garagos has become known for, the Jesuits have changed the circumstance of many people.
I have tried contacting a number of organisations that I thought may be able to help ascertain information around the names and dates of service for the Jesuits that came to Garagos. Extensive internet research has led us in various directions but we now know that a lot of the information that has been published in English, Arabic and French is in fact incorrect.
It feels like we've spent months hammering away at the internet - trying numerous spellings of Garagos such as Geragos, Garagus, Garagosse, Jarajos - me in English and then Peter in Arabic. Emailing any contact that we thought might be able to help us. We took this information with us to Garagos to either confirm or deny, the information we had found. I think we came back really none the wiser regarding dates of service for the priests.
Once back home and again enthused with the stories we had been told I tried a few leads we had been given and also a few more searches through Google. I thought I needed to spread the net a bit wider than Egypt and searched for other Jesuit organisations in Europe.
I came across the website for an organisation called Jesuitica in Belgium. I outlined the nature of my enquiry in an email, attaching a photograph that was taken in the home of Peters family. The photograph featured Father de Montgolfier, a Jesuit that served in Garagos in 1947, Peter's mother and father and grandmother and other family members. In the photograph is also a baby of about 6 months of age – the baby being Peter.
Almost immediately I received a response from Father Rob Faesen. Father Faesen told me that information relating to the Jesuits in Egypt could be found in the archives of the Jesuit Province of the Near East. He told me that the archivist a Father Charles Libois was in 2006 residing in St Josephs University in Beirut but this information may be out of date. He gave me the email addresses for the Assistant to the European Provincial Superior and also to the webmaster of the website for the European Provinces. He said that if I didn't get any joy from these sources to come back to him and he would investigate further contacts.
I forwarded my enquiry again to the email addresses provided and almost immediately I received a response from the Assistant to the EP, Father Dermot O'Connor. Father O'Connor confirmed that the Jesuits in the Near East were administered in the one province in Beirut. He gave me the email address for the Assistant to the Provincial – a Father Bassili. He also gave me the email address for Father Charles Libois who was now residing in Le College de Saint Famille in Cairo, also with a note that Father Libois was now around 84 years of age.
I emailed my enquiry once again, attaching the same photograph taken with Peter's family and Father de Montgolfier. I again received a very quick response – firstly from Father Bassili who asks me if I can understand French. Although he can write in English, he is far more fluent in French and will be able to describe the information in more detail using this language. He also tells me that he showed the photograph to a fellow priest living in the same community in Beirut. He tells me that he is 31 years of age and comes from Garagos. He showed him the photograph and he immediately recognised the people in it. He finishes his letter saying that if he is able to write to me in French he will write to me about Garagos “more and more”.
I showed Peter this email. He tells me that he is sure that the Jesuit Priest Father Basilli mentions is Father Mario - a member of his extended family.
Within hours of receiving this email I also received one from Father Charles Libois. Addressed to Madame Stephanie, Father Libois asks me a series of questions – as with Father Basilli, whether I can read French as most of what is written about Garagos is in French. He also points out that St Verena was not in fact born in Garagos but near by in Thebes (modern day Luxor). I felt rather frustrated that such a magnificent claim such as Garagos being the birth place of St Verena can be wrong – but I guess that's the nature of the internet! Father Libois asks me what is Peter's full name i.e. Peter followed by the name of his father, grandfather, great grandfather. Also whether Peter is from the Orthodox Church or Catholic Church in Garagos. He also asks whether he recognises Zaki Muhareb and Labib the tailor in the photograph – or is it Naguib his brother?
My heart jumped like you can't imagine. Father Libois knows the family members so it is likely that he knows Garagos itself and has maybe even spent time here! Any deflation I felt after finding out about St Verena is more than made up for now. I wondered if he knew Abouna Khalil, the priest that had visited just one month ago and seems to have some connection to the village and Peter's family.
I excitedly put together a response, replying to each of Father Libois's questions in order. I also attach further photographs of the visit that Father de Montgolfier made in 1979 and send the email off into the ether immediately.
When I arrived home from work the following day, another email from Father Libois was waiting for me in my inbox.
He says that he just has one question for now. He asks if Peter's father is the brother of Mathilde, the wife of Labib the tailor, finishing by telling me that he visited them about one month ago. Again this information excites me. This does begin to confirm that Father Libois knows the family quite well.
I reply immediately to Father Libois confirming that yes, Peter's father is the brother of Mathilde and brother in law of Mr Labib the tailor. I also mention to him that we were also in Garagos – exactly one month ago.
Yesterday was Good Friday. Waiting in my inbox was another email from Father Libois. In it he provides me with some very interesting information about Father de Montgolfier and Father Henry Habib Ayrout – or rather corrects some information I had about the two priests. He explains that Father de Montgolfier was a foreigner and “insisted on social amelioration” whereas Father Ayrout was Egyptian, a man of the country and swore by the development of schools. He tells me that much separated the two men who could both be very stubborn and at times their visions clashed.
Father Libois ends his email by telling me that he served in Garagos for three years between 1964 and 1967. He says that although his name is French, he is fact Dutch, and that the villagers of Garagos will know him as Abouna Khalil!
As fate would have it, and as Peter's father had told us, Abouna Khalil AKA Father Charles Libois had been in the village one month ago but had left days before we arrived.
Since then, very interesting email discussions with Abouna Khalil and we hope one day to meet with him on one of his return visits to Garagos or in Cairo.
Garagos is 25 kilometres north of Luxor and on the east bank of the River Nile. To travel from Luxor by car to the village you will follow the airport road until you come to the Luxor/Qena Road – you could turn right to Aswan or left to Cairo – turn left.
You will stay on this road for just over 20 kilometres. At this point on the right you will see a dome shaped, mud brick mosque, the body once painted white but has now been weather beaten by the desert dust.
On your left you will see a bridge over the canal – this is called Sabaah Ayoun (seven eyes) because of the seven channels filtering the flow of the canal water under the bridge. The low wall of the bridge itself is painted in black and white blocks. Any local driver will know Sabaah Ayoun.
You will drive over the bridge and also the train tracks and continue for approximately .4 kilometers.
Shortly after you will pass over a small canal – here you will turn right. You are now travelling North and towards the town of Qus though there are no road signs. You will be following the canal on your right hand side and the narrow gauge sugar cane train track on your left. Keep straight for just over 4 kilometres. Take time to appreciate the wonderful views of the Egyptian countryside!
You will now come to another bridge spanning the canal on your right but here you will turn left. Drive for about .8 kilometre and then turn left again. You are now driving through Garagos village. The landmark you will see is a tall minaret made of metal – through the grill you can see metal steps spiralling upwards to the top.
Most tourists will come to Garagos to visit the pottery. To reach the pottery you will drive through Garagos for about .6 kilometre at which point you will see a mud road on the right which has buildings on the left and fields on the right. You will notice how much higher up the road is than the fields as it is the soil from the fields that was used to bank up the roads. Depending on the time of year you visit you may see crops such as wheat growing – spring to summer, or you may see large squares of palm dates laid out to dry – autumn.
You may be interested to know that this road many years ago was asphalt but it is only the accumulation of dust and dirt that it now resembles a mud track. Locally this road is known as Montgolfier Road after Father de Montgolfier, a Jesuit priest that came to Garagos to establish a dispensary.
After a couple of hundreds yards on Sheria de Montgolfier you will see the sign for the pottery. You are here!
There is another route into Garagos from Sabaah Ayoun but the road isn't good – apparently after a sewage project funded by Unicef went a bit wrong!
I have been home for nearly three weeks now and Peter 2 weeks. Peter had a busy week after I left Luxor and he even managed a trip to Hagaza too which seemed quite eventful. The family in Garagos are also related to people in Hagaza who are involved in the wood craft project. Peter set off by car with his brother Michael and cousins David and Waseem. They were to call in and see El Raheb (a convoluted family line) and also call in to visit the wood craft project that Hagaza is famous for and that is owned by El Raheb.
Unbeknown to them there had been a shooting in Hagaza the day before. As they approached Hagaza there was a very high police presence - they saw at least 9 police cars when they arrived in the village and had inadvertently been following behind another convoy of police involved in the investigations. It transpires that it was a policeman that had been shot dead. He had come to Hagaza to arrest a man suspected of some kind of criminal activity and upon arrival at the mans house was shot dead - either by him or a member of his family. Peter comments that the death of an ordinary villager would not warrant a fraction of the police effort that he witnessed here.
After meeting with family El Raheb took Peter and the others to the exhibition of the wood crafts - unfortunately the work shop was closed so they weren't able to see the products being made. Peter tooks some great photographs of the products and purchased a number of items to bring home.
David, El Raheb, Peter and Waseem at the Hagaza Wood Craft Project
Also in his last week Peter spent time in Garagos overseeing the building of a family 'Mandara' - a meeting place for the men to come and sit during occasions such as weddings and funerals. This can sometimes be a tent or a canopy but here they are building a brick and concrete structure. Each family has contributed to the cost of this.
He also went to observe a large wall being constructed around the land belonging to his Aunt Mariam and her family. This is a measure to protect the land from being encroached upon by neighbours - a problem that has existed from time immemorial. Family members have turned out to help in the walls construction. During my stay Peter's father showed me a map of the village. It isn't a map in the usual sense - it was a map outlining the land boundaries so literally a map of the various plots of agricultural land - used as part of a legal proof of ownership should ownership be questioned in the future.
Peter was also able to spend more time speaking with his family about the history and in particular trying to outline the family tree. Last week Peter produced a piece of paper where he had taken notes of this and it was really fascinating to listen to him describe the family lines - who was a direct descendent from who and then who married who. I would imagine if this was mapped out graphically on an actual family tree there would be lines going vertically and horizontally. Birth records were not kept until the last few generations of family - all the information that Peter has in annecdotal - and here lies one of the issues we will face in trying to establish the facts around the history of Garagos. The only records that are likely to have been kept are church records and records pertaining to land ownership.
In the meantime we have set up a private Facebook group for family members to access and to upload photographs and to share information. There isn't much activity yet but I think we'll need to show exactly what the project/book is going to look like before we get more interest. It is fair to say that the people we have spoken to so far have been more than happy to share their stories with us - albeit with conflicting information. By the time we return in autumn we hope to have the beginning of something to share with them - even if it's an introduction to the book.
I'm still reading research material whenever I can - I'm currently reading 'The Egytian Peasant' by Henry Habib Ayrout. I have read in some of my internet research that Father de Montgolfier actually came to Garagos with Henry Habib Ayrout - also a Jesuit preist and who established the Catholic Association for Schools in Egypt. Through him schools were brought to poor rural communities such as Garagos and in turn contributed to the development of those communities in partnership with projects such as the Garagos Pottery and the Hagaza Wood Craft Project.
We are still keen to try and promote the Garagos Pottery wherever possible and still have small amounts of products available which we sell through Ebay (usually when there is a free listing weekend!) I will put together some directions to Garagos from Luxor over the next few days with a few snapshots of useful rather than interesting landmarks taken through the window of a speeding car!
The alarm was set for 7.00am this morning. Peter has arranged for Hamada to come and pick us up at 8.00am. If everything goes to plan we will be back in the hotel in time for breakfast as I have acquired rather a liking for the pancakes and home made syrup.
I have one very swollen leg this morning and the been feels more acute. I definitely need to get it checked out when I get home. We get up and gather all my belongings together. Most of Peter's things are already in the Garagos so it's really only my packing we have to do when we get back to the Sofitel. Whilst we wait for Hamada I show Peter's mother the photographs and video's of Sara and Susanna's party which I think she enjoyed seeing. Peter's father suggests that he comes to Luxor with us to see me off to the airport but Peter tells him that it is OK and too much trouble for him.
Hamada is actually on time today so we say quick goodbyes and make our way out to the car. Peter's father thanks Hamada and we set off back through the village and back to Luxor. This time Hamada is driving more reasonably and I get a chance to note the directions to and from Garagos which I will outline later.
We are back at the hotel in good time for breakfast. Peter takes our bags back to the room whilst I go to the restaurant and find a table. I get us both fresh kirkaday and tea. We enjoy the breakfast. We've worked out that the danish pastries that have been put out under a plastic dome are usually the freshest ones. It's a rather hurried breakfast as we need to bathe and pack before the checkout time of 12.00pm. Once back at the room I run the bath whilst pulling all of my clothes out of the wardrobe – again realising that I've only worn 20% of the clothes that I brought with me. There is no way we will be finished by 12.00 so Peter phones reception to see if we can have an extension on the check out time – and I tell him that it doesn't matter if we have to pay extra. Peter finishes making the call and tells me that they think he is the cousin of Mr Sabri from the Sonesta so say that we can have the room until 2.00pm without any charge. Phew – we can manage everything without rushing now!
We are finished before 2.00pm and have a cup of tea in the room before taking the bags out to the reception. Bob and Tony are going to take me to the airport and will be picking us up at 3.00pm. We spend the last hour walking around the grounds of the hotel and then find seats on the sunset terrace overlooking the Nile. We again reflect on the trip and agree that it has been interesting but that it flew by so quickly.
The rest of the day is rather uneventful. Bob and Tony go to the airport with us. I say goodbye to Peter and Tony as he has an airport pass saw me all the way through the check in and up to the passport control – carrying by bag for me as I hopped along behind.
The flight was one of the longest I have had to endure in the most cramped of conditions and no in-flight entertainment and a throbbing knee joint. Not the best. However, it has been a good trip and I return home with a even more motivation to get the Garagos History Project underway. I know Peter will be doing more investigation during his remaining week there so can't way to find out what he uncovers!
Today we are going to visit the pottery and Peter has already made arrangements with Mr Riad to meet us there. We have to be there early as Mr Riad is going to a funeral at 12 o'clock. This morning we skip breakfast but drink tea to give us the little kick start we need. Before we leave the first floor Peter's mother offers to lend me something to wear – I guess that she means something that completely covers my body. I am already wearing full length trousers and a tunic that has a round neck and three quarter sleeves. In fact it is the top that I have worn before which seemed perfectly acceptable and I can't imagine how much more I can cover up. I decline her offer but do put a tunic with even longer sleeves over the top of my other top. I always dress modestly in the village but there seems to be more concern than usual about adhering to an appropriate dress code – not within the family but in other parts of the village. It's now about 9 am and we make our way down from the first floor to go outside. In front of me on the granite staircase is Peter and his father. The stairwell is dark, as we don't bother to switch the light on. The next bit, is a bit of a blur, as I misplaced my footing, thinking that I had reached the bottom of the first flight of stairs, when in fact I hadn't. All I remember is falling forward, landing with full force of my weight on my right knee.
My first thought was what a fool I must look in front of Peter's father, scrabbling around on the floor – not very elegant at all! I stand up and take a few moments to assess how I feel and where it hurts. Peter and his father are asking me if I'm all right and I repeat a couple of times that I am OK. To be truthful I just needed to get out of the dark stairwell and go and lie down. I felt a little odd, at first I couldn't quite describe it, but then as the blood drained from my face I knew I had to get off my feet as soon as possible. I could walk back up the flight of stairs okay, so I kind of guessed that my leg wasn't broken but it did hurt like billyo!
I lay down for about half an hour. Peter's father asks if he should call a doctor. My leg is throbbing but at this stage I don't feel it requires a doctor. I'm also not quite sure to what lengths they would have to go to bring one here. I will be back home tomorrow night so can assess how my leg is then. I know that we are going back to Luxor later that day so I also don't want to miss the opportunity to pick up a few more pieces of pottery to take home - regardless of a certain curiosity to check out the local health service! Peter's mother brings in a tube of cream for my leg. It says in English that it is for trauma caused by falls. I'm not sure if it can help, but rub it onto my knee anyway.
When I get up I find that I can walk but can't bend my leg. I imagine I'll wake up tomorrow with a massive bruise on my knee.
We set off again to the pottery. Once Peter's father has seen us down the staircase (safely) he turns left to go to the farm and we turn right to go to the pottery. I limp along the street slowly. Peter had told me before we left not to speak to anyone – especially the children if they approach me in the street. During our trip in September, in the short walk from the house to the pottery we had a small crowd of children following us trying to talk to me in English. It couldn't be described as threatening but it did at times feel a little uncomfortable.
This time there are very few children around – they are probably all in school. As we walk down “Montgolfier Road” I notice that the fields to the right that had been laid out with large squares of dates to dry September, were now home to well established wheat crops – land is never left fallow very long - it's too much of a valuable resource.
Mr Riad greets us at the Garagos pottery. He wants to take us over to the kiln to show us some pottery that has just finished being fired. It isn't possible to see all stages of the process when you come to the pottery but by now I think we've seen it all. Mr Riad tells us to listen to the pottery singing and sure enough, like a clay choir, each piece took a turn to make a high pitched 'chink' sound as it's body temperature acclimatised to the cooler air.
We know we don't have much time to spend at the pottery today so go to the store room and pick out a number of pieces to take home. Mr Riad offers us tea and Mr Louis brings it for us. We spend a bit of time talking to Mr Riad about the development of the pottery again. He confirms bits of information that we already have but again I think that we need to have some concentrated time with Mr Riad to talk in more detail – but as I mentioned before – bit by bit.
Before we leave the pottery we decide to go and visit the kindergarten which is located in a tall building behind the pottery. This building was built by the church, originally with the idea of developing it into a hotel for tourists who had come to visit the village. This was at a time when many tourists were coming to Garagos. Unfortunately this was no longer the case after the Queen Hatchepsut's atrocity. The building was never completed, however the ground floor has been converted into a kindergarten for the local school children.
We walk into a large open grassed area where children are playing. We are greeted with a large radiant smile by Sister Mariam who oversees the day to day running of the kindergarten including the administrative duties. We stay outside until the children have finished their playtime. Some of the children come and say hello to me in English – one little girl holds her arms out to me and kisses me on the cheek.
We go inside the building and Sister Mariam introduces us to some of the staff working there. We are shown around the two classrooms which are for KDG1 and KDG2. Shortly after a female relative of Peter's comes into the room to say hello to us. Sister Mariam invites her to join us and offers to make tea telling us that “our house is your house”.
Time is running by. We have quite a few more visits to make so decide to make tracks back to the house. We say goodbye to Sister Mariam and Peter's aunt and walk (or hobble) out of the pottery and kindergarten complex and back down Montgolfier Road. As we turn off this road past the wheat fields, Peter tells me that he has noticed a couple of people videoing me on their mobile phones – they're not used to seeing Westerners in the village. I imagine video's of this strange limping woman being posted onto Youtube!
We hear the loud, booming voice of Peter's Uncle Romani who is standing in front of a shop – when I say shop this is more of a roadside shack. After greetings we are invited back to his home for tea. Mr Romani's house is just around the corner – all the family live in such close proximity to each other. We walk into a bright hallway where two elderly ladies clad in black sit on chairs shelling nuts. They are introduced to me as the mother of Romani and the mother of Romani's wife. This is a large house which is decorated beautifully with gold embellishments along the cornice line. There are long cane benches along three of the main walls furnished with blue and yellow cushions – clearly the house of a successful man. Mr Romani is clearly proud of the room as he asks me what I think of it and I tell him that I like it very much. Dominating the room is a large photograph of William Mr Romani's son who died tragically in a car accident at the age of 22.
This is another visit that ends up a longer stay than we planned as we begin talking about the family history and Father Montgolfier. Peter's cousin Maged joins us and he speaks good English which is a relief for Peter who is suffering from interpretation fatigue. We spend over an hour talking about the history of Garagos and then another talking about politics (I'm not involved in the latter). This is broken up by a short break to eat a lunch of boiled eggs, bread, cheese Maged's father pops in at one point briefly as does a couple of other family members. Uncle Romani has given us lots of information this afternoon – not all of it new information but it is helpful to cross reference it with other things we have been told. It's now early afternoon and we had planned to leave at 2.00pm to go back to Luxor. I sort of had a feeling that we wouldn't be going back today so start calculating in my mind what time we will need to leave Garagos in the morning if we still need to pack and check out by 12.00pm.
Maged offers to take us to the village flour mill which is owned by Mr Romani, Maged's father and another member of the family. We turn left out of the house and walk no further than 20 yards to a large building. Firstly we are taken around the back of the building where Maged shows us an old disused water pump – Mr Romani's business (as well as government work in a school) is installing industrial water pumps for both agricultural and domestic use. The mill, the only one in the village used to pump water as well as mill the grain to produce flour. He points up to the roof to a whistle which used to be sounded to let the villagers know that the next batch of freshly ground flour was now ready to purchase.
Maged then takes us into a room in the back of the mill which houses a large engine - from the metal plate it indicates that it is of German construction.
We then follow Maged around to the front of the mill where a couple of elderly ladies dressed in black are filling bags with flour straight from the mouth of the tube connected to the milling machine. This has been very interesting to see and we thank Maged for showing us. We all walk back together to Mr Romani's house and Om Romani is sitting outside on the cane bench - Peter chats to her for a little while before we return back to the family home.
We go up to the first floor where Peter's Mother and father are watching television. I've taken the stairs one at a time as I can't bend my right leg and wonder now if we should have called a doctor after all. Anyway, I need to stop harping on about my knee!
We are offered food and tea but we had recently eaten at Mr Romani's so opt just for tea. We are told by Peter's father that Ehab is home from Safaga and that there is going to be a party for Sara and Susanna's birthday this evening. We tell them that we have already decided to stay until the morning but will need to leave early as we need to pack and check out by 12.00 lunchtime.
It's now late afternoon and we still haven't managed to visit the families that we said we would. Because the average visit can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours we decide to go and visit Peter's Aunt Matilda and her husband Mr Labib. This is always a lively house to visit with several generations of family living together in this large house. The house is a two minute walk. Along the way neighbours greet Peter and vice versa.
We first walk through an entrance to an outdoor area which has a hedge of Rahan (Egyptian Basil) growing. The aroma seems to peak in early evening. To enter the large double doorway we have to climb over a mound of sand that has been tipped in front of the doorway – I don't ask but assume building work is in progress somewhere. I grab hold of the metal door and haul my body over the sand hill dragging my leg behind me!
Mr Labib is sitting at a table in the large room reading a paper. Also in the room is cousin's Shaib and Aiyad. After exchanging greetings we are told that Peter's Aunt Matilda is out milking the cow but will be back shortly. Other family members come in to greet us – cousins Yvonne, Akmel and his two children Nardine and one year old baby and Akmels wife Katerine. Also Kissinger and his sons Mina and Shenouda. Gerges also pops in briefly but can't stay as he is meeting his fiance that evening. Matilda returns with a pale of milk. She speaks little English but we converse better in limited French (limited on my part as Matilda speaks fluent French from living with and being educated by French nuns).
Nardine, Mina and Shenouda play in the other side of the room. We watched them join hands and move in an out of the circle singing a song called "Eftahee ya warda" The song is about the opening and closing of a flower.
Peter's father has now joined us and it isn't long before the discussion turns to politics. It appears to be quite an involved discussion and I have no idea of what is being said but the children have brought out a box of plastic figures which they proceed to step out onto the chair in front of me. We occupy ourselves - the children asking me what the name for a certain object is in English and in return I asked them what the name for it is all in Arabic. And Matilda asked us if we would like to stay something to eat but Peter tells her that we have been invited to a barbecue at Mr Riad's house to celebrate the birthdays of Sara and Susanna.
Before we leave me take a few photographs of the family group and then make way to Mr Riad's house.
As we enter the house there are a lot of activity going on. Ehab is hanging balloons around the room, Margreet and Mr Riad's wife (Om Osama) along with Andre's wife Marmar are preparing food. Waseem tells me that he's going to be the chef of the night and is going outside to get the barbecue going and Sara and Susanna are playing with new birthday presents - a toy laptop each.
The men of the family take out tables and chairs to a passageway between their's and the house next door. We are invited to come and sit outside and and have a drink whilst the food is prepared. Michael has now joined us and along with Peter, Waseem and Andre they all take turns at trying to get the barbecue going.
Shortly after, a turbaned gentleman appears at the bottom of the alley riding a donkey. I am told this is Bakheet, a cousin and uncle somewhere in the family. Bakheet tethers his donkey to an empty gas bottle at the front of the house and comes to join us.
It isn't long before Mr Riad brings out a bottle of whiskey and offers it around. All of the adults except for Michael who is fasting, accept a shot. Several rounds of whiskey go around the group, and although I don't particularly like blended whiskey I accept the third glass of whiskey, explaining that I am taking it just for the pain!
I think the whiskey has gone to Bakheet's head because Mr Riad explains that he won't be going home on his donkey tonight but will stay here – apparently he can see three donkeys!
I looked down the alleyway and can hear excited laughter from Sara and Susanna. Ehab has climbed onto Bakheet's donkey and Peter has lifted Sara and Susanna in front of him. He takes them for a short ride up and down in front of the row of houses. When they are lifted off the donkey the stand on the mastaba at the front of the house – Sara happily plays with the donkey's ears but Susanna seeks refuge in the arms of Peter, clearly a bit more cautious about approaching the donkey. Riding on it is one thing but stroking it is another.
Waseem has done a good job of cooking the chicken on the barbecue however, it has turned a little chilly so we decided to continue the party indoors. Plates of food are brought out from the kitchen and put onto a long table. Egyptian tables are clearly built with large families in mind and most of us managed to squeeze around. Those that don't fit take seats elsewhere in the large room. There is barbecued chicken, macaroni, soup, fresh bread and salad on offer.
After the table is cleared of plates, two large cakes are brought to the table. They have been decorated with cream and fresh strawberries and are adorned with decorative birthday candles. The candles are lit, the lights go out and “Happy birthday” is sung in English and then Arabic to Sara and Susanna.
Time is running very quickly. It is now nearly midnight and we have to be up early in the morning to return to Luxor to pack before checking out. It's been a very enjoyable night and great to have been able to share in the birthday celebrations of Sara and Susanna. We probably won't have time to see anybody in the morning so we say our goodbyes now before leaving Mr Riad's house. We walk with Peter's father and Michael back to the house. Peter's mother is already in bed and Peter and I go straight to bed without a shower.
I reflect on the trip with Peter. One week has gone by so quickly. It has been a real joy spending time in Garagos again but I think next time we will need to spend more concentrated time here. I have probably learnt more about the village than I realise. Not necessarily about it's history and it's development through the Catholic Church but about how far more conservative it is than Luxor - and Luxor is in comparison to Cairo and Alexandria, very conservative.
The family are very willing to talk about Garagos but they all have slightly different versions of events from each other, but regarding dates when the Jesuits came to the village etc we can verify this with the church itself. On occasion I have detected slight tensions from within the family particularly around religion. Although all Christian, the family is still divided on some beliefs between the Coptic Church and the Catholic Church. I'm sure Peter's parents will talk to him more next week about a number of issues.
My knee has now swollen to quite a size but there is hardly a mark where I expected to see bruising. The village dust has permeated every pore of my skin and for now I imagine the luxury of a full-on bubble bath tomorrow morning back at the hotel.
It's hard to imagine that we are already on our sixth day in Egypt, time has absolutely flown by. We seem to have been flying back and forth to Garagos and haven't had the opportunity to spend any time relaxing. This morning we are going back to Garagos for the rest of our stay, though planning to come back on Tuesday night so we can pack ready for my flight back on Wednesday afternoon. Peter will be staying for another week and already has most of his clothes in Garagos.
After breakfast, Peter phones Hamada to come and pick us up his car and take us to Garagos. He has to take his daughter to school so tells us he will be there at about 11 AM. In the meantime we take this opportunity to have a generous breakfast and to take a stroll around the hotel grounds. This is such a lovely, green and peaceful place. It's such a shame that we haven't even had a couple of hours to spend lying in the sun and swimming in the pool, especially as we have paid for a one week stay here. I take a little solace in knowing that we have spent less money by staying at the Sofitel than we would have if we'd have paid to stay at the Sonesta.
I always feel torn when I come to Luxor. I usually come with a real physical and mental need to relax and get some sunshine but at the same time want to spend as much time as possible with Peter's family in Garagos. I don't take for granted for one moment how privileged I am to be able to have experienced what I have during my stays in Garagos. I know I'm not the first Westerner to have stayed in the village. I know that visitors, usually connected to the church have also stayed here in the past. I don't doubt that they were offered the full arm of the generous hospitality that goes in hand with staying with an Egyptian family, but I stay here as an extended member of the family - and that feels to me, like something incredibly special.
I know we have a lot to squeeze into our last couple of days in Garagos but at least I have a couple of days to relax when I get home before returning to work on Monday. I had hoped to visit the village of Hagaza which is about a 30 min drive from Garagos. Hagaza is famous for its hand crafted wood products made from hardwood grown in the locality. Like Garagos, this project was developed by a French Jesuit priest called Father Petros. He taught the local Christian community skills needed to produce beautiful wood carvings and then to develop this as a business. In the 1950's Jesuits came and settled in and number of poor, rural communities, bringing education, training and health and welfare where it was needed. In the governornate of Qena, they supported a number of communities, each developing a craft that has now become unique to each of those villages. Garagos is famous for its pottery, Hagaza for its wood crafts, Naqada for it's linen and cotton weaving.
Peter and I are still allocating time to the 1001 Nights hand craft project but have not been purchasing the products in the volumes that we originally planned to due to the uncertainty of the current political environment. However, we are still both very interested in promoting regional handcrafts of Upper Egypt and will continue to discover more about the history of the traditional handcrafts and the people that produce them. At the moment any spare time we have, is being dedicated to what we are calling the Garagos History Project. For the last six months we have been doing a lot of internet research to try and document a timeline going as far back into the history of Garagos as we can. The earliest documented reference to Garagos that we can find relates to St Verena who we understand was born in Garagos in the year 279 A.D. We also read that she was born into a noble Christian family and was the sister of St Maurice who was part of the Theban Legion. St Verena's mother was thought to have supervised the tailoring of the priests and deacons outfits.
The next reference I have to Garagos on the timeline is a establishment of the church in 1879. It may be unrealistic to expect to find any documentary evidence relating to Garagos between these two periods of time as records were usually only kept in relation to religious or political events. However, it really is the contemporary history of the village that interests me most - saying that it would be interesting to find out more about the foundations on which the village was built.
Although I would like to have spent more time with Peter's family talking to them about Garagos, I know that the first important step is for them to understand what Peter and I hope to achieve from the project. Without this, the project won't go anywhere. At the very most what we can achieve during this visit is to plant the seed of thought – to just let them know that we would like to write the story of Garagos and the people that live here today. If they want to share their stories – great, if not – it's not a problem. There is an Arabic proverb that I learnt where I first started studying Arabic. In Arabic it is “Haba haba erkal einab”. This translates as “eat grapes one at a time” and simply means, take things one step at a time. You can never hurry an Egyptian as after nearly four years of marriage to one can testify!
Anyway, there's currently another Egyptian who can't be hurried and that's Hamada – it is now 12.00pm and he still hasn't turned up. We had hoped to have set off a little earlier today but at least we are able to spend a bit more time at the hotel relaxing.
Peter gets a missed call on his phone from Hamada to let us know he is here. Peter has already brought the large package from Ehab to the reception. He carries this and our bags out of the car. Hamada seems a little distracted but nonetheless we set off for Garagos once more. During the journey I try to make notes on the journey to Garagos so that I an describe the directions on how to get there in the future. Unfortunately Hamada is driving very fast and I find it difficult to think of anything apart from whether we will get there in one piece or not. Hamada tells us that he has to be back in Luxor to pick his daughter up from school. He should have told us this before so we could have chosen another driver - which I would have preferred rather than endure this hair raising journey. Anyway, we arrived back at the village where Peter's father is waiting for us.
We all go up to the first floor where Peter's mother makes us some tea. It is a beautiful day today, the winds of the last few days has dropped and there is definitely an increase in temperature. Not warm by Egyptian standards, but warm enough for me! A little while later, Peter suggests that we go for a walk down to the farm and the green land. He knows only too well how I hate being cooped up in a dark room and also how I love being outside in the sunshine.
We turn left out of the house with Peter's father and take the short five-minute walk to the farm. The cow and the water buffalo that belongs to Peter's father are tethered to palm trees and graze on the freshly cut clover that is grown in the fields nearby. Peter and his father stroke and pat the two animals. Peter's father invites me to come and stroke the cow. Peter had previously warned me about the water buffalo which can be quite aggressive so I am less concerned about approaching the cow.
Also in this enclosure surrounded by a high mud brick wall is a donkey and another water buffalo belonging to other members of the family. There is also an old waterwheel that he used to be driven by donkeys or water buffalo to pump the water into the irrigation channels. This has now been replaced by a motorised pump which is a fraction of the size and takes considerably less effort to work. Various uncles and cousins come and say hello. They shake hands with us and exchange the usual greetings. We then walked together to another enclosure across the way which is where Peter's father has a banana tree, a mango tree, an old grapevine growing up a trellis and I particularly notice the mint growing rampantly underneath our feet. Last time we visited you brought Peter's father a large selection of vegetable seeds. He has the idea that this is where he will grow them though the soil will need a lot of preparation first - and I think he has Peter in mind for the job when he is in Garagos next week.
As we leave this enclosure, we continue down to track, following the irrigation channel to the end of the farmland. When we were there in September, we visited the new family home that Stephanos was building for his family. At the moment only one floor has been built and currently houses chickens and sheep. This currently sits right in the middle of the green land and is a completely peaceful place. Fauzia is at the house and sees us coming and of course we are invited to drink tea. A plastic chair is brought out to me to sit on, everyone else sits on the doorstep, or the felled trunk of a palm tree that is nearby. Bit by bit other family members come to join us including Mina who has come to show off his bike to me. I am fascinated by the way that he has adorned this simple bike with a variety of home-made accessories made from bits and pieces that have been recycled from elsewhere. On the front is a plastic windmill and on the back is a rack to carry things. On the handlebars is a mirror he also has a buzzer which looks like it has come from a door. It is connected to a couple of batteries that are also taped to the handlebar. At the moment he's doing a small repair job on this, reconnecting the wires between the two components. He does this with such skill and ease. It makes me think about the children in my own family who have more than they could possibly wish for in terms of toys, bikes etc. Despite that, I do wonder whether they also miss out on some of the opportunities that Egyptian children have to develop skills that come from need rather than desire. The saying “need is the mother of invention”springs to mind and here in Egypt children are not spoilt with the abundance of material possessions that children are in the UK. But surely there is a richness of experience that comes from learning, doing and making for youself - not to mention the development of construction/engineering type skills at an early age.
I must admit that since being married to Peter I have become more aware of the difference between need and want. When we used to go shopping Peter very rarely bought anything because he “didn't need” it. Whereas when I went shopping if I saw something and I wanted it I would buy it. We have both moved more towards each other on this issue, though a gap still does exist. One thing that Peter used to do that drove me mad was the fact that he would never let me throw anything away, even if it was broken beyond repair. Old DVD players, old Hoovers that had given up the ghost, set top boxes that were now defunct, stuff that anybody would throw away. I would put things in the bin only to find that Peter had rescued them and hidden them elsewhere in the house. I would ask him what he planned to do with the broken bits of rubbish and although he said he didn't know, he wanted to keep it “just in case”. In Peter's family home there are cupboards, sideboards and whole rooms filled with things that appear to have no use. However, when I think of my mother who was a war baby she has a whole house filled with junk that we have tried to syphon off into the charity shops or recycling centres over the last 10 years!
We stay for about 20 minutes, various people come and go. Peter's father leaves and we tell him we will follow shortly. We begin to make our way back to the family home. We walk back down the mud path, back along the irrigation channel and before we reach the enclosure with fruit trees, we see someone in an adjacent building waving to us. Peter tells us that it is his Uncle Saieed and we have to go and say hello. I haven't met his Uncle Saieed before which surprises me considering the close proximity of his home to the farmland which we visit regularly. We enter an oblong room about 25 feet long and 15 feet wide. The room has a mud floor and cane seats along both walls. There is a small television in one corner. We receive a very warm welcome by Mr Saieed and his wife. I am also introduced to his sons Romani and Abd Naseer, his daughters Eva and Rose and his niece Danielle and Danielle's mother. I am being careful not to use the names of the women of the household as a matter of courtesy. I mentioned in my blog from the previous trip that once a woman reaches a certain age – or maybe once her son reaches a certain age, she becomes referred to as – The mother of (and then the name of her oldest son) and not by her first name. Peter seems a bit vague on the point at which this becomes practice.
Tea is offered and accepted. Peter tells me that Mr Saieed also used to have a pottery in Garagos. This also comes as a big surprise as another pottery in the village has never come up in conversation before. As the conversation progresses I ascertain that Mr Saieed used to work at the Garagos pottery but for various reasons he left to set up his own pottery. Not only did the family do pottery but weaving was also parts of the crafts they produced. Danielle's mother goes into another room and comes back with a necklace made from seashells which she gives to me. The necklace is lovely and I thank her for the gift. She tells me that they used to make them and sell them when tourists used to visit the pottery. I ask how long it is since the pottery was here and Mr Saieed says about four years. When I speak to Peter later he tells me that it was much longer than this.
I'm not sure whether Peter told Mr Saieed that we were interested in researching the history of Garagos but before I knew it, a table has been put in front of me and Romani brings from another room a large bag of photographs. We spend the next hour or so going through the photographs which we both find very interesting. Romani periodically disappears into another room but then brings back a piece of pottery. These are also given to us as gifts. The pottery that we see here is similar to the Garagos pottery but Mr Saieed's work is more detailed – more artistic.
He tells us that he did exhibitions in America and Russia and shows us the corresponding photographs with various dignitaries he met at the events. I have seen some of the family photographs before as they appear in the albums of Peter's father. One photograph that is very interesting is one that was taken in Peter's family home. It features various relatives, Father Montgolfier who established the dispensary in the village and also commissioned the building of the Garagos Pottery by the architect Hassan Fathy, a Catholic sister, Peter's father, Peter's grandmother and also his mother who is holding a baby. The baby is Peter.
Although I have seen this photograph before, it now strikes me as really fascinating. I had spent the last few months trying to find out more information about Father Montgolfier via the internet (and not really discovered anything) that I had almost forgotten that this man (who had become a legend in my mind) was a very big part of lives of Peter's family.
These photographs speak volumes about this place in a particular time. We are shown further photographs of the weaving looms, traditional musicians, a Sukkah who is a man that walks the village selling water from a vessel strapped to his side. There is a photograph of Peter's grandfather Zakria weaving palm baskets – this photograph was part of a display that Uncle Saieed used at his exhibitions. The photograph is described as “An Egyptian peasant makes a basket from palm branches, an ancient Egyptian tradition.”
I think by now we have been hear for nearly two hours and know that Peter's father will be wondering where we are. We say goodbye to Mr Saieed and his family and walk back to the family house. We go up to the first floor where Peter's father looks at me and raises his hands as if to so “where have you been?” Once Peter tells him that we have been looking at old family photographs with his Uncle Saieed he seems happier. Margreet had been to the house with the twins but had returned home as we had taken so long.
There is now only Peter's parents and us in the house – unusual as there always sees to be visitors. We spend the rest of the evening watching the television – mainly the political channels. The occasional debate between Peter and his parents take place but they never agree when it comes to politics and Peter knows they will never find common ground so knows when to quit.
It's beginning to get chilly so we go to bed about 9.00pm.
This morning the alarm goes off at 5:30 AM. The driver Mahmoud is due to pick Lou and Bev up from their hotel at 6 AM this morning. Peter calls Mahmoud who tells him he will be at the hotel shortly. At 6 AM Peter phones Mahmoud again who says that Louis and Bev are now with him. They tell us they are fine and ready to set off. We keep in touch with them until we know that they have 'finally' made it through the checkpoint – which thank heavens they did! We decide to get a few more hours sleep before getting up.
At 8:30 AM we get up and go for breakfast and then sit in the hotel foyer waiting for them. During this time Peter makes more phone calls to check their location. At about 9.30 they arrive at the hotel. We greet them and invite them all into the hotel for a cup of tea before we start the days excursion. We sit out on the terrace and let them take in some refreshments after the 3.5 hour journey. I then take Lou and Bev down to the bottom of the hotel grounds to show them the view over the River Nile. I point out the Theban mountains and tell them that this is where we are going to go first.
I advise a toilet break to everyone as the toilet facilities cannot be guaranteed once out of the hotel. We set off in the car with Mahmoud and head out of Karnak into Luxor. There is still a light breeze today which I'm sure we will be grateful for once we reach the Valley of the Kings. We drive down the Corniche and head out towards Awamia, passing the Sonesta Hotel on our way. We tell them that they won't see scenes like this along the red Sea coastline - this is the real Egypt. After we cross the bridge over the Nile Peter explains that the West bank is the gateway to the amazing Valley of the Kings. The east bank of the Nile is the city of the living. Luxor and Karnak temples greet the sunrise. The sunset on the west bank throws shadows over the City of the Dead - the Tombs of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings and Queen Hatshepsut’s temple.
The first stop is at the Colossus of Memnon - this is only a quick photo opportunity especially as the hassle from the souvenir sellers is too much - very persistent - even when Peter tries to intervene.
We get back into the car and continue our journey into the Theban Mountains. We can see how much more excavation has been done behind the Colossus of Memnon. Several statues that must've been laid flat out during the earthquake, have now been re-erected and are standing vertically once more.
We drive past Carter's house sitting on top of the hill overlooking the mountain. In front of us we can see old Gourna village and the last few remaining houses sitting on top of the necropolis. We tell them about how families have lived there for generations and have made their living from robbing the tombs that lay beneath their houses. We then tell them how Hassan Fathy the famous Egyptian architect was commissioned to design and build a village to rehouse these local people.
To the right of us we can see the Ramuseum and in front of that some mud brick granaries. We drive down the winding tarmac roads that takes us up into the mountains and then down into the valley. When we get out of the car we are surrounded by men and children trying to sell as postcards, statues, anything that they can. Again the hassle is still quite full on. We walked through a small selection of shops selling the usual tourist items and then head into the museum entrance where there is a model of the Valley of the Kings. Waiting for us on the other side are small carts that will drive us further into the valley – and again more souvenir sellers trying their best to make a sale. One young boy climbs onto the front of the vehicle we are sitting in – I can see that Bev finds it difficult to refuse the children. We have already bought a pack of postcards. As the carts set off the boy is still clinging to the front of our vehicle. Eventually he gives up and jumps off – returning to the entrance for the next batch of tourists.
Once at the ticket kiosk we decide which tombs we are going to see and the man in the kiosk recommends the tomb of Tausert. Tausert was the Queen and last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty. We also decide to visit the tombs of Ramses the third and Ramses the fourth. The man also tells us that we must leave any cameras we have with him. I said that in the past you used to be able to take photos outside of the tombs and he said not any more. He said that he trusted me as long as I can my camera in my bag he wouldn't take it from me. Oh well I said to Bev - it's not just about the photos!
We walk up the incline towards the first Temple, although not hot by any standards at this time of year, we really begin to feel the heat. We go into Tauserts Temple which is really quite impressive. Peter does an explanation of the paintings. There is a sarcophagus at the bottom of the tomb. The Guardian of the tomb starts to make conversation with Peter. I ask what he wants and Peter tells him that he thinks that he knows him from somewhere. Shortly after he tells Peter that he can show us something special. He waits until the other tourists have left the tomb and then takes out a torch and shows us an inscription underneath the lid of the sarcophagus. I'm not quite sure what secret this was as we had already seen tourists coming in with their own torches and looking at this inscription. Anyway, with this we feel obliged to leave him a tip.
We go into the tomb of Ramses the third – I'm not able to do this tomb justice in my description but this link does a better job.
After this Louis and Bev go into Tutankhamen's tomb – you have to pay extra for this ticket and Peter and I have already seen it so we wait outside. The tomb itself in comparison to some of the others is not as outstanding in terms of its wall paintings and it is also quite small. I think any visit to Tutankhamen's tomb must also be done in partnership with a visit to the Cairo Museum to see the treasures that the tomb once held. This is the point at which you will become awe inspired. It is just incredible to imagine that such a small, unassuming tomb would have held such amazing treasures – but especially in such large volumes.
We then go into the tomb of Ramses fourth. The photo from the Flickr website was clearly taken by someone before the ban on camera's onto the site.
The heat has rather exhausted us so we go to get the little train back to Mahmoud. An old man selling statues of Bastet the cat god. He approaches us making miouowing sounds. The same children also come towards us but there is little energy left to humour anyone.
We make the short journey on the carts back to the car park where Mahmoud is waiting for us. We now leave the Valley of the Kings and make our way to Queen Hatchepsut's Temple. We don't have time to visit the temple but just wanted to show Lou and Bev what it looks like from the outside and maybe a quick photo opportunity. (By hook or by crook I will keep everything on schedule!) Mahmoud parks the car and we get out to have a look. It isn't long before a man in a uniform comes over to us and tells us that we are not allowed to park there without paying. He tells us we are not allowed to take photos either. Things have really tightened up in the tourist spots and not necessarily for the better. We wonder if it is because over concerns of security. Peter is more cynical and says that it's more likely that after the police were humiliated during the revolution they feel they need to come back strong – it's a matter of pride!
We get back in the car and head away from the valley passing numerous alabaster factories on the way. We head back down to the Ramla - Peter has already phoned Osman to ask him to arrange a motorboat to take us back across to the east bank of the Nile. By now we are in need of refreshments so decide go to Ramla on the Beach again. Shortly after we arrive, Osman meets us again and comes to join us for a drink. When we arrive we see Hamada with a couple of tourists from our hotel - they use Hamada to drive them every time they come to Luxor. It's good to see that after introducing Hamada to Osman and Ramla on the Beach he is already bringing tourists back – that's how it works here!
We drink tea and Cola. Louis notices some of the birds that are flying across the Nile and names some of them – he used to be a Park Ranger so is familiar with wild life. Osman tells him he is very knowledgeable about birds. Earlier Louis had broken his sunglasses and the sun is very bright and asks if there is anywhere near to buy some new ones. Osman offers him his sunglasses and Louis declines the offer, but Osman insists. Louis puts on the glasses – these aren't cheap ones either. I must say that many Egyptians, or more specifically those that work in tourism come in for a lot of criticism about only thinking about money. We have been to Osman's cafe twice in the last two days and on neither occasion would he take money for our drinks. I think it's true to say that in general most tourists will experience the negative side of Egyptians working in tourism and have a real battle on their hands trying not to get ripped off. I'm sure that it's because of Peter that I have mainly experienced the kindness and generosity of Egyptians. There may be a business motive behind this on some occasions but Peter is well liked and trusted by people and this counts for a lot.
A motorboat draws up on the edge of the Nile. As we walk closer we see that the driver of the boat is Abu Halawa. Osman takes the wooden plank from him and helps us onto the boat one by one. We wave our goodbyes to Hamada and shake hands with Osman and thank him for his hospitality. As we leave the west bank, Abu Halawa hands the rudder of the boat to Peter who steers us (under the direction of Abu Halawa back to the east bank. I remind Abu Halawa of the photograph that I took of Peter and him all those years ago and take one more for posterity.
We arrive at the jetty and disembark the motor boat shaking hands with Abu Halawa. We climb the steps to the Corniche where Radwan is waiting for us in his carriage. I can't believe this excursion is going so well and to plan and still on time – especially after yesterdays fiasco. Peter introduces Lou and Bev to Radwan. Lou decides to take the seat up front with Radwan so I hand him the camera to capture the ride around the town. Radwan tells us that his wife had a baby girl – during our last trip he told us that he had recently got married and was expecting a baby so it was great to hear his news. We begin our drive around Luxor. We take a quick drive through the souk and then pass by Luxor Temple. Radwan drives us down the wide open roads around the back of Karnak Temple. This is a bit of a relief after the tight squeeze going through the souk.
Radwan is a qualified guide and furnishes us with interesting information about the temple. We stop at the recently excavated avenue of sphinxes where we take a couple of photographs of Lou and Bev. We then continue our journey to the entrance of Karnak Temple where we say goodbye to Radwan and his horse Sabrina.
We spend about an hour in Karnak Temple, we are lucky there are only one or two groups of tourists in there – lucky for us I mean as I know it is difficult for the people that are trying to make their living from tourism. Lou and Bev walk around the scarab three times – this is supposed to be good luck. This is only a whistlestop tour – you really need at least a full day in Karnak Temple to take in it's wonders .
It's now about 4.00pm. We decide that we are now all more than ready for something to eat so make our way over to the terrace of the Aladdin Restaurant next to Karnak Temple. We are approached by a couple of souvenir sellers who have armfuls of pharaonic statues but after the experiences throughout the day nobody has the energy to put up resistance but we just continue walking. As we approach the restaurant Peter seems to have lagged behind. When we turn around we see that he has stopped to talk to the souvenir sellers. We stop and wait for him thinking that he will soon catch us up but he is clearly in deep conversation with them. We decide to leave him to it and go and find a table on the restaurant terrace – this provides us with some great views over the Nile.
Mahmoud has now joined us again and is shortly followed by Peter who is carrying a number of objects – 4 pharaonic statues. He lays them out on the table and asks Lou and Bev to choose which one they want. They select one and Peter then asks them to choose another. I detest fake pharaonic statues so before Peter gets any ideas of bringing them home I push the remaining two statues towards Lou and Bev – we will already have problems juggling our luggage allowance on our return journeys but Lou and Bev are delighted with their gifts.
We all enjoy and lovely meal of mixed grill, a range of salads and pizza's. I also enjoy my first beer since arriving in Egypt which went down better than I could have imagined!
I know Lou and Bev are a bit nervous about missing the checkpoint for their return journey after their experience the day before but Mahmoud assures us that they are OK for time. I say that we can make our way back to our hotel ourselves but it appears that Mahmoud came with a large package from Ehab in Safaga which we need to take back to Garagos – no problem after the efforts he went to to arrange Mahmoud for us.
Mahmoud drives us to the Sofitel where we say goodbye to Lou and Bev. After a quick freshening up in the room we make our way out into the hotel grounds to watch the sunset. We walk down to the edge of the Nile where we watch kingfishers hovering and swooping on their prey in the river. Sitting on a mooring rope of a dahbeya sits a cattle egret. Its white feathers flutter in the breeze as it sits vigilant and patient, waiting for a far more generous prey than what the kingfishers are willing to accept.
The sun begins to set behind the Theban Mountains and its orange glow spreads itself across the Nile - West to East. It begins to get chilly and midges are now coming out in full force.
We go back to the room, and have a bath and a cup of tea. What an exhausting day. Before we call it a night Peter makes a final call to check that Louis and Bev are safely back at their hotel – which they are. They've had a fantastic day and we're thrilled that we've been able to show them a bit more of Egypt than it's beautiful beaches. Hopefully we've given them an appetite for Egypt and they will come back again.
Peter had set his alarm to go off before 5:30 AM. He wanted to check that Lou and Bev had been picked up from their hotel okay. Firstly he phones Haney who confirms that he has arrived at the hotel and Lou and Bev are with him. He had driven all the way from Luxor the day before to get to them. They are about to set off for the 40 min drive from Makadi Bay to the checkpoint at Safaga. Peter phoned them intermittently to check that everything was okay. I knew everything wasn't going smoothly as soon as I heard Peter say “Ya ragal!” a number of times in a row. This translates as Oh Man! I can tell by the tone of his voice that everything is not well. Peter turns to me and tells me that the police at the Safaga checkpoint will not let the Louis and Bev through as they are saying that the driver doesn't have the right permissions. All I can do is sit there in disbelief – I can only imagine how disappointed they will be if they don't make this trip. It seems the police are adamant – they won't let them through on the permission that Haney has – despite him assuring us that he travels with tourists with this paper all the time. He also tells us that there are an unusual amount of police at the checkpoint – about 40 and that they are even getting on the coaches and checking the passports of tourists which isn't usual.
(The next section of this blog outlines the fiasco that then ensues and doesn't make for very good reading. However, I may look back on it one day and remember this and see the humourous side!)
Peter made a couple of phone calls to Bob and Tony to see if they could help in anyway. However despite their efforts nothing came of this. We kept checking back with Louis to see what was happening there but there was no negotiation. I could tell that they were feeling a bit fed up having been up since before five o'clock. I think they just wanted to go back to their hotel at this point. We had exhausted all leads by this time so the decision was made to tell Haney to take them back to the hotel. Peter and I were both gutted. I was completely exasperated as we had been assured that this driver had an annual permission which allowed him drive tourists to and from the Red Sea without any restrictions. Peter and I talked through a couple of options. After weeks and weeks of telling Lou what we had planned for them we must find some way to get them over to Luxor today or tomorrow. We had already discussed sending them by taxi from Ehab's hotel but at £150 this seemed expensive. Regardless, it was already too late to get this arranged for today.
We both started to think of other options. Peter suggested that we could go over to see them instead. Although this would have been nice, it defeats the purpose of the exercise of showing them the 'real' Egypt. I asked Peter to speak to Ehab again and if we need to pay £150 we would – even though this is the same price as an excursion to Cairo including flights, pyramids and the Egyptian Museum!
Peter phones Ehab and explains the situation to him and he says he will make some more enquiries. We phone Lou to tell him that we are looking at ways to try and get them over tomorrow and that we'll phone back when we hear back from Ehab. Soon Ehab phones back and tells us that the taxi driver can bring Louis and Bev to Luxor for £80 but this doesn't include any excursions. This is much better as Peter already has the tickets for all of the attractions that we wanted to see from Mr Sameer at Menf Travel. All Peter has to do is return the tickets that we don't use. Ehab tells Peter that Louis and Bev will need to fax copies of their passports over to his hotel. We send a text message to Louis telling him this with the fax number of hotel.
Whilst there is nothing else we can do, we decide to go down to breakfast - at least to take our minds off this stress. I can't say I really enjoyed breakfast, I couldn't help thinking how disappointed Louis and Bev must have been. However, Peter is more philosophical as always - a trait that I admire and wish I had more of.
After breakfast we go and sit in reception, to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. Peter had picked up old Wi-Fi dongle from the flat but for some reason it wasn't working. It seems that it needed a software update but this had all gone a bit wrong. In the end I gave up with it and we agree we should make do with the one hour a day free Wi-Fi when we're at the hotel.
Enough of this messing around. We now have a full day in Luxor and we need to decide how to fill it. Peter phones his friend Hamada and asks him to come and pick us up. We decided to go to Hassan Fathy village on the West Bank. This isn't something that Lou and Bev would be interested in so it makes sense for us to go on our own today. 30 minutes later Hamada arrives at the hotel. After greeting each other we get into the car and head off out of Luxor towards Awamia and then over the bridge onto the West Bank. Whilst still on the east bank we see smoke billowing out across the river. A boat pumps water onto the fire from the Nile – it seems that a fire set to burn the sugar cane stubble has got a little out of control – there is still a strong breeze today.
We get a phone call from Louis telling us that the fax machine in the hotel isn't working. Oh my God! The planets really are aligned in the wrong position at the moment! Peter tells Louis that he will phone Ehab and get an e-mail address for the hotel and to hang fire. Peter makes the call and Ehab says that he will go and get the e-mail address and phone Peter back. 10 minutes passed and we didn't hear back from Ehab so Louis tells us that they are going to go back to bed for a while. Shortly after, Ehab phones us with the e-mail address of the hotel which we then text to Louis. Louis phones us later to tell us that the hotel had emailed over copies of their passports. Peter phones Ehab to ask him to check whether the e-mail has come through. Ehab phones us back to say that the e-mail didn't go through. Exasperation doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling at this moment in time! I find out later that Ehab ends up sending a car over to the Stella Makadi to pick up the photocopies of the passports. This really is turning into a farce!
Ehab tells us not to worry. He has already spoken to the owner of the car who assures us that they will sort out the paperwork and everything will be okay. They tell us to let Louis that the car will pick them up at 6 AM in the morning. We then send Louis a text message with this information.
By now we were over on the West Bank of the River Nile and making our way towards Hassan Fathy village. Before leaving for Egypt I had just finished reading Architecture for the Poor by Hassan Fathan and so was desperate to see what remains of the village he set out to build.
We arrive at, Hassan Fathy village and meet Mr Ahmed Abd Elrady. He tells us that his father was the first man to move into the first house that Hassan Fathy built in the village. He asks us what country we come from and I tell him England. He says he will get his daughter Soraya who speaks English very well. Soraya takes us into the house. We go through a series of arches that takes through to a bedroom and living room. She tells us that there was a Hassan Fathy exhibition in Cairo last month. A limited edition of a Hassan Fathy book was produced to mark this occasion but it is now impossible to get copies – she shows us the copy she has. She then takes us through to another room which she tells us is the room that Hassan Fathy himself stayed in. She describes the bed which has a concrete base, a wooden platform that can be raised for storage, and this is covered by a mattress. She points out a narrow channel along the bottom of the bed and explains that this used to be filled with water and was the method used to stop scorpions from climbing into the bed. I remember how Hassan Fathy describes this in his book and also how the people of Gourna used to build a mud bed called Beit el agrab which was also designed to protect people from scorpions whilst sleeping.
We spent some time talking to Soraya asking many questions about what other people thought of Hassan Fathy. I tell her that some people think that he didn't care about the poor people – that he was a wealthy man who had no idea about the conditions that people lived in. She was quite fervent in her reply and said that this wasn't true and that he was a very kind man with a very good heart. We continue to walk around the small complex. I take in the details such as the coloured glass pieces set into the domed roof – attractive and also letting in light. Soraya points out some small circular tunnels set into the top of a high wall and tells us that this was for pigeons. When Hassan Fathy was consulting with the local people of Gourna on what they wanted of the houses they said they wanted a place for pigeons and so a type of dovecote was built into the design. This is an attractive building. It feels light and spacious and the details in the windows which serve to filter light but also let in air are attractive.
The visit to this house is short and we return outside to talk again to her father. We ask him if there is anything else that we can see that remains of the village. He pointed across the square to the mosque. We also ask him other questions about Hassan Fathy and I think that he realises that we have a genuine interest in him and already have quite a bit of knowledge about him from reading his book. He walks us over to the mosque and once there describes the design of the dome telling us that it spans 15 metres and that it took great skill to build. I tell him that I read in Hassan Fathy's book that he had to go to Aswan to find skilled workers who could make domes like this as this was a dying trade. He said yes this was true. He tells us that out of the 700 houses that Hassan Fathy built, only 70 remain. As people moved into the area they began to knock down buildings and rebuild them in a modern style using concrete and baked bricks. The local people weren't interested in following the principles that Hassan Fathy had used to design the village and he found this upsetting. He says that UNESCO had declared Hassan Fathy village as a heritage site and had invested money to refurbish the theatre, and the remaining houses. However since the uprising, work on this had come to a halt and everything is at a standstill. He explains that UNESCO will give funds to a government but at this moment in time Egypt does not have a government in power – hence the halt to work here. As we leave the mosque I go over to look at the school and another house across the road. There are also a series of domed arches which I'm told is the marketplace. Mr Elrady then decides to take us to see some of the other houses which he has now taken on as a project to complete.
The other houses are a short drive away and Hamada takes us in his car. The first house he takes us to he says is owned by a man who lives in Thailand. He bought the house with the intention of refurbishing it but discovered that this was a very expensive undertaking. Hassan Fathy had originally designed the houses with cost effectiveness in mind. Mud bricks were at the time the cheapest material in which to build. The mud used to make the bricks was a result of the annual flooding of the River Nile which washed up a lot of fertile silt. When the high Dam was built in 1963 the land was no longer flooded and now this silt is a protected resource – a bit like the restrictions we have on peat here. Now to refurbish a Hassan Fathy house baked bricks must be used and this is a much more expensive option. As we walk through this house into a small square yard we see a sunken swimming pool - I'm not sure if this is an original feature or a modern feature commissioned by the man in Thailand.
We climb some stairs up to a terrace which has breathtaking views of the Theban mountains. At that moment in time I could imagine myself living there.
We then make our way down the steps to go into another house. Mr Elrahdy asks me why I am interested in Hassan Fathy. He says that I am British and he doesn't know any British people that are interested in Hassan Fathy - only the French are interested in architecture and heritage. He says that he knows that some of the engineers that worked with Hassan Fathy were British but still they show no interest in the restoration project. I tell him that I first heard about Hassan Fathy through the Garagos pottery. I tell him I'm interested in finding out more about the Garagos pottery and I know that Hassan Fathy designed it. I bought his book hoping that it would give me more information for my research but there was no more than a paragraph on this. However, the book is very interesting, not a technical book, but a book about a mans personal journey and the development of a new village using an ancient technique. He then takes us to another house which he tells us used to belong to the to the police and that is why there are many rooms. The house is now owned by the University of Art. He points out the two domes in this house which he says are the only two remaining mud brick domed houses in the village. We now go up onto the roof of this house to see the domes from the top. Mr Elrahdy shows us that the domes are covered in turfs of mud so that the sun doesn't penetrate through the dome into the home.
We are over one hour in Hassan Fathy village. As we make our way back to the car Hamada whispers to me that Hassan Fathy did not live in the first house, but he lived in the second house that we were shown - the one with a swimming pool and the first-floor terrace with great views overlooking the Theban mountains. The first house when you arrive to Hassan Fathy village is more like a museum and I'm sure gives it a bit more kudos if people believe Hassan Fathy himself stayed there! I'm not sure whether tourists visiting the village are shown these additional houses but we are delighted that we have seen more than we expected to. Hopefully we will come back one day and visit the fully restored theatre and additional houses.
We thank Mr Elrahdy for his time and we drive back towards the Nile to the Ramla. Peter has phoned his old friends Osman to say hello. Osman can be described as a local entrepreneur, owning a couple of felucca's, motorboats, miscellaneous businesses and land. Osman tells Peter that he will come to meet him. Whilst we wait for him Peter sees a young man he used to know calls Abu Halawa. This is his nickname - he used to be one of Peters students when he taught science at a high school on the Westbank. He invites us to sit outside his shop and drink tea which we accept. I remember this man from about five years ago. He drove us back from the West Bank by motorboat one evening and I remember him telling Peter that he didn't need education as long as there is tourism. I think Peter felt a little dismayed that he hadn't completed his education but then he points out a restaurant above the shop which he tells us he rents to someone. He owns the shop, a restaurant and also still works for Osman – so he doesn't appear to have done too badly!
Osman arrives on his motorbike and invites us to his new cafe. Hamada drives us until we arrive at Ramla on the Beach. This place is right on the edge of the Nile with a great view across the river to the East bank. Sand has been laid down to give the cafe a beach feel. Osman tells us it has been open for three months. They had a big party when it opened with dancing and horses – not sure how they worked together but it sounded like a good night! Osman also tells us about his trip to Cyprus. We spend over an hour at the cafe drinking tea and watching life go by.
We drive back to the east bank not quite sure what to do next. We decided to go to one of the cafes down on the River Nile and choose the Metropolitan. I used to go here to have freshly baked baklawa and tea. When we arrive we ask if they have baklawa and he says no. We decide to stay and have something to eat anyway. We order pizza, garlic bread and tahini. They tell us they have no salami for the pizza but say they can do a pizza with hot dogs. We say without meat is fine. We take a seat in the sunshine. The man comes and tell us they have no garlic bread. We say ordinary bread is okay. Either we've picked a really bad day to come and eat at the Metropolitan or they've given up hope on any tourists visiting completely!
Michael phones to say that he is coming down with an old friend of Peters called Magdi who is a chief engineer at the Hilton hotel in Hurghada. Shortly after Michael arrives with Magdi and Hamada is back from parking the car. Michael is fasting so chooses a fasting pizza – a plain pizza with vegetables and no cheese. It is now getting cold as the sun goes down - it is about 5.30 and the sun is beginning to set. After we've eaten and had a chat we say goodbye to Michael and Magdi and Hamada drives us back to the hotel. When we arrived at the hotel we decide to take advantage of the one-hour free Wi-Fi to check our emails. After this we returned to the room for a bath and to start planning the day for tomorrow again. We also take time to catch up on the blog as we are in grave danger of forgetting everything that we have seen today. It's going to be another early start so we decide to call it a night.