tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:/posts 1001 Nights - Stories of Traditional Handcrafts from Egypt 2016-10-17T09:27:53Z Stephanie Banks Yousef tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/524058 2013-04-28T14:26:55Z 2013-10-08T17:13:23Z Promotional Video for Garagos Pottery ]]> Stephanie Banks Yousef tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221848 2012-05-11T20:11:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Friday 11th May 2012 - My Garagos - a photo montage of a rural village in Upper Egypt

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.


Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221849 2012-04-07T17:58:00Z 2016-10-17T09:27:53Z Saturday 7th April 2012 - Exciting New Development in Research for the Garagos Book!

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.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221850 2012-04-01T08:25:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Sunday 1st April - Directions to Garagos from Luxor

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!

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221851 2012-03-31T19:41:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Saturday 31st March 2012 - Garagos History Project

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!





Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221852 2012-03-07T21:33:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Wednesday 7th March 2012 - Farewell Egypt (See you next week Peter!)

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!

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221853 2012-03-06T16:29:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Tuesday 6th March 2012 - I Fall for Garagos!

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. 

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221854 2012-03-05T19:45:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Monday 5th March 2012 - A stroll down Garagos Memory Lane

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.



Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221856 2012-03-04T18:51:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Sunday 4th March 2012 - Hooray - We Make it to the Valley of the Kings!

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.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221858 2012-03-03T20:47:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Saturday 3rd March 2012 - Nothing Goes to Plan in Luxor (or Makadi Bay!)

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.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221860 2012-03-02T17:02:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Friday 2nd March 2012 - Au Revoir Garagos, Bonjour Luxor

We wake-up at about 9.30am. We can hear Peter's mother and father in the living room talking and also the TV with the latest news. At one time it was mainly the Coptic channels on the TV, now the focus is on the political developments in Egypt – a sign of the concern that seems to bubble and then erupt out of every conversation amongst the family. We get dressed and go for breakfast which is already prepared on the table. I go for freshly boiled eggs and bread and also some leftover birthday cake from Sara and Susannah's birthday. Peter also has an egg but with foul (beans), bread, cheese and some mortadella.

Peter and I go with his father to the second floor of the house to see the progress on the flat above. This flat will be for Michael when he gets married. The door frames and window frames are all in place and so is some of the plumbing. However the wall still needs plastering, the floors tiling and all of the fixtures and fittings installing. There are no immediate plans for Michael to get married so there seems little urgency to get the work completed. We then go up onto the third floor (fourth level) which has walls and some brick partitions but no roof. This currently houses the water tank and the satellite dish but also serves as a space to keep the home-made cheese known as mish, whilst it ferments. Right now this is a great space in which to sit in the sun and address my vitamin D deficiency!

Joseph carries up two chairs from the first floor for us to sit on. From the third floor we get a good view over the village and over the rooftops of the houses, some of which are mud brick with palm tree roofs and some are baked brick with a steel and concrete structure. Most houses have a satellite dish - no matter how basic the houses may appear to us, satellite TV is an essential item that enables villagers to keep in touch with what's happening on the outside world - propaganda or not.  To my right I can see the minaret which marks the call to prayer.

As I look down the narrow street at the front of the house, smoke billows from the open floor of a house a couple of doors down and across the way. I notice the neighbours have an old mud brick oven on the roof of their house. The house only has two stories so the smoke is billowing upwards to where we are. I can see a woman squatting in front of the oven and pulling out two flat disks in between which is sandwiched a flat bread. The round disks are made from mud and dung and once baked in the sun become the equivalent of a baking tray.

Directly opposite the family home on the corner of the street is an old mud brick house with a palm roof. This house used to be the house of Peter's grandfather but is now home to Peters father's water buffalo. Each night the water buffalo are brought back to the mud brick house where a couple of sheep also stay. Every morning Peters father will take them back to the farm to graze. Next to this old house are other family homes which are made from a combination of mud brick and baked brick. Where a layer of baked bricks end another layer of mud bricks begin – the old and the new sitting very comfortably together. In fact it is sometimes hard to tell which came first - the mud brick or the baked brick as some of the upper floors of the houses I can see are made from mud brick but with baked brick on the lower level.

Many of the houses are only one story high but some have a second story built onto the back of them in which another part of the extended family may live. Joseph's cousin Mina walks out onto the roof of the house opposite and waves up to us. Mina's mother Fauzia also walks out onto the roof carrying a newborn baby. She sits down on the step followed closely by her daughter Mariam who both wave up to us too. 

Over the top of the houses we can see the green land that is owned by Peters family. Joseph tells me that he can see his father Stephanos and points to him in the distance. I don't think it is only us that has a good view of the village as I notice more people come out onto the roofs of their houses or their balconies to watch us. I have taken a couple of photographs of the village from the roof but decide to step back in case this is felt intrusive.  Sara and Susanna come to join us on the roof.

Peter has been busy making phone calls to his friends and colleagues who are trying to make arrangements for my son Louis and his partner Bev to come over to Luxor from Makadi Bay on the red Sea coast for the day. This hasn't been as straightforward as we had originally hoped. The necessity to travel only by convoy ended over a year ago, however there are still permissions to be sought for tourists wishing to travel from the Red Sea to Luxor and vice versa. Peter asked me whether Louis would be able to go with Bob to the authorities later that evening to complete the paperwork. I said that I didn't know what his plans were but we need to look for an easy way to do this. It may be simpler to book a taxi from Makadi Bay to Luxor but we need to make sure that we use a taxi driver that is known to a member of the family – and has the right permissions. Ehab was already making enquiries from Safaga to try and arrange this. We also understand that Ehab phoned Lou's hotel to ensure they get the best treatment. This certainly seems to be the case so far and they tell us that the staff are fantastic. Ehab had also arranged for one of his friends who work there to introduce themselves to him so that if they need anything he will be there to help. Another example of this fascinating social network in action.

In the meantime Peter's other colleagues in Luxor phone to tell him that they have found a driver with an annual permission to drive tourists between the Red Sea and Luxor. The driver will need to have left the first traffic point by 6 AM in the morning so he will need to pick Louis up from his hotel at 5:30 AM. This is fantastic news (though not for Louis and Bev you have to get up very early in the morning). This also means that we can fit more into the day so at least they will get a small flavour of what Luxor has to offer and also get a feel for the 'real' Egypt.

Peter phones Louis to let him know the news. They don't mind that it's an early start. They are having a great time at their hotel. Louis tells us that the staff are bending over backwards for them and they are really enjoying their stay. However this morning they have both woken up with a upset stomachs. They feel okay now, and they have been taking Imodium. I tell them that they shouldn't take Imodium because if they have bacteria in their stomachs it needs to come out, not kept in. I tell them they need to buy some Antinal from the pharmacy as this is an intestinal antiseptic. They say the pharmacy isn't close by, so I suggest they speak to the hotel reception who may have some to sell to them. Louis tells me that they had an Indian meal last night and that they think it was from this even though the meal was fantastic. I tell Louis that although they are all-inclusive and it is tempting to feel as though they're getting their money's worth, they have to treat everything that they eat and drink with suspicion and to constantly spray their hands with an antibacterial solution. I don't want to put them off, but as an emetaphobic it's as much for my sake as it is for theirs!

I hope they will be okay. I can't think of anything worse than travelling through the Desert for 3 1/2 hours with an unpredictable stomach. Peter tells Louis that the driver that will be picking them up is called Haney and his car's number is 29. We tell them we will see them at about nine o'clock tomorrow morning. Now we need to start planning how we will spend the day with them. Initial ideas are to drive over to the West Bank of Luxor, stopping at the Colossus of Memnon for a photographic opportunity and then I would like to visit Hassan Fathy village. We will then proceed to the Valley of the Kings where they can see a couple of the tombs and although not very interesting, Tutankhamen's tomb. We will then go back to the east bank by motorboat (at least they can say they have been on the Nile) where Bob will meet us on the other side with the car. Depending on time and how we feel, we can either go for a meal-possibly at the Sonesta. (this way Louis and Bev will get to meet Peter's brother Michael). We can then go to either Karnak or Luxor Temple-albeit a whistle stop tour. We will then end the day with a caleche ride around the city. That's the plan-let's see what happens in reality!

We go back to the first floor where Peters father has brought some photographs for us to look at. He opens a folder that has photographs of all of his class mates from the catholic school he attended as a child. He goes through the names of all of the children, writing their names down under each photo and only forgetting a few.

Peters father tells us how the Jesuits came to upper Egypt and developed a primary school in Garagos, this was along with others in Hagaza, Naqada, Nag Hamadi and Luxor. All the children of the village could attend regardless of religion. Once his primary school education was finished, there were no other schools in the locality where they could complete their education. However, the Jesuits helped send his father and his sisters to secondary schools elsewhere. His sister Mariam went to secondary school in Alexandria, Matilda went to secondary school in Alminya and Maria in Nag Hamadi. When girls are sent away to school they live with the sisters of the mission who become their surrogate parents. Peter's father went to the Franciscan school in Luxor where they lived in a flat in the city with other boys and adults connected to the school or mission. Although the church built schools in these villages and they were open to children of all faiths, the church only funded secondary education for the children from Christian families.

What we are shown here is only a very small selection of the family photographs and I know there are many interesting stories behind them. I think it will take months of concentrated effort to capture only a fraction of these stories and realise that this may be a project that will take considerable time.

Peter's father has arrange for a car to pick this up at three o'clock to take us back to Luxor. We have just one and a half hours before we leave. Peter suggests that we go to see his grandfathers Zakria and Morkos who live in houses opposite. Zakria and Morkos are in fact Peter's great uncles but are referred to as his grandfathers.

Firstly we go to see Zakria who is at home with his wife Martha, Joseph's father Stephanos and his mother Fikria. We are greeted with kisses and handshakes and invited to sit down and drink tea. Everyone talks excitedly. Because of the very expressive faces and hand gestures I feel as though I was thoroughly involved in the conversation though didn't really understand the words. Zakria it seems is recovering from a cataract operation. Peter offers him his sunglasses to protect his eyes. Zakria tries to decline the offer but Peter insists that it will protect his eyes from the sun. Zakria dons the glasses and we tell him that he looks like Omar Sharif! We drink tea and take a group photo – we will soon have a good collection of our visits to the family houses over the years. Little changes, only time.

Whilst we are here we decide to go and say hello to Fauzia who we were waving to from the roof earlier. We go through the back of the house and climb the stairs to a small house on the first floor. Fauzia comes out to greet us and invites us in for tea but we have to decline as we have little time left before the car comes to take us back to Luxor.

We go back downstairs and then next door to visit Morkos. Morkos is lying under a blanket on the cane bench. Morkos now looks frail and is in ill health. His wife Zayzev tells us that he has an infection in his gums and that he can't eat and he also has intestinal problems which complicates things. Morkos recognises Peter and is pleased to see him. I hold his hand and say hello and I ask Peter if he recognises me. Peter says that yes he does remember me and is pleased to see us. Peter sits next to him and holds his hand.

This is a simple dwelling. To my left a flight of stairs lead up to an open roof. I remember a photograph I had taken here a few years ago. Zayzev had just baked a large batch of bread and the loaves were left cooling in a basket at the bottom of the stairs. The top of the stairs was open to the sky and the sunshine flooded down and lit basket of bread - like manna from heaven. I wish my photography skills could have done this scene more justice. Even looking back on that photograph now the thing I remember most is the smell of the warm bread. 

Zayzev tells Peter more about Morkos's health condition. Morkos at times seems to get a little distressed and looks as though he is in some discomfort. I remember Peter telling me this was a once strong man who ruled his house with a strong arm. It is sad to see him in this condition, as it is when you see the decline of any family member. Last time we saw him a couple of visits ago, he walked with us to the farm with Zakria. They sat together and smoked shisha and played with the children. This photograph always brings back fond memories of that day. Zayzev offers us tea but again we have to decline as we will leave Garagos in about 15 min. We say goodbye and go back to the family home.

It's time to go. We go to the first floor and pack up our few bits and pieces and wait on the first floor for the car to come. Michael is also coming back to Luxor with us as he is back at work tomorrow. We take this opportunity to jibe Michael a bit more about us not being able to negotiate a better price so we could have stayed at the Sonesta. We tell him that we would much prefer to give the Sonesta our money than the Sofitel. At this point Peters father asks us why we have to stay in hotels at all and why don't we stay with them in the village for the whole stay. I do feel a little guilty when asked this question (it's not the first time he has asked us this) and I never know quite what to say for fear of offending. I love visiting the village and I love spending time with Peters family, but there is still quite a level of adjustment needed for me to feel completely comfortable there.

The things I've had to adjust to most are firstly, spending most of the time in a house (the family home or others) where there is no natural daylight. Living in the North of England it is fair to say that we are definitely starved of sunshine at times – winter and summer. A heavy grey sky looming overhead for days and sometimes weeks on end certainly begins to affect the spirit. After working hard for months on end my body and soul is usually desperate for rest, relaxation and definitely a boost of sunshine. Many of the houses here are designed to keep the heat out and that usually means the sunshine out. On top of that the artificial lighting is always flourescent and depending on the type of tube used it can cast an eerie glow that can make you feel deflated, low and sometimes a little depressed. If you've suffered from SAD I'm sure you can sympathise.

The language barrier is also an issue. We are able to communicate verbally on a basic level and we can communicate on another level using body language, gesticulation and facial expressions. However, I know that it is exhausting for Peter to translate everything that is said, and therefore I am missing out on the most of the conversation. This is something that I can do something about and will make a concerted effort to start leaning Arabic again.

I guess one of the biggest things I have difficulty in adjusting to, is the freedom to walk down the street and explore. I'd love to see more of Garagos, especially walk to the part where the village meets the Nile. In the many visits I have made to Garagos I have only ever walked five minutes one way to the pottery and 5 minutes in the other direction to the farm and the homes of other members of the family. In Luxor I have spent many hours wandering the streets with my camera, taking photographs and occasionally chatting to people. I have always been careful about where I take photographs and how I photograph people. However, by asking permission to photograph I have got some great snaps of local people like this one.

Above is a photograph I took of a man in a coffee shop in Luxor.  I had asked him if he minded me photographing him and he obliged - even wrapped his scarf around his head into a turban.  He then asked his friend to come and be photographed too. The next time I went back to Luxor I printed out some of the photographs to take with me.  By chance I found him again sitting outside the same coffee shop. Peter was with me this time and the man remembered me straight away. He invited us to sit down and drink tea with him which we did. I took the photo out of my bag and gave it to him - the expression on his face was indescribable – he was thrilled. He took the photograph and showed it to his friends inside the coffee shop who seem to take delight in it. This was about four years ago and I'm not sure that Luxor is the same place now. I felt safe walking the streets at any time of night or day. Particularly on my last visit, I felt it more tension and a little more aggression from the people who are reliant on tourism. Whereas in the past the shake of the head and a flick of the hand would quite clearly indicate that you meant no, and that this would usually be respected, now you have much more of a battle on your hands and may even be subject to intimidating behaviour.

When you come to Egypt, it is understood that you have to make adjustments to the way you dress and the way you interact with people. However, depending on where you are in Egypt the levels of adjustment will vary. For example you will find the attitude relatively liberal in Cairo. It isn't unusual to see women in mixed company smoking shisha in coffee shops. In Luxor in the South this is less likely to happen – in fact I have never seen this - Luxor is far more conservative than Cairo. However, when you go to a small village in the South of Egypt such as Garagos, take that adaptation required for Luxor and multiply it by ten for Garagos.

I would say the one thing I am most nervous about when visiting Garagos is a fear of getting sick from an upset stomach. I'm particularly vigilant even when in a five-star hotel about what I eat and drink, but this is more to do with my severe phobia of vomiting than anything else. Life in the village is very different and I am not acclimatised (or my stomach isn't) to the hygiene conditions. Egyptians are very very hospitable and one of the main ways they show this hospitality is through food. Whoever's house you go to, you will be offered something to eat and I don't doubt that where hygiene standards are concerned the standards for the homes we visit are of the highest. This however, doesn't prevent me from being very careful with what I eat and limiting my intake to foods that are relatively innocuous such as eggs and bread. My big worry is about offending people when they have gone to so much trouble to prepare us some food – man cannot live on eggs and bread alone! This is something I have less control over as I have suffered from a severe phobia of vomiting as long as I an remember – and therapy is not an option!

Three o'clock on the dot Mr Fawaz's from the pottery arrives in his car for us. We say goodbye to the family and say that we will see them on Sunday. All piled into the car, we set off back out through the village and back onto the road to Luxor. Peter takes this opportunity to speak to Mr Fawaz about when Father de Montgolfier came to Garagos and established the dispensary and later the pottery. Peter updates me on the conversation later but already it seems that there are a couple of conflicts in the stories we have been told so far. This isn't a worry to us. The positive thing is that people seem very keen to talk about the history of the village and this is one of the biggest hurdles we thought we would face.

We arrived back at the hotel and go straight to the room. By now the mixture of dust on my heavily moisturised skin has formed a gritty emulsion on my face. It feels itchy and I feel grubby. I need to have a bath wash my hair.

My mind is telling me that I should take the laptop and go and sit in the hotel lobby or out on the terrace to write a bit of my blog whilst there is still a bit of sunshine. However I've gone to all the expense of purchasing the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software and also to bring headphones with me which I really should use. I think I'll probably look ridiculous talking to myself in a public space so I decid to stay in the room and catch up on three days worth of blog. I don't know why but these first three days have gone by so quickly and I can't even remember half of the conversations we've had and all of the people that we've spoken to. I need to get more confident with using the voice recorder so where my brain fails me, the technology doesn't (or shouldn't).

Peter has gone to give his condolences to Bob's family this evening. Bob's grandmother recently passed away and this evening is the funeral. Peter will also go to the Menf travel office where he used to work and make the final arrangements for the trip for Louis and Bev tomorrow. It's going to be a busy day tomorrow so I need to get some sleep.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221861 2012-03-01T15:15:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Thursday 1st March 2012 - To Garagos

Peter returned at about midnight last night. I hadn't managed to sleep very well yet but before I knew it, it was 9.30 in the morning. Again I jump to the balcony to check out the view from the room. We do have a Nile view! Upon further investigation we see we have the room above the presidential suite and are one of the very few on the complex that do have a Nile view – thank you Mr Sabri!

We go down to breakfast and peruse the breakfast on offer. The breakfast is quite good. I have kirkadey to drink, veal sausages, a vegetable omelette and grilled tomatoes with cheese. To finish I take a selection of Danish pastries and a cup of tea.

After breakfast we decided to explore the hotel complex. We walk out onto the terrace and down into the grounds of the hotel. Already there are people sunbathing around the pool. The temperature is warm with a slight breeze. The hotel grounds are very green. Tall palm trees scattered around and very neatly manicured lawns. We walked towards the Nile and there is a raised terrace called the sunset view. We climbed the steps where we get a very good view over the River Nile to the Theban hills. This is where I can see how far away from Luxor we are, as the view of the Theban hills is very different to the ones from the Sonesta. Also unfortunately, the view is marred by a trail of electricity pylons spanning the width of the Nile and continuing across the land on the West Bank.

We continue to wander around the grounds for a little while and then go back to the room to pack a few things for our trip to Garagos. We expect to be picked up at midday so once we have our things together we go to sit on the hotel terrace and wait for the car to arrive. Peter takes several phone calls from members of his family. We now know that it is Waseem his cousin who is going to pick us up. Waseem is already in Luxor and is waiting to pick up his sister Randa. It is a couple of hours later when Waseem phones to tell us that he is at the hotel. (Note to self-remember you are now on Egyptian time!) Randa is in the car with her husband and baby-we have met before but I think only once so introductions are given again.

We head off out of Luxor and head out down the airport road. This is quite a familiar journey now but I'm still hypnotised by the landscape that runs past me. We follow the main road North which is neatly decorated by shrubs along the way including bougainvillea and Jasmine which are now fully in bloom. After 20 min we turn off this road and start following one of the Nile tributaries. Pampas grass or something that looks very like it is in full flower, waving in the breeze along the water's edge of the rivulet. We passed many trailers stacked 8 to 10 feet high with sugarcane. We must have passed at least eight or nine trailers along the short stretch of road. On several occasions we see young boys running behind the trailers and pulling hard at stems of sugarcane which seem quite hard to release under the weight of the bundle. However they are persistent and if they don't get sugarcane from the first trailer, then they will wait and try again at the second. Randa laughs and tells me in broken English that they are “thieving”. 

The sugarcane harvesting is currently in full swing. We see at least two fully laden sugarcane trains waiting on the tracks – each with maybe 20 trailors. There are two sugarcane factories, one in Qus and the other in Aswan. As we drive further we can see that the harvesting is in various stages of progress. In some areas we can see sugarcane in the fields tied into bundles ready to be harvested. Next to that some fields have already been burnt back to the stubble. There are also great expanses of fields growing wheat for bread and also dhora which is a form of maize grown as an animal feed. The dhora is already very tall and through the middle of the field I can see a spiralling trail of dust. As the cloud dust reaches the edge of the field I can see the cause of this mini tornado is three young boys riding a motorbike down a narrow dirt track.

Eventually we enter the village and see people going about their everyday life. Men sitting in coffee shops smoking shisha and talking together. All have their heads wrapped in turbans and scarf’s around their necks many with leather or heavy coats over their cotton galabeyas. Although it feels like a warm summers day to me it is still winter for Egyptians.

There is still a bit of wind around today and this has whipped the dust up into the air. I can already feel it on my skin, in my hair and in my nose and mouth. I try to take in as much of the village scenery as possible. I long to be able to get out of the car and walk in the street especially around the market area but I know I won't be able to do this. This is one of the things that I have most difficulty getting used to when visiting Garagos. If we go anywhere, for example to visit a family member or to go to the pottery, I must always be escorted by someone else. There are some areas that even with an escort I wouldn't be permitted to walk.  I have asked Peter in the past why this is and he tells me it is for my own protection. He says that people are not used to seeing strangers in the village.  Someone may say something about me, a comment of some kind, and that his family would have to defend me. Again this is hard to get your head around as I always dress respectfully, making sure my legs arms and chest are covered but I have two accept that Peter knows the village more than I do and his family have my welfare at heart. I also have to remember our last trip in September where we saw guns openly being carried by villagers.

So in 5 minutes that it takes us to drive to Peter's family home I try and absorb the scenery, the people, a small herds of scraggy goats scavenging in the street. I notice that everyone notices me, no matter who you look at, you know that they are looking at you too.

Waseem steers the car skilfully into the narrow alley and around a sharp corner where Peter's father and other family members wait outside the house for us. As usual Joseph is there, eagerly waiting to try his English with me. We shake hands and four kisses with various members of his close family. As we step inside the house Ehab's father Mr Riad is also waiting to greet us.

Usually the family gathers on the ground floor, but recently Peter's mother Tahani hasn't been very well and finds it difficult to climb up and down the stairs. The family now live mostly on the first floor. As we arrive on the first floor we are greeted by Tahani, Peter's sister Margreet and the three-year-old twins Sara and Susanna. It's the twins birthday today. They had planned to have a birthday party but unfortunately their father Ehab is unable to leave work in Safaga until the following week so the celebrations have been put on hold. The first floor is brighter than the ground floor as there is more access for daylight. As you turn into the room off the stairs to your right, you walk into a square room with a corridor to the left and a corridor to the right. At the bottom of the corridor on the left is a window with shutters and to the left of that bedroom, again with a window with shutters. There is also another bedroom across from this one. When we were here in September, this was the most comfortable room to me to sleep in because the breeze through the window kept the room cool(er). Following the corridor back down the other way past the living room is a bathroom, kitchen and at the end another bedroom. Just off the living room are a set of doors that open out onto an atrium. This atrium space runs from the ground floor all the way to the top of the house on the fourth floor. With the doors open from the atrium and the windows open at the end of the corridor enough light comes into the house to make it feel bright but without the heat.

We are invited to drink tea which we accept with pleasure. It isn't long before the visitors start arriving to say hello. Firstly cousin Akmal who because of his sense of humour I nicknamed Adel Imam, a famous Egyptian film star and comedian. The real Adel Imam had recently been arrested by the new regime stating that a film he made in the 1970s caused offence to Islam. Akmal jokingly comments that he had temporarily been let out of prison.

Akmal stays for about 10 min, chatting with Peter having a quick catch up. Shortly after Akmal leaves, Aunt Mariam and cousin Madios call to say hello. Mariam is the sister of Peter's father. Again four kisses and a warm smile. Mariam and Madios leave and within 10 min his Aunt Matilda arrives. Matilda is also a sister of Peter's father. During the following conversation Matilda says that she would like me to spend one full day with her. Am not quite sure what she would have in mind for me, nor does she give any indication on how we would spend the 24 hours but the rest of the family nod their approval eagerly.

Cousin Gerges arrives next. Gerges and Peter talk and laugh as they always do. Peter must have mentioned to Gerges that I wanted to find out about the history of Garagos and may be using a voice recorder to collect some of the information because Gerges asked me why I want to record them. Peter then says that Gerges thinks that I am a spy for the government. Either this is Egyptian humour or an indication of some of the reluctance I may come across in encouraging people to share information – I hope it's not the latter. Gerges doesn't really seem to think that I am a spy but nor does he show any interest in our endeavours to find out more about the history of Garagos. I don't take this personally, I don't think the younger generation are particularly interested in this  type of history. I think we all take the place where we live for granted and never really see it as something special. Sometimes it takes the eyes of an outsider to see the special things in a place.

Margreet offers tea to the guests as they arrive, some accept and some decline. None of them stay very long as this is a courtesy call to welcome us to the village. 30 min later the doorbell goes and Peters father goes downstairs to let them in. We hear several voices coming up the stairs and we instantly recognise the loud booming voice of Uncle Romani, who is also escorted by Ehab's brother Andre and his wife Marmar. Apparently Romani is having a party and he wants us to go. Peter translates the invitation to me and although exhausted I say that we can go for a little while. I'm not sure what the party is for but there seems quite an excitement about it. The remaining guests leave and Peters immediate family remain. Time to catch up and find out how Peter's mother is and also to get the latest opinion on the political situation in Egypt's. An hour passes and I don't ask, but it seems that we are not going to go to uncle Romani's party. Peter tells me later that we would not be able to stay for only 30 min and that once we were there we would probably be there until the early hours of the morning.

Although Sara and Susanna's birthday party had been put on hold until Ehab returns home, Margreet bakes a cake for tea. Margreet brings the cake to the table with a lit candle. The lights are turned off and everyone sings happy birthday to the twins. The first chorus in English and the second in Arabic. We give a round of applause and the lights are switched on again.

We take this opportunity to give Margreet presents for the girls - a cream-coloured party dress for them both. The birthday cake is cut and we all receive a slice with a cup of tea. We spend the next hour playing with the twins. The activity we have that overcomes the language barrier is simply drawing. The twins take turns to pass me pieces of paper and a pen on which I draw a dog or a cat or a mouse-anything that will be recognisable to them. Cousin Joseph who is 10 years old speaks a little English as he's taught it at school. He takes the opportunity to ask me to spell new words for him. The twins are easily entertained, they aren't demanding children and are quite content to sit for long periods of time playing with something as simple as a small piece of paper and pen. They don't use this to draw with, but the pieces of paper that have now been scribbled on every inch of space,has now become money. Sara collects all the pieces of paper and counts them all into a small pile. Susanna on the other hand, collects up all the pens and distributes them around the room and then collects them in again.

Before long, the twins show signs of getting tired. Margreet showers the twins and puts them in their pyjamas and the rest of us watch the Egyptian news on TV. Peter translates for me now and again, it seems that some Americans that were arrested by the Egyptian authorities a week before we left, and have now escaped. Apparently America sent in special forces to help them escape. However, it is hard to understand exactly what has happened and nor would I particularly believe what is being shown on Egyptian TV.


It's beginning to feel a little chilly and Peter and I have to borrow cardigans and coats to stay warm. Although nice and warm during the day it is still chilly at night but even more so in the village. Michael walks Margreet and the twins home. We still haven't recovered from our journey and go to bed at about 9 PM. We are given the bedroom of Peter's parents and Peter's mother and his brother Michael will sleep down the other end of the first floor. Peters father will sleep elsewhere-I'm not sure where.

We climb into the large double bed which is so high off the ground you almost need a stepladder to get into it. I wonder if this is the style of the beds from the old days when scorpions used to be a problem? I notice that the seating in the house is also high and can't see any other particular reason why this would be. These old beds are not particularly comfortable as they are hard, usually stuffed with cotton and not springs. The pillows are also hard and I usually end up sleeping without one rather than waking up with crick in my neck.

Not long after we had been in bed the cockrell that lives in the bottom of the atrium with the chickens, begins to sound his morning call. The difficulty being that it is only 9.30 in the evening. I turned to Peter and say that Garagos cockrell's don't seem to have proper functioning body clocks and more to the point does this cockrell know what happened to the last one that kept me awake all night! A few years earlier another cockrell seemed to call out every hour, on the hour all through the night. The following morning Peter's mother asked us how we slept and I had to be honest and say that the cockrell kept me awake all night. As we sat down to breakfast we heard a frantic flapping of wings and stifled squawks. Ten minutes later we were to discover that Peter's mother and her sister Safaa had wrestled the cockrell to the ground and brought its life to an untimely or even timely end. Later they were preparing it for dinner – never did chicken taste so good!

The cockrell racket didn't go on for very long and I can only remember it calling out one other time during the night. Either this is a relatively well-behaved cockrell or I was too exhausted to notice – probably the latter as I didn't even hear the 4 AM call to prayer.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221862 2012-02-29T14:03:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Wednesday 29th February 2012- Arrival in Luxor

This was a normal trip to the airport. Nothing unusual the taxi was on time but must say there were very long queues by the time we arrived. We waited in the queue with some anticipation, thinking back to our experience in October with Monarch. Our luggage had been overweight and we have been charged £120 for excess luggage. The check-in assistant had been somewhat surly and didn't really get the holiday off to a good start. Here at the Thomas Cook check-in we have yet another unhappy looking assistant who to our disappointment asks us to put our hand luggage on the scales first. Both of our hand luggage was overweight by 1 or 2 kilo's so we are told to transfer some of the contents into our suitcases. I am left with my bag and the laptop in a laptop bag and this is still overweight. I have no choice but to put my hand luggage bag in the suitcase and just carry the laptop. If I'm going to blog while some away on holiday I really must think of the more effective way of carrying equipment. I have already forsaken my beloved SLR camera but since my last trip we have sold the net book and I only have a rather heavy laptop.

Not to worry, we managed to sort the luggage and make our way through passport control.

This is a rather dull and ordinary flight. it seemed longer than usual maybe because there wasn't any in-flight entertainment. We come to the conclusion that is just one of the cutbacks Thomas Cook has had to make since getting into financial difficulties. The seats are also incredibly crammed in and this leads a rather uncomfortable flight. They are definitely a step down from Thomson and we make a note to ourselves to consider in more detail next time which airline to choose – regardless of the £100 - £200 saving by using Thomas Cook or Monarch.

As we fly over Greece I am always interested to look at the islands below and wonder which ones they are - are we passing over any of the 30 Greek islands I've visited in the past?  I wish there was an iPhone app that work in airplane mode that could show exactly where I was in the journey - only some airlines show this but it certainly helps you tick the hours away.

We arrive at Luxor airport and as usual Peter is greeted by an array of friends and ex-colleagues. We go straight through passport control and wait for our luggage. Peter suitcase arrives off the carousel quite quickly however we are waiting at least 45 minutes for my suitcase-we think there must have been her problem somewhere and later discover the belt had got jammed. Before my suitcase comes off the carousel Tony arrives and greets us both. As we leave the luggage collection area we go to head out towards Duty-free expecting to be stopped by the customs as we usually are. Unusually after a few words with Peter and joke with Tony we are let through without any demands to see the contents of our suitcase.

We make a few purchases from duty-free-gifts for family and friends and then we make our way out to the car that Bob has arranged to pick us up. We head out to the Sofitel Karnak – we haven't stayed here before but again there was a bit price difference between staying here and our usual hotel the Sonesta St George. Peter's brother Michael who is an accountant at the Sonesta had tried to get us a discount to match the price of the Sofitel but had been unable to. The Sonesta is currently running at 28% occupancy – up 13% from when we were there in September. We find it difficult to understand why the Sonesta isn't willing to negotiate and would prefer to have an empty room – anyway, we pull Michael's leg about this a couple of times.

I realise after we had been travelling for sometime that I completely misunderstood where the Sofitel Karnak was. I remember going there ages ago in the tourist bus to pick other tourists up for the airport. In my mind it within walking distance of Karnak Temple but I got this a little wrong. The hotel really is some way out of town, a little resort all of its own. We check-in to the Hotel and the receptionist tells us that we have a very good room. Apparently Mr Sabri the Guest Relations Manager from the Sonesta has phoned the hotel to ensure we get a good room. We are both touched by this gesture and again demonstrates the importance and benefits of the social network in Egypt.

We walk through a series of archways, the complex is no more than two stories high and spread quite widely overweight space. When we arrive to the room the first thing I do is to open the balcony door to check out the view. It is dark and we can't really get a sense of where we are in relation to the Nile. Peter tells me that we have a Nile view but all I can see in front of me is a row of trees. The room is small and quite basic, certainly not the same standard that we have at the Sonesta. It reminds me of the red Sea resorts where the focus is usually on the outdoor area, the swimming pool, and the activities on offer rather than the standard of the room. Anyway, a nice touch, we have a fruit basket in the room which is most welcome.

We are both exhausted but Peter has to go to the flat and pick up some of our things as we will be leaving to go to Garagos in the morning. I go to bed and Peter heads off into Luxor.  I am excited about the prospect of doing more research into our next project - writing the story of Garagos!

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221864 2012-02-28T16:22:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Tuesday 28th February 2012 - Tomorrow - to Egypt!

Well, we're just about packed - just a few last things to do before flying to Luxor tomorrow.  Louis and Bev have arrived in Makadi Bay and Peter is making arrangements for them to come over to Luxor on Saturday.  We've planned a trip to the Valley of the Kings including King Tut's tomb, a felucca ride to Banana Island then lunch.  After that we will go for a caleche ride around the town and maybe to an oriental show in the evening.  By the time we've finished with the they will be glad to get back to the beach!

We're still not sure what our arrangements are for the rest of the week but we surely know by now - when in Egypt - just go with the flow!

All will be reported back in the blog!

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221866 2012-02-19T10:52:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 19th February 2012 - 10 hours left on Ebay - Garagos Pottey

We have for sale on Ebay the last of the current stock of Garagos Pottery - 10 hours to go!

If you miss the auction closing time you can email us at:


Below are just a few samples of the products we have for sale.  We will be shipping new stock over from Egypt next month.



Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221869 2012-02-17T19:05:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 17th February 2012 - Current Ebay Listings

I completely forgot that Peter had been taking advtantage of the free listing weekend on Ebay last week.  In a mad frenzy he listed 56 items - mainly pieces from the Garagos Pottery.

Lovely gifts - good price!



Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221871 2012-02-15T21:11:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 15 February 2012 - My first attempt at blogging using Dragon Naturally Speaking

I have just uploaded the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. It is taken about 10 min to set up the user profile and I am now using the software to dictate my first blog using this method.

I think I need to invest some time in watching the online tutorial as this software seems to have a lot of capabilities. On this first outing am quite impressed that I can just talk into my microphone and the words appear in front of me. At first it seems a little stilted but I'm amazed at the words it recognises instantly.

Apparently I have to train the software and ensure that any corrections are made as I go along, entering any incorrect words into the dictionary. But this is really easy to do.

I'm talking to normal speed and it's even coping with my northern flat vowels :-) and so far I have only had to correct one word -vowells - again it seems to be struggling with the word vowells and Trying to replace it with fouls or bowels or fowls.

Fingers crossed that this is the solution I've been looking for to make blogging a lot easier and quicker. Tomorrow night I'm going to try using my digital voice recorder and then download the files and see how the software copes with it.

So far, so good. ]]>
Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221873 2012-02-11T07:00:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 11th February 2012 - Possibly Solution to the Monotony of Typing a Blog

As a new 'blogger' I must admit I've found parts of it rather tiresome.  I started a blog last September to document our trip to Egypt and in particular our visits to various craft producers.  Our next visit in less than three weeks time is going to be slightly different as we will be focusing on doing more research into the history of the Garagos Pottery for our book/pamphlet whatever it ends up being - the history of this village is a subject that I find fascinating.  However, whilst in Egypt last time I found it really time consuming trying to keep up with a daily blog. 

I would try to take time each evening to reflect on the day and type up some notes but this wasn't always possible - plus I was using a netbook which isn't ideal.  The other difficulty was getting it uploaded onto the blog as there wasn't always an internet connection - if there was it was usually a really expensive service in the hotel.  There certainly wasn't a wireless connection in the village so I used to write the blog in a Word document and then copy and paste into the blog once I got access to wifi.

I also found the internet connection very slow in Egypt and trying to upload photographs let alone videos took forever.  When we left Luxor for Cairo there definitely wasn't time to type the blog on a daily basis.  We packed so much in and often didn't return to the hotel until late. I did get chance to type some notes first thing in the morning but we were always itching to get out and see more things - the blog was beginning to become a bit of a burden.

I then changed tac and started scribbling notes down as I went along.  We spent quite a lot of time in taxi's travelling across Cairo so this gave me time to take in the views and jot down anything that sprung to mind.  I returned home with over 20 sheets of A4 paper full of my scribblings - both sides and in a really random order.  It has taken me nearly 5 months to finish typing up a blog that covers exactly 14 days of a trip!  This isn't down to the amount of text I'd written but down to the lack of time - and sometimes motivation to get it finished.  Anyway - two nights ago I did it and feel such a great sense of relief.

Now to be quite honest I was beginning to dread the thought of doing it all over again.  However, I think I have come across a solution that may seem quite obvious to many but can't believe I didn't think of before.  I recently bought a digital voice recorder to record interviews with Peter's family members about the pottery and also life in Garagos.  When I was looking for the voice recorder on Amazon I read a couple of reviews saying that it worked very well with the Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software.  I have now looked at the software itself and it looks quite impressive.  It comes in at over £100 for the premium version but it seems to offer everything that I need to make blogging a bit more time effective.  I do touch type but I still find typing endless pages of text really monotonous.  Just upload it onto your computer, tell it to open a Word document and then tell it what to write!  Genius!  The capabilites of this software looks fantastic - please check out the links to further info though unfortunately the people that tend to upload demo's onto Youtube tend to be less than interesting - this is one of the best ones I could find.


Anyway, I've just bought the software - hopefully it will come next week so I can get to grips with it before we go away.  In the meantime, Dragon do this great little free app for the iPhone called Dragon Dictation.  you can dictate a message and either email, text, post to Facebook or Twitter without typing a word (maybe pressing the odd button is involved).  For anyone with long nails or fat fingers this is an absolute must have.  It seems quite accurate - though Peter's attempts with his Egyptian accent were less successful!  Give it a go if you haven't already done so!


Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221877 2012-02-10T17:51:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 10th February 2012 - Excerpt from Architecture for the Poor - Hassan Fathy

As part of my research into the history of the Garagos Pottery I am reading Architecture for the Poor - Hassan Fathy. More than just a source of information this book is actually a very good read - not too technical but an excellent social study of the Egyptian poor, particularly in the villages.

I wrote in the blog that the common theme running through the craft producing families we visited was that the younger generations were giving up the family trade/craft to take up other professions. In many cases they were going to work in one of the Red Sea resorts where tourism is thriving.

This passage from Architecture for the Poor shows that this is not just a modern phenomenon.

"I once talked to moallem Mohammed Ismail, a craftsman who makes windows out of stained glass set in plaster. This was once a common decoration in a city house, but when I asked Ismail how many others apart from himself practiced the craft, he could think of only one man, moallem Loutfy. I asked Ismail if he was teaching his craft to his children. He said, “My elder son is a mechanic and I have sent the younger one to school.” “So after your generation there will be nobody left to carry on the tradition?” “What do you want me to do? Do you know that we often don’t have anything to eat. No one wants my work today. There’s no room for a stained glass window in this new architecture of yours. Think of it, once even the water bearer used to decorate his house and would engage me. Today, how many architects even know of our existence?” “And if I brought you ten boys,” I said, “would you teach them the craft?” Ismail shook his head. “1 wasn’t taught in a school. If you want to revive the trade, then give us work. If we have work, then you will see, not ten schoolboys here, but twenty apprentices.” (I was able to give him a commission, and his work attracted the attention of other architects, so that his elder son, the mechanic, was drawn back to the craft, and has now surpassed his father in skill.)"

Architecture for the Poor, Hassan Fathy, Printed in Egypt by International Press

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221879 2012-02-08T20:46:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 8th February 2012 - 3 Weeks until the next Egypt trip

Three weeks today we will be back in Luxor for a week.  We will be undertaking some more research into the history of Garagos and the Pottery and hopefully incorporate a trip to Hagaza to look at the wood crafts that are produced there.

Peter's mother and father are urging us not go because of the increased unrest but we haven't heard anything that would put us off from travelling.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221880 2012-02-01T18:04:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Garagos Pottery Videos Finding It's Way onto Explow

More of our Garagos Pottery videos have appeared on another website - must be all the tagging I've been doing!



Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221855 2012-01-30T18:01:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z Garagos Pottery Video Appears on First Post Website

We're delighted to see our video's from Youtube about the Garagos Pottery being posted on other websites.



Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221857 2011-10-03T18:29:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 3rd October 2012 - Return Home

We go home today. I wish there was a flight that left first thing in the morning as I can't stand hanging around – the anticipation of the inevitable. I don't dislike going home – I really look forward to seeing my family again. Nonetheless it is always a little sad leaving Luxor – even more so for Peter.

We go down and have breakfast. We say goodbye to the staff who we have both come to know well through our many visits. We go back to the room to finish the last bit of packing. It's hot today so I stay in the room under the air conditioning, taking in the last views from the balcony. Peter goes to say goodbye to friends in the hotel.

At lunchtime Peter's father comes to the hotel to say goodbye. He has travelled from Garagos to see us off. We go out of the hotel to a coffee shop. In the few minutes it takes us to walk to the coffee shop I very quickly lose the benefit of sitting in air conditioning all morning – the heat is exhausting. Whilst in the coffee shop we notice a Monarch rep having coffee. Although we haven't met him or been to the welcome meetings, we know that when he gets up to leave, we should also think about heading off to the airport.

The time has come. It is difficult saying goodbye to Peter's father. Tony has sent a car for us so we say our goodbyes to Alfons and walk back to the hotel to have our luggage put into the car. On the way to the airport we stop off at the Menf Travel office to pick up Tony who will escort us to the airport. The manager and a couple of the other staff are in the office so we go in and take tea with them. Mr Mourad offers us his Mercedes to travel to the airport in but we explain that Tony has already taken care of the travel arrangements.

More goodbyes follow and we are now on our way to the airport. When we arrive there are a few large queues but I am asked to take a seat whilst Tony and Peter take care of the checking in – I must admit I am a little nervous about the weight of the luggage after our first experience of flying with Monarch. Peter comes over with a man that I haven't seen before. He is introduced to me as the manager of Monarch – though not quite sure what that means in real terms. He is quite clearly someone in authority by the was he is greeted by staff. Peter and this man go over to Tony who has taken our luggage to an unmanned check in desk, however a member of staff give Tony our boarding cards and our cases are put onto the belt without being weighed! It's not what you know ….................. It just goes to show that when it comes to luggage allowance at Manchester Airport – No Negotiation. In Luxor Airport – everything is negotiable!

This has been a great trip. Whilst I wait for Peter I take some time to reflect.

The trip to Cairo stands out in my mind as one of the highlights. As soon as you leave the airport and make your way into down-town Cairo the disparity between wealth and poverty is only too apparent. The skyline as you drive across the freeway is impressive - typically Islamic with mosques and minarets protruding from all directions but with the occasional church cross breaking the pattern. The old palaces despite the layers of dust and pollution damage still remain regal with their grand balconies and arabesque shutters. I'm always reminded of the Cairo Trilogy books by Naguib Mahfouz when I see these old houses.

The day in Khan el Khalili was a real adventure. We met some very interesting characters and got to see some things we haven't seen before – the view from the roof of the merchants house was stunning with the silhouette of the Citadel sitting on the skyline.

I also remember Peter took a phone call from Kamal from the Mameluk Glass Factory in Cairo. He told Peter that we must be a lucky charm for them as since our visit, a local TV station has been down to film the factory – hopefully an opportunity to raise the profile of the factory and the craft. We wish them all the best.

In the Khan el Khalili we got the opportunity to see the close collaborative work between craftsmen and the social network on which they all rely. This can be observed in almost any setting in Egypt as everyone is reliant on a social circle or network of some description or another whether it be the family or the people in the community or in a work/business setting (legitimate or not). Thinking back to the fiasco at the Sheraton Hotel in Cairo it is also shows how when one piece of the network is missing, the system can collapse. Regardless, whatever you want you can get here – usually for a price but there is usually someone in the network who can help.

Back to Luxor, always etched in my memory is the view across the River Nile especially from the balcony of the Sonesta. Such a contrast to Cairo. I remember watching the galabeya'd women working in the fields on the Westbank. The gentle drone of the motorboats working the river is occasionally superseded by the low engine sound of a passing cruise boat. As the cruise boat passes the water is churned up from the rear. Small fishing boats take advantage of this and paddle themselves into the wake and cast their nets. It's so peaceful here.

Thinking back to our visits to the various crafts producers a common theme was identified - that the younger generations are leaving the craft to seek employment elsewhere.  In some cases they had been given the opportunity to have a good university education and have aspirations beyond working with their hands.  Others have gone to work in one of the Red Sea resorts which post revolution, still has a bouyant tourism industry - not like Luxor.  Nobody seems to know what will happen once the older generation are no longer around - but nor do they seem to be applying much thought to this issue either.  Maybe it's a case of parents being in denial about the inevitable or a belief that it's in Gods hands.

Everyone is perturbed by the unrest.  There are increased incidents of violence and particularly attacks on tourists.   When I first came to Egypt it felt like one of the safest places in the world.  We have seen ordinary people carrying guns in the street apparently 'to protect themselves and their property.'  It seems to be generally felt that the lack of police presence has given the red flag to some sections of society to behave badly - possibly a result of years of oppression, lack of opportunity and having the apparent 'wealth' of tourists flaunted in their faces. 

On a more positive note my fondest memory is of Garagos and the family that have welcomed me into their home. In this community the doors to the family homes are always open and you will always be welcomed with open arms, a friendly smile and plenty of food to eat and tea to drink.

I've been fascinated by Garagos and the stories that I've been privileged enough to have been told. This has been the inspiration for our first project where we hope to recount the history behind the Garagos Pottery and the people that have been involved in it's establishment.

Now home to do some research.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221859 2011-10-02T10:12:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 2nd October 2011 - Last Day in Luxor

No matter how exhausted I am, I'm always compelled to get up each morning and pull back the curtains and take in the view from the balcony, breathe in the smells and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. Even more so today as we will return home tomorrow. If I breathe in deep enough I'm sure I can absorb the essence of this place and maybe take a little home with me forever.  

Back to practicalities. We need to get organised with our packing this morning as we will need to ensure our luggage isn't overweight again – not like on the way out when we were charged £120 for excess weight. But first things first – breakfast. We head down to the restaurant and are greeted by Eptisam who shows us to a table. I'm almost on auto pilot when I come down for breakfast now – first a glass of kirkady and some Earl Grey tea. Over to the counter for melon and pomegranate. After the first course I go to the chef and ask him for a vegetable omelette and I then add some veal sausages, tamaya, grilled tomatoes and tahina. Still a little room for something sweet so I opt for pancakes with chocolate syrup – and why not when I'm holiday! Peter and I decide to have a lazy day – one rare day by the pool, but first things first – a start on the packing.

We head back to the room and start sorting out the luggage. I decide to leave most of my toiletries in Luxor for our next trip. I lay the things that I'm leaving out on the bed and photograph them. Once I'm home I can check the photos as a reminder of the things I have here already. We have quite a lot of pottery and this all goes in hand luggage. I also decide to leave my camera tripod here as I only use this one for travel anyway.

An hour or so later and we're almost done – we've left changes of clothing out for this evening and tomorrow. Now down to the pool. And that's us until tea time!

We have a relaxing time swimming and lounging – we haven't done much of this in the two weeks we have been here, but I wouldn't change it for anything. We've had a great trip and Peter has been brilliant. I know I wouldn't have seen half the things or met half the people I have without him. Sitting by the pool is great – but not all day everyday!

This evening we are going to have apple pie and tea at the Oasis Cafe with Michael and Hamada. After we have showered and changed Hamada calls to say that he is outside the hotel waiting for us. He can't wait in the car too long as the hotel security are inclined to get a little itchy (even though he works there). Once in the car we drive to Sawagi to pick up Michael. As we head towards the train track, Hamada slows down. The barrier is open but he checks for oncoming trains. As we start crossing the track we see a train coming in the distance. Peter and Hamada make loud exclamations in Arabic – sheer disbelief that the barriers are open. Hamada shouts to the man responsible for operating the barrier. This is met with a look of complete disinterest. Oh well says Hamada, Egypt has 84 million people, what does it matter if there's a few less!

We arrive at the flat but Michael isn't ready (clearly working on Egyptian time) so we go up and wait. I go out to the balcony and watch life in the street below. Patience is a great virtue when in Egypt. After a bit of faffing around, Michael is ready and we go down to Hamada's car and head off to the Oasis Cafe.

I'm so delighted to come to this cafe. Firstly because it really does the best apple pie in Luxor and secondly, because of the fantastic building it is situated in. I can only describe it is an old palazzo style building. I've tried Googling it but can only find reference to it being a 1930's house that used to belong to the wealthy.

Frequent visitors to Luxor will know how much the town has changed over the last 5 years as part of a plan to turn Luxor in to an 'Open air museum'. Now deposed Governor of Luxor Samir Farag was at the forefront of enforcing these changes which meant demolishing properties to widen the streets and also moving poor families out to developments located on the edge of the desert.




Part of the plan was to demolish a number of buildings on Sharia Dr Labib Habashi – one of these buildings being the one that houses the Oasis Cafe. The Egyptian uprising has brought about many changes in Luxor - one being the removal of Samir Farag as Governor of Luxor. Reports are that he was implicated in several cases of corruption under the old Mubarak regime.

The upshot of this is that the planned demolition of the buildings on Sharia Dr Labib Habashi has come to a halt and for now – the buildings on this street are still here. We admire the high, corniced ceilings and the charming décor.

The cafe is empty, so different to when I first used to come here. We enjoy our apple pie and tea. We don't stay too long as Peter has arranged to meet the Manager of the Sonesta. Hamada drives us back and once in reception we are invited into Mr Sabri's office. We thank him for our stay and then talk generally about the difficult times everyone is facing in Luxor due to the reduction in tourism.

Time for bed. We will have time to finish packing tomorrow.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221863 2011-10-01T20:08:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 1st October 2011 - Farewell to Garagos

We sleep in late again today. My body clock is just beginning to adapt to the late nights and late starts – usually I’m an early person. We plan to return to Luxor later. Peter has arranged for Hamada to come and pick us up. It’s always difficult saying goodbye. We had hoped to visit Hagaza a nearby village that is famous for its beautiful wooden hand-crafts. We will leave this until our next trip.

Tahani has prepared breakfast for us. As we break into our freshly boiled eggs Tahani begins to talk to Peter about her concerns for Michael. I don’t want to talk about this family issue but Michael and their hopes for him getting married is always a topic of discussion for his mother or his father with Peter.

Ehab, Margreet and the twins arrive. I know Margreet loves having Ehab at home but I guess she feels that as soon as Ehab has arrived back in the village it very quickly time for him to return to work in Safaga.

Peter’s father comes back from the farm with a bunch of freshly pick Molokhia (Jews Mallow). Again this is something that I also find an acquired taste but here’s recipe in case you’re interested:


Peter’s father now continues the conversation about Michael – poor Michael – his ears must be burning! It’s an age old situation – parents with concerns over their children – whatever their age.

Sara and Susanna entertain us with some belly dancing. I video them and then download the video’s onto the netbook for them to watch – a game that could go on forever!

Sometime after midday day we get a call from Hamada that he is in Garagos but has got lost somewhere. Several phone calls later, Peter goes out to find where he is. The village is like a maze and it is easy to get disoriented. Mr Riad comes to say goodbye to us and sits and waits with us until Peter returns with Hamada.

As is the custom, Hamada is invited into the home to drink tea. As he enters Peter’s father greets him with “Alf Salam”. Hamada declines tea but accepts a glass of water.

Shortly after our bags are carried to the car and we say goodbye to Tahani and Alfons, Mr Riad, Ehab, Margreet and the twins. Other family members are in the street waiting to wave us off. We have to reverse back down the narrow street - just before Hamada arrived, a local man with a donkey and cart selling vegetables stops near the house to sell his wares. This street is only wide enough for one car so it requires some navigation and co-ordination to reverse without scraping against the wall of a building.

We wave goodbye and I can understand how difficult this is for Peter’s mother and father. They miss him terribly and I know they want him to stay in the village instead of returning to Luxor.

We drive out of the village and back along the canal that feeds water to the land. We see boys jumping from a bridge into the canal and I begin to think of the swimming pool that waits for us back at the hotel. As we draw nearer to Luxor Peter tells me that Hamada is going to take us straight to an alabaster factory on the Westbank – oh well – when in Egypt – just go with the flow!

We drive into Luxor and then back out on the Movenpick Road towards Awamia. Eventually we get to the bridge that takes us over the Nile onto the Westbank – much quieter and more agricultural than the East bank – but also full of amazing wonders.


We drive until we come across the amazing sight of the Colossi of Memnon. Unfortunately the photo I take is from a speeding car so not my best phot of the Colossi - well actually I only manage to get one of them from the back!


I remember being so in awe of this amazing the sight the first time I came to Egypt. The Colossi were built to guard the mortuary site of Amenhotep. Since I came past here last, more archaeological finds have been discovered by the Colossi. Bit by bit Egypt reveals more of its hidden secrets.

We drive past small pottery workshops. We arrive at the alabaster factory. Unfortunately we also arrive at the same time as a coach load of Russian tourists! Fortunately we aren’t herded in with the Russians – a man from the factory greets us and takes us over to three men who are sitting on the floor demonstrating various different stages of the process. This is all very well-rehearsed – like a sketch from a show – but more of this was in stores once inside!

We walk into a large showroom displaying a massive selection of pots, jars, tea sets, chess sets and of course pharaonic statues of all sizes. We had managed to get ahead of the Russians but now they stream into the room escorted by a number of the factory’s staff. They are welcomed to the showroom. I wasn’t paying much attention but a minute into the welcome speech the lights go off. I think my first instinct must have been that a power cut had happened as is quite usual, but then a chorus of Happy Birthday rises from the depths of darkness. As I turn around I notice that a section of the display is glowing a flourescent green – jars, vases and pharaonic figures all glowing in the dark. The Russians cheer and the lights are switched on again. The work 'Pantomime' springs to mind!

Peter, Hamada and I browse the shelves, I'm constantly shadowed by the man that welcomed us at the entrance. Alabaster is a beautiful stone and is shown at it's most beautiful when lit from within. The jars, pots and candle holders are stunning – pharaonic statuettes less so. Peter and Hamada speak to the gentleman that met us at the entrance. They talk about prices and shipping – I leave them to it.


The alabaster products are a reasonable priced but Hamada tells us later that guides will get 50% of any sales. During this brief visit I am given two alabaster ankh's and an alabaster scarab beetle - little tempters to encourage me to buy - but I think of the pottery we already have to carry home.  We leave the factory and the Russian tourists behind to return back to the East Bank. It's late afternoon and the light casts a warm glow over the Theban Mountains. We drive past Qurna, the deserted village resting on top of the ancient necropolis.

Quote from Wikipedia:

"Kurna (also Gourna, Gurna, Qurna, Qurnah or Qurneh) are various spelling for a group of three closely related villages (New Qurna, Qurna and Sheikh ‘Adb el-Qurna) located on the West Bank of the River Nile opposite the modern city of Luxor in Egypt near the Theban Hills.

New Qurna was designed and built in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy to house people living in Qurna which is now uninhabited. New Qurna was added to the 2010 World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites to bring attention to the site's importance to modern town planning and vernacular architecture due to the loss of much of the original form of the village since it was built.

The Villages

New Qurna (or New Gourna)

New Qurna was built between 1946 and 1952 by Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy midway between the Colossi of Memnon and el-Gezira on the Nile on the main road to the Theban Necropolis to house the residents of the Qurna. The design, which combined traditional materials and techniques with modern principles was never completed and much of the fabric of the village has since been lost; all what remains today of the original New Qurna is the mosque, market and a few houses. UNESCO World Heritage conservation wishes to safeguard this important architectural site. The World Monuments Fund included New Qurna in the 2010 World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites.

Qurna (or Old Gourna)

Qurna is an abandoned village about 100m to the east of the Temple of Seti I. Until the early 19th century the community included at least parts of the Temple of Seti I. Several travellers, including Richard Pococke or Sonnini de Manoncourt even name a Sheikh of Qurna. Edward William Lane relates in 1825 that the village was abandoned and not a single inhabitant lived there. Comments by Isabella Frances Romer suggests that the resettling started in the late 1840s. New Qurna was built in the 1940s and early 1950 to house the then residents who strongly resisted the move.

Sheikh ‘Adb el-Qurna

A series of housing built in and around the mountain grottoes located about 200m north of the Ramesseum at Sheikh ‘Adb el-Qurna. The stretch of land has been the bitter battlefield between the original owners and the Egyptian government for the last 60 years, because it lay on top of an archeologically area, part of the Tombs of the Nobles. Edward William Lane relates that the residents moved into these grottoes from the village of Qurna, which they abandoned, when the Mamluks retreated thought the area, following their defeat by Muhammad Alī's forces in the early 19th century.”







You will see the mention of the architect Hassan Fathy. You will read more about the links to Hassan Fathy and the Garagos Pottery on the 1001 Nights page in Posterous as our research and compilation of the story develops.

We drive past the sugar can fields and several banana plantations. We see the green footed lesser egrets paddle in the irrigation channels running through the green land. Again that familiar smell of smoke seeps in through the car window. I don't know why the burning of sugar cane stubble is so wonderful – well yes I do ­ it's one of the most evocative smells of Luxor.

We cross the sugar can train track and are now close to the edge of the West Bank of the Nile. We pass what were once brighty coloured houses and shops, now scarred with the patina of age and the desert dust. They line both sides of the street like a guard of honour, escorting us visitors away from this very special place.

Before long we are back at the hotel and now wash the Garagos dust from our hair (literally and figuratively). We are in time to watch the sunset over the Theban Hills from the balcony – I will never tire of this beautiful site.

We decide to eat in the hotel in Aladdins Restaurant outside in the hotel grounds. It's a nice warm evening we don't have to walk too far considering our near exhausted state. Unusually, we see that a sound system has been set up. We haven't seen any evening entertainment here in the hotel on this trip due to the lack of tourists. However, there appears to be a group of 'day' tourists and they are dining at the hotel before returning to the Hurghada this evening. We are told by the waiter that they had planned to put on a belly dancing show for the tourists but the belly dancers haven't arrived and are late. This is such a shame – the tourists finish their meal and head out to their coach without seeing the 'entertainment'.

We get a phone call. Tony is waiting outside the hotel for us. He is going to take us to the tourism company office where he still works and where Peter used to work. We are also going to pick up our bits and pieces that 'went missing' in the Sheraton in Cairo. We drink tea in the office with Tony and Mr Mourad the manager of the travel company – the three of them talk about old times and also about how hard tourism has been hit since the uprising.

Peter and I have decided to do a caleche trip around the city. Peter's friend Radwan is waiting for us on the Corniche. We say goodbye to Tony and Mr Mourad and walk out to meet Radwan. It's a delight to see him again – Peter has know him for a long time – the travel company always uses good, reputable caleche drivers who speak English. Radwan is a very polite young man, university educated and now tells us that since he saw us last he is now married and expecting their first baby. Congratulations are shouted in English and Arabic. Radwan is also a qualified guide. He tells us (as we've heard from everyone so far) how bad business is in Luxor and even though his wife is about to have a baby, he will be taking work in Hurghada so that he can support his family. Radwan says that it's difficult to get a handle on the real situation in Egypt. Information differs significantly depending on it's source – state tv, the internet, the grapevine. He says it's the information that people don't know that is most dangerous. Peter and Radwan continue to talk about the state of the country – I take in the familiar sights of Luxor by night.

I spot a couple of significant sights – we go past one of our favourite coffee shops Alfa Leyla we Leyla (One Thousand Nights and One Night) and then as we pass the Franciscan Church, the sign on the front of the church seems to say 1001. I like to think they are lucky signs for our little project!

Radwan drops us back at the Sonesta. We say goodbye and wish him all the best for the birth of his new baby. Before we go to bed we sit on the balcony and drink a glass of wine. Birds swoop across the Nile and over on the West Bank we hear a donkey bray and the soft chugging sound of a motor boat.

Peter and I talk about our visit to Garagos. It's only when away from the village that we appreciate how different the way of life is - not to the UK but to Luxor. The difference is also apparent between Luxor and Cairo – Egypt is indeed a country of many faces (and differing mentalities). Our visit is nearly at an end and there is a sense of sadness about leaving – for Peter his family and birth place and for me a country I have grown to love. Exhaustion takes over us.  I hope tomorrow is a lazy day.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221865 2011-09-30T10:33:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 30th September 2011 - Another Visit to the Garagos Pottery

We wake up at about 10.00am today.  I slept a little better last night with the improved ventilation through the balcony shutters.  I must have been too exhausted to hear the misguided cockerels.  I remember hearing the call to prayer at 4.30am but must have fallen back to sleep shortly after.

We get up and go downstairs where Peter’s mother is already cooking.  Peter’s father has taken the water buffalo’s back out to the field.

We eat breakfast.  On the table is boiled eggs collected from the chickens that morning (unboiled at the time!).  Large chunks of bread, roasted spring onions, cheese, fuul, date jam and mish – a homemade cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo. http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jul/14/food/fo-55996

Although I’ve never been brave enough to try mish – probably because it is stored in a clay jar and kept on the roof of the house in the sun for a number of months – everyone in the family love it.  Also on the table is tameya, tahini and Peter’s father also brings in some freshly picked rocket.  Peter’s mother heats a pan of buffalo milk and places it on the table.  I’ve always disliked the smell of boiled milk.  It takes me back to my childhood somewhere but can’t quite pinpoint the circumstances.

After breakfast Ehab, Margreet and the twins come around.  This morning we are going to the pottery.

Ehab, Peter and I set off for the pottery which is a short walk away.  As soon as we are out on the street children spot us (or me) and start following us – some on foot and others on their bicycles.  Peter suggests that I don’t respond to any of them if they speak to me as it could get out of hand.  Although it feels odd ignoring children who only seem to want to say hello in English, I trust Peter’s judgement and do as he suggests.

We walk past a field that has dates laid out in large squares.  They must be at different stages of the drying process as each square is a different shade of red/brown. 

It isn’t long before we reach the pottery – a small complex built within the confines of a high mud brick wall and consisting of a number of separate buildings.  Behind the pottery buildings is the shell of a large unfinished building – probably five or six stories high.  I remember Peter telling me that before 1997 when tourists were stilling coming to the pottery, the Catholic church funded the building of a hotel.  The hope at the time was that a hotel would be developed where tourists could come and stay, spend more time at the pottery and in the village and ultimately develop the small tourism economy in Garagos.  The building has never been completed.  Everything came to a standstill after the Hatchepsut shootings and travel to more remote areas like Garagos became difficult for tourists.  The ground floor of the hotel is used as a nursery but apart from that remains empty and unfinished. 

I shall write separately the story of the Garagos Pottery and try to do it more justice than I have in this blog.  However, an interesting thing to note is that the pottery was designed by famous architect Hassan Fathy known as Architect for the Poor.  http://www.hassanfathy.webs.com/ .

We enter the first building that, amongst other pieces of equipment, houses two potters wheels each located in front of a window that provides good light in which to work.  Ehab’s father Mr Riad arrives and I also recognise Amjad and Louis from my previous visits.  I’m introduced to Mr Abd al Masir who is working on one of the wheels.  We watch him as he ‘throws’ a lovely curved pot. Once sliced off the wheel with a wire he places it on the side of the bench.  Ehab takes some clay and begins to throw it on a bench, mashing it down with his hands to soften it.  I’m then invited to take Mr Abd al Masir’s place at the wheel. 

The seat is wooden and slopes at an angle downwards.  As I try to put my feet on the kick plate I feel myself sliding down the seat.  I find it difficult to balance myself on the seat without sliding down.  I could do with some platform shoes or legs that are at least three inches longer.  Once I start pushing the kick plate back and forth I find that holding on to the seat with one hand helps keep me stable.  Anyway, a lump of clay is chucked onto the wheel by Ehab and I doubt I can attempt this with one hand.  I shuffle myself onto the seat again and start working the kick plate back and forth – I’m not sure what the optimum speed is for this.  I ask Ehab to start me off with the clay and after shaping and working the pot up a few inches he hands over to me.

I dip my hands in a pot of water and attempt to shape the clay into something that resembles some kind of receptacle.  Ehab does have to rescue it a couple of times but I must admit – I do much better this time than the last.  I place my pot next to Mr Abd al Masir’s and we all laugh at the comparison! 

 We spend a bit of time here watching everyone complete different parts of the process.  A small machines squeezes out long thin sausages of clay which are cut into fixed lengths.  These form the handles for cups.  The machine looks like a grown up version of something from the Playdough factory – clay goes in one end and as the lever is pressed a long thin tube of clay comes out of the other.  Matta attaches the handles to cups with slip that have already been left to dry.  We are joined by a cousin of Peter's, Yousef and his little boy – another member of the family.  His late father, along with Ehab’s father Riad and three others co-own the pottery.  Yousef also used to work in the pottery but similarly to the others of his generation now works in tourism on one of the Nile cruises.  Yousef seats himself at one of the pottery wheels and begins to produce a very intricate pot that curves in and out along its length.  His son sits on the windowsill in front of him watching – so comfortable where he is that he’s clearly sat and watched his father many times before.

I ask Mr Riad if he thinks there will be another generation of family to take over the pottery.  He is unsure.  All of the sons of the current owners, although trained in the pottery since childhood, work in the tourism industry – out of economic need rather than choice.  Mr Riad says that to work in a craft such as pottery, you really need to love the work.   I ask Ehab at what age he started learning to make the pottery.  He says he was about 8 or 9 years of age.  They used to come after school and during the holidays.  It never felt like work to them but almost like an art class.  One of the first things the children are taught to make is a palm tree.  He then takes a framed black and white photograph down from the wall.  The photograph is of Ehab, his brother Andre, a couple of other children and Yousef’s father Sabit teaching the children to make the palm trees.  Ehab takes the opportunity to show us how to make a clay palm tree! 

We go next to another outbuilding.  I remember that this is where the finishing is done – Louis hand paints the pottery in the traditional designs of the Garagos pottery in blue/grey, green, turquoise, browns and yellows.  This room also serves as a display room.  The walls house shelving and cupboards stacked with examples of the wonderful pottery from floor to ceiling.  Cooking pots such as Egyptian style tagines, baking dishes, tea sets and Arabic style coffee pots. There are a collection of figures representing local life – groups of musicians playing traditional instruments, figures standing by waterwheels and women carrying waterpots on their head.  There is a collection of nativity scenes, large fish shaped platters – some glazed and some not and a massive variety of different shaped vases and jars.  As always there is also a large box of Ankh’s glazed in dark blue or turquoise and another of Coptic crosses.  I have hundreds of photographs of the pottery - please look at my Flickr page to see more.


Matta asks us if we would like a cup of tea.  Of course we accept.  Ehab, his father, Peter and I take a seat and Mr Riad starts to tells us some of the stories of the pottery.  Again I will leave a lot of the detail out at this stage and save it for the story of the pottery.  But Mr Riad tells us about Father Montgolfier, a French Jesuit priest who came to Garagos in the 1950’s.  He had been working in village to help the locals attain better lifestyles by helping  to improve skills, health and the physical environment.  There was also Father Ackerman who had a nephew in France who owned a pottery.  It was this connection that brought pottery to the village of Garagos.  Mr Riad tells us that at the time the village had a lot of scorpions and they were a big problem.  If anyone got bitten by a scorpion their life chances could be slim as the village was so far away from a doctor or a hospital the poison may have killed them before they received medical attention.  Father Montgolfier used to pay the local people for collecting the scorpions which were later disposed of – only a few piasters each but this helped to significantly reduce the amount of scorpions and ultimately the health risks to local people.

There were no roads in the village at this time – just mud tracks.  Father Montgolfier owned a car – the only one in the village and everyone was amazed to see this vehicle enter the village for the very first time.  Father Montgolfier oversaw the building of an asphalt road leading to the pottery.  For decades this road was known as Montgolfier Road.  There was no street lighting but local men would walk ahead of the car holding lanterns to light the way.  The road that we walked down past the drying dates was this very road.  One thing you notice is that the roads and the rest of the village is elevated some five feet above the green land.

I ask Peter why the roads are so much higher than the land.  He tells me that when the roads were built, the soil was taken from the agricultural land and banked up onto the roads before they were asphalted.

I’m going to save the rest of this story for another time. 

We all walk to another building – the store room.  As we approach this building we walk past the kiln which is still cooling down from the last batch of firing. 

The store room is just floor to ceiling shelves stacked full of pottery – some glazed and some unglazed.  Ehab tells me that they leave some unglazed for two reasons.  Some customers want to specify their own design and others just prefer the terracotta look.  We spend ages routing through the shelves and photographing the products.  Ehab reaches up onto high shelves and brings down pots and jars so that we can see them¸ feel them and admire the beautiful colours.  I love the shape of the old style Arabic coffee pots. 

Thinking about our luggage allowance and how we got stung on the way into Egypt, we carefully select some products to take back with us.  Ehab goes to fetch  a pair of balance scales with kilo weights to help us determine how much we can take.  Peter and I have already decided to leave clothes and toiletries here to accommodate any samples that we want to bring home.  It’s very difficult deciding what to take and chop and change our minds several times – so much to choose from!  We settle on a number of ceramic Ankhs and Coptic crosses and also some nativity scenes which have a charming hand-made appeal.  We have got about seven kilos of pottery in total.  Mr Riad packs it tightly for us – that’s Peter’s hand luggage accounted for!  As Peter pays for the products Mr Riad tells us that this will cover the cost of the salaries for that week.

We actually spent most of the day in the pottery.  It’s nearly tea time and we go to leave.  As we walk out Amjad, Louis and Matta are preparing the kiln for the next batch of pottery to be fired.  Not everybody gets to see this part of the process Ehab explains, as they need to have enough pottery to fire to fill the kiln.  This is an electric kiln which is expensive to heat up so every spare inch of space is utilised.  Shelves of pottery are stacked on top of what look like ceramic egg cups or short candle sticks.  Once a shelf of pottery has been inserted, more ceramic legs are placed along the edges of the shelf and another shelf stacked on top.  We leave the guys to it and say our goodbyes.

As we leave the confines of the pottery we walk down Montgolfier Street and pass a row of men sitting with their backs against the mud brick wall.  They are drinking tea and smoking shisha.  I notice from the corner of my eye that one of the men has a rifle between his legs.  Although I’ve been told about the amount of guns being carried by citizens this is the first time I’ve seen a gun being openly displayed by someone who’s not from the authorities.

Peter tells me later that guns have always existed in the village but now the police are scarce people don’t care about carrying them in public.

We continue walking home, the children spot us again and one starts circling me on his bicycle.  Ehab tells the boy to go away.  We arrive home and Peter’s mother makes us a cup of tea.  Cousin David pops in and asks us if we are coming to see their new house.  We also need to go and see his Aunt Matilda and family so we go there first.  Ehab, Margreet and the twins walk with us until they take a right turn to go home and Peter and I continue another twenty yards to the house of Labib and his Aunt Matilda who is the sister of Peter’s father. 

This large house is surrounded by a painted wall to form a small courtyard.  Tall bushes of Rahan (basil) grow next to seating area – I still remember this fragrance from previous visits.  As we arrive we are greeted with handshakes and kisses.  I notice that there are two moustachioed young men sitting at a table facing the members of the family.  Everyone is sitting opposite on palm seast covered in brightly coloured rugs and cushions.  The two men are from a water filtration company and have come to give a demonstration of how their system works.  On the table are three glasses of water.  Two of the glasses have a brown slimy substance in them and in the other the water is crystal clear.  I don’t really need to understand the language too well to understand the demonstration.  The ‘audience’ is given the opportunity to ask questions – which they do and shortly after the two men pack up their sales materials, and after handing out their business cards say goodbye and leave.

Matilda brings out a large tray of tea for everyone.  There is Labib and his son Kissinger with his two young sons Mina and Shenouda.  Mina has grown a lot since I saw him last.  Labib’s other son Gerges who has just got engaged is with us.  There is also Shoaib and Ayad both younger siblings of Kissinger and Gerges and shortly after we are joined by sister Yvonne.  Peter’s cousins David and Madios are also here (sons of his Aunt Mariam – another sister of Peter’s father).  Michael is here too.  Although during my previous visits to Garagos I have been introduced to a lot of family members in a short space of time, I remember everyone easily, their bright happy faces always smiling.


As we drink tea and hold conversations on a variety of topics – the standard of hotels in Egypt, the benefits system in the UK and of course the subject of the Egyptian uprising takes centre stage.  Everyone is in agreement that the uprising has left the country in a terrible state.  Mubarak was a dictator but he kept stability in the country – and now he is gone everything is in chaos.  Labib tells us that today in Cairo, they are holding the protest to end all of the protests.  People are gathering in Tahrir Square which has now become the iconic location for the revolution.  He says that there has been trouble during the protests and that there was concern that this may spread to other parts of Egypt.  I detect a sense again, just the same as when visiting family in Cairo, that this is another family that feels unsafe, even within their own community.

Matilda says that she wants to cook for us and asks if we can stay to eat.  Unfortunately we have to decline but say that next time we hope to stay longer.  David and Madios had left earlier but we follow shortly in their tracks to go and see their new house which is currently being built next door to their existing house. 

Two minutes around the corner we arrive at the new house.  Wasfy, Mariams husband has been laying a new concrete floor in preparation for tiling.  We are shown around and shown the ceramic tiles.  Wasfy is a carpenter and has completed most of the work on the house himself.  David arrives and takes us to their existing flat next door.  Mariam greets us and invites us to sit.  It isn’t long before we are joined by Wasfy and sons Madios, Maximus and Bishoy.  Also there is Gerges and Michael.  They all speak in their thick, heavy sa’idi accents.  I know Peter speaks fast but the Arabic words are being shot out like rounds from an automatic weapon.  Peter told me some time ago that his Aunt Saffa used to call him a barbarian because of the way he spoke – particularly the speed.  They find themselves reminiscing over their childhood adventures.  Peter begins to recount a story about a particular fight he got into with some other local boys.  He describes how a gang of 50 boys were chasing him through the village and how he feared for his life.  His cousins roar with laughter and all shout something to each other then start slapping each other’s hands.  At this point I didn’t know what was being said but David who seems to have taken over from Peter as translator tells me that Peter is exaggerating and that there was only a handful of boys chasing him on this particular occasion!  Most of the young men in this group speak English and all have impeccable good manners.  Most are university graduates and all speak of the lack of employment opportunities for young Egyptians.  However, Peter’s family is more privileged than many others.  David teaches in the morning and then runs his own computer business outside of these hours.  Madios works for the  insurance company Alico and the only brother who isn’t present is Matero who is a tour guide and had left for Hurghada a few days earlier.

Mariam brings out plates of sunflower and pumpkins seeds and also a bowl of salted popcorn.  This is followed by glasses of a green fizzy apple flavoured drink.  Shortly after she brings out a sweet bread that tastes and has a similar texture to brioche.  A tray of tea is brought to everyone – Mariam (as with all other Egyptians) is surprised when I say I don’t take sugar  (and this isn’t the first time I’ve had tea at her house) – everyone else piles sugar into their glasses – even Peter who doesn’t have sugar in his tea at home.

We have another visit to make that evening – over to Mr Riad’s house to see Ehab, Margeet, the twins and the rest of the family.  We sit outside on the palm seats again and drink beer, chat, and feel the benefit of the fresh air circulating over the green land.  Lizards dart across the warm bricks at the front of the house and we are serenaded by a chorus of grasshoppers.  A donkey brays occasionally in accompaniment. 


Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221867 2011-09-29T10:31:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 29th September. To Garagos

I think we really benefited from an early(ish) night and wake up feeling refreshed.  After breakfast Peter bumps into an old friend of his Hamada, who he used to work with years ago.  Hamada works in one of the shops in the hotel.  I can see how they embrace that they are good friends and delighted to see each other.  We are invited to his shop to drink tea.  They reminisce about old times and talk about the terrible state of the country.  I become adept at putting the appropriate expression on my face depending on the tone of their voices.  With only basic knowledge of Arabic I could come a cropper if I don’t pay attention!  Another man enters the shop – yet another old friend of Peter’s.  They greet and then he tells Hamada that the ‘Big mother’ has phoned.  I ask who the big mother is.  I’m told that she is the mother of the owner of the hotel.  She phones every day to see who has turned up for work  - even though there is hardly any business.

We are to go to Garagos later that day.  Hamada offers to drive us.

We go back to the room and pack (yet again) – enough for a few days.  Hamada picks us up and we set off again through the rural landscape until we reach Garagos.  Being in a new air conditioned car people stop to look.  Everyone watches everything and they want to know who is entering their village.  Herds of scruffy goats scatter and children skid to a halt on their bikes.

We arrive at the house again – family from several houses come to greet us.  Peters father invites Hamada in to drink tea but he declines – he has to return to Luxor.

We settle in again.  It’s late afternoon and Peter, his father and I decide to walk down to the farmland before the sun sets.  The twins Sara and Susanna come with us.  We firstly call to see the waterbuffalo – a mother and her baby – well no longer a baby.  She was a baby when I saw her in December but is quite a size now.  The buffalo are kept in a mud brick walled area that is shaded by date palms.  On one corner of the space is an old fashioned water wheel that used to be driven by cows or buffalo.  Near the entrance  is a motor pump that draws water from underground – the source being the canals which are fed by the Nile. 

We then walk to another area surrounded by mud brick walls.  In here is a date palm, a banana tree and a mango tree.  Also growing is mint and basil – a slightly different basil to the type we have in the UK.  The Egyptian basil (rahan) grows into a bush – it’s more shrubby and the taste is different.  We did grow it in England from some seeds that Peter brought home but it didn’t survive the winter.

After this we follow the irrigation channel down to the farm land.  All the farmland in this area belongs to various members of Peter’s family and has belonged to them for as long as they can remember.  Through the generations the land is left to the children and some plots divided between them.  Not all of the land is together – it is spread out over the village.  Not all of the children want to remain in the village and work the land, so the responsibility is handed over to another member of the family.  I wonder how many of the younger generation will stay in the village in the future to work the land.  I know this is a passion for Peter’s father – he loves working on the land.  I don’t think this will be a passion for the next generation.

As we continue walking along the irrigation channel we come across Ebanob who is working the land.  He wields a large heavy hoe and strikes the earth with all his might.  Peter draws my attention to the hoe and before he speaks I think back to our garden and when Peter told me that we needed a strong tool to dig our heavy clay soil.  I knew the tool he was looking for so bought one from B&Q.  When I got it home and showed it to him he laughed.  Now looking at the size of the implement that Isaac is holding I can see why the B&Q hoe amused him. 

Zakir – the brother of Peter’s grandfather (but known as his grandfather not great uncle) is with a young boy Makarios who I remember from a previous visit.  They join us – everyone greets each other with a handshake.  Peter takes the hoe from Ebanob and begins to strike the earth.  He hasn’t laboured on the land since University so doesn’t keep it up for long. 

The sun is now setting.  A short distance away is a single story house that has just been built adjacent to the irrigated land.  The house has recently been built and belongs to Zakir’s son Stefanos and his wife Fikria.  So Stefanos is the cousin of Peter’s father.  We are invited to go to the house and drink tea. 

Mats made from woven date palms are laid out on the mud track that divides two plots of land, one growing sweetcorn and another green plant that is grown as animal feed.  More family members have joined us now – about 15 in total.  Everyone is seated on the mat.  Children play in the field, Sara and Susanna delight in tormenting a grey kitten.  When fed up of this they come and join the adults feeling equally comfortable with any of the uncles, aunts or cousins.  Whatever the differences are here between the roles of women and men, it doesn’t apply to playing with the children.  In fact when the men aren’t at work they are more likely to be making a fuss of the children.  Fikria brings out a tray of tea for everyone.  Sugar is generously spooned into the glasses – expressions of surprise when I don’t take any.  Everyone chats until the sky turns black – a deep dark black that is only seen in remote locations not polluted by artificial light.  It would be an unusual day if the night sky was clouded – the stars are bright and the crickets in the field are the loudest I’ve ever heard.  At one point a cricket flies out of the field onto my shoulder – I jump and scream which everyone finds hysterical.  I feel a bit of a fool but take some comfort when one of the other women sitting with Fikria also makes a fuss about the flying insects.

It’s so much cooler out in the fields.  The dry crinkled leaves on the sweetcorn rustle in the light breeze.  Apart from the crickets and the chatter of voices it’s silent.  It’s almost as though the fields absorb the sound of any external noises or a vacuum has surrounded us.  I defy anyone to sit where I’m sitting now and not feel a sense of peace – around them and inside.

Ehab now joins us – Sara and Susanna run to him.  I think the rest of the family are expecting us at his house.  We say thank you to our hosts and goodbye to family and head off back down the path, following again the irrigation channel and back out onto the street.  It’s only short walk around the corner to Ehabs house.  A lively scene greets us.  Everyone is sitting outside this large house that opens out onto yet another field – again it’s cooler out in the open that indoors.  Several of the men sit around a table playing dominoes.  Others and family members from neighbouring houses sit on one of four palm sofas chatting.  There is also a large stone mastaba covered in hand woven rugs.  We shake hands, embrace those we know, get kissed by female relatives I haven’t met before.  One of the ladies I haven’t met before is introduced to me as Sister Rita.  Sister Rita is a warm and engaging young lady.  Her English is excellent and she tells me that she is belongs to the Comboni Mission.     a Catholic mission named after Daniel Comboni who came to Egypt in 1857. 

Rita has recently been working in Kenya and Dubai and the following day was to leave for Ethiopia to continue her work.    I enjoy talking to Rita.  She asks me about our trip to Cairo and I tell her how the family tried to feed us so much food.  She laughs and says that there are two things that go hand in hand with Egyptians.  They love their food and they are very loud.

Ehab approaches us.  He says that he want to challenge Andre and Zakaria to a game of dominoes but he doesn’t know whether Peter is a reliable partner.  He says that Peter is out of practice at playing dominoes and he really wants to win the game.  I told Ehab that he couldn’t have any better partner than Peter and that he should put his faith in his brother in law – they will easily win.  Peter and Ehab join the rest of the men at the table and I continue chatting with Sister Rita.

Unfortunately she is called away to see to something and I expect that may be the last time I meet her.  I felt drawn to Rita and wanted to talk to her more and find out about the work that she does with the mission.  Hopefully another day.

Various members of the family come and go, some are new introductions, some people I already know.  Andre’s wife Marmar and her daughter Lola sit next to me on one side and Margreet sits on the other with Sara – Susanna still has bags of energy and is running from adult to adult.  Marmar who speaks a little English asks me if I remember the chicken that she cooked us last time we came to stay.  I did remember the chicken and the meal we had had.  Ehab gives me regular updates on the dominoes match – he and Peter are winning so far – the outcome will be decided on this last game.

A cheer goes up and Peter and Ehab have won the game of dominoes.  Ehab and Zakaria laugh in disbelief.  Ehab tells me that I was right and he should have had more faith in Peter in the first place.  Margreet goes into the house and brings out a tray of cold cans of beer which is received gratefully by everyone.

We chat and laugh a little further into the evening (Egyptians always seem to be laughing apart from when they are discussing politics or religion).  The laughing echoes up and around the houses that form an L shape around one corner of the green land. These large houses are 3 stories high ­– a floor is built as a flat for each of the sons of the family and their wives.  In this case both Margreet and Marmar live and work in the house together with the mother of Ehab.  I can’t imagine living in such close proximity to two other families.  Although the young wives have their own flats with kitchens, most cooking is done on the ground floor in the kitchen of the mother.  I’m sure that this semi communal living has its benefits but as for me I love my solitude, my downtime where I can please myself when I cook, when I clean and what I do. 

The children begin to fall asleep.  People begin to drift off, wishing “Tispah all kheir”.  We also say our goodbyes and Ehab walks us around to Peter’s father’s house.

They have arranged for us to stay in another room in the house with a balcony. Hopefully with a bit of ventilation and the ceiling fan the night will be a bit more comfortable.  Tispa alla kheir.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221868 2011-09-28T09:40:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 28th September 2011 - Luxor

Last night we didn’t even get chance to wash the Cairo dust out of our hair – we just collapsed into bed.  In the morning I wake up with a start – no noise, no uninvited alarm calls.  I just had a sense that it was late and we might miss breakfast.  It was 10.10am and breakfast is served until 10.30am.  We decide to chance it and just throw on some clothes, give hair a quick brush and wipe off the remaining residue of yesterday’s makeup (my makeup not Peters).

We make it, and relish in the luxury of having breakfast on tap.  Eptisam looks after us and makes sure that are cups are filled with tea until we leave.

We go back up to the room, shower and then begin to unpack our bags from Cairo.  We both need to charge our iphones but can’t seem to find the charger.  Peter automatically thinks it’s been stolen – I tell him to phone the Sheraton and see if anyone found it in the room.  As I go through my things I notice that a video camera is also missing.  Peter is now convinced they’ve been stolen.  I remember Peter was very meticulous about checking all of the drawers and the rest of the suite before we left so now I was thinking the same.

Peter phones the Sheraton and he is told to phone back in 15 minutes as the room service manager isn’t available.  Now the next bit is a bit of a palaver so I will make it brief.

Peter phoned back and the room service manager puts him through to lost property.  Lost property tells him to phone back again whilst they check.  Peter phoned lost property back again.  They say they have found the charger and the video camera but they don’t have the key to the safe.  They tell Peter that he needs to send someone for the items the day after tomorrow.

I think Peter is dumbstruck.  This is supposed to be a 5 star hotel and the only person with the key to lost property is off work.  Things don’t seem right.  Thinking back I don’t remember seeing the iphone charger or the video camera for the last few days of the Cairo Trip – we agree that skulduggery is afoot.  Peter says he is going to do a write up about this on Trip Advisor. 

After this pantomime we decide to go to the pool.  Later that evening we are going to dinner with friends Tony and Nasreen which could be a late night so we make the most of what’s left of the day.

We stay by the pool until about 5.30, just before the sun begins to set.  We go up to the room, shower and sit on the balcony and drink a glass of red wine.  From the balcony we see a line of people carrying things down to the pontoon.  A DJ greets the staff with handshakes and kisses and carries what looks like speakers.  Chef’s carry trays of food on their shoulders.  A local woman dressed in black carries a basket of bread on her head.  We see them take the steps down to the Nile and Peter notices that a large tent has been erected on the island further down the river.  They must be having an Egyptian night with belly dancers and musicians.

An hour or so later we are ready to go to Tony’s.  We leave the hotel and are deluged by calls for taxi’s.  We take one go over to Sawagi. As we approach Tony’s flat we can hear loud wedding music coming from the street behind.  We are greeted by Tony and Nasreen.  Their two young daughters Hannah and Jenna play.  We chat for a while – the music from the wedding can still be hear.  We go out onto the balcony and above the music we hear gun shots.  Tony tells us that it is very common nowadays to hear guns being shot at weddings.  Firecrackers are usually lit to celebrate a marriage but on this particular night we can hear a handgun and also an automatic rifle.  Tony says that he didn’t know whether it was safe for us to come to his flat as there are a lot of guns being carried by local people since the lack of police on the streets.

Peter had already told Tony about our things that need to be collected at the Sheraton in Cairo.  Tony had already contacted one of the drivers who works for the same tour company.  He was currently in Hurghada but was to pick someone up from Cairo and bring them back to Luxor.  He would collect our things from the hotel and bring them back for us.

Nasreen has cooked a large meal for us.  Rice, salad and 2 plates piled high with what looks like chicken – like chicken but the meat looks like a different colour.  Peter tells me that it’s pigeon stuffed with freek.  http://www.whats4eats.com/poultry/hamam-mahshi-recipe There is also kofta and potatoes and bread – so much food!

After the meal we drink tea and mangoes, apples and pears are eaten.  Hannah (two and a half year old) entertains us with some belly dancing.  It’s a lovely evening but we don’t stay too long as we still need to catch up on sleep after the Cairo trip. 

Reflecting on the evening I remember noticing how Nasreen kept feeding Hannah at every opportunity – even after we had left the dining table.  I remember Tony telling me that Hannah was quite poorly when she was little and they didn’t think she would survive.  As I’ve discovered on my many trips to Egypt and especially when visiting the family – feeding people is a given.  I don’t think that it’s just about hospitality (although this is important) – not when it’s your own children.  More of a desire to ensure the children are well fed and therefore healthy – even if they are from a middle class family.

Having suffered with bad stomachs on my trips to Egypt I find it difficult when I am presented with piles of food.  The heat really supresses my appetite and I also become over faced with the amount of food placed in front of me.  You know there are always eyes on you – especially from whoever’s cooked the food seeking approval by seeing you tuck in.  The bad stomachs don’t come from the food – I honestly believe it comes from the heat but it is always best to be careful about what you eat.


Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221870 2011-09-27T07:52:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 27th September 2011 - Last day in Cairo - Adventures in the Khan el Khalili

The Cairo traffic alarm clock wakes us at 6.00am again – always so reliable. We finish the last few bits of packing.  Peter meticulously checks that we haven't left anything in draws and cupboards (even though we didn't use them).  We mooch around the suite, take in the last arial views of Cairo from the balcony and then go to check out.   At the reception desk Peter asks the member of staff if he knew what the shooting was yesterday morning.  He tells us that somebody had tried to steal a car.  The police response to me seemed incredibly heavy handed as we must have counted over 20 police at the scene of the crime.

We leave our luggage at the hotel as we still have a few visits to make. We had spotted Abdul in the hotel car park earlier so again escape out of the back of the hotel through the coffee shop. We get a taxi back to the Khan – one and half hours certainly wasn’t long enough before. This time we seem to have been dropped off at a different entrance to the Khan.  We are now in a maze of narrow alleyways and can’t quite get out barings. Nothing to lose – we just found ourselves meandering along the streets taking in everything this wonderful scene has to offer.


We have found ourselves in Wikala el Ghuria – the northern quarter of the bazaar. We stop briefly to read a sign that is promoting a workshop – craftsmen and women can be seen producing local handcrafts such as tapestry and inlay work. Whilst we read the sign Peter notices a young man in the spice shop next door watching us. Peter asks him about the workshop and we are told that it won’t be open for another two months. Peter strikes up conversation with him. He tells us his name is Mohamed and that if we want to see crafts being produced he will take us. We have no real itinerary so decide to take him up on his offer.

Mohammed tells us that this area was inhabited by many Turks. Turks came to trade here in the courtyard of the Wikala - his own father is Turkish and his mother is Egyptian. He asks us what crafts we would like to see in particular and told him lantern making as we hadn’t seen this yet. Peter and I had had great trouble trying to make contact with lantern makers directly – there are plenty of agents acting on behalf of the manufacturers but this wasn’t going to enable us to see the crafts being produced first hand and also find out about the crafts people themselves. He says he can take us but the lantern maker won’t be open until 1.00pm. In the meantime he takes us to an inlay workshop.

We follow him through the maze of alleyways. We go deep into the Khan until we come into a tiny courtyard and the entrance to the workshop. This feels like a secret place – a place where tourists are unlikely to stumble. We are away from the madness of the Khan – everything is silent. We are introduced to Mahmoud who invites us in. The workshop is tiny – no bigger than 3 metres by 3 metres. Every inch of the workshop is fully utilised with high shelves stacked with plain wooden frames and the carcases of jewellery boxes waiting to be decorated. In the corner a worker sits at a small bench carefully placing small bits of mother pearl into an already etched out design. Next to him is a pot of animal glue – a smell that takes me back to college in the 1970’s where I studied upholstery and cabinet making.

We are shown the shells, how they are cut and then how each inlaid piece is sanded down and lacquered to produce a high sheen finish. Hanging on every spare inch of the walls are inlaid picture frames, tambourines, shelves – all covered in a thick layer of dust – probably from the sanding process. On the wall is a small glass fronted cabinet. Mahmoud opens the cabinet which reveals a display of jewellery boxes. He takes a couple out and asks us if we know which ones are fake. Peter and I begin to examine them and tell him that we can’t see any difference. He takes a knife and starts to scrape the bottom of one – and then another. He tells us “you see, one is plastic and the other is camel bone”. He was referring to the frame on the bottom of the jewellery box. He then went on to tell us that they make the fake ones for the Khan and the real ones with camel bone for hotels and expensive shops in the city. I think at that point both Peter and I felt we're trying to be taken in with smoke and mirrors! He showed us one of the ‘real’ jewellery boxes and told us how the internal frame of the box was made from one piece of wood – not jointed. How it was lined very well and finished to a high standard and that the black wood was real ebony.

I look at a couple of the jewellery boxes and select one and ask how much. He tells us 75le. I suspect this is more than the true value but we agree on 75le and also buy a small picture frame for the same price. Poor Peter has haggling exhaustion plus he doesn’t like haggling when I’m with him – man’s work I think! We are invited into the courtyard to drink tea. Mahmoud smokes shisha and Mohammed joins us. The courtyard has a real charm.  These are ancient buildings and their history, the families that have lived in them – the essence of the lives and loves of generations of people, permeate the walls.

They chat in Arabic – Peter occasionally gives a translation for me – I’ll have to sack him as a translator I think! Mahmoud brings out a plastic wallet which is full of photographs. They are photographs of the pieces of work they have decorated from jewellery boxes to the most amazing pieces of furniture. Mahmoud is particularly proud of a Regency style seat that was commissioned by the French Ambassador. He explains to us that the cabinet makers in the Khan produce the wooden furniture frames. Glass makers in the Khan hand make any glassware for example on a glass fronted cabinet. Metal workers in the Khan will produce the handles and hinges and eventually the inlay workers will decorate and finish the pieces ready for delivery. Also in the Khan there may be a specialist to pack the pieces and also an export agency to ship it to wherever it needs to go. This truly is a co-operative approach to business – a network of tradesmen working together towards an end goal. I found myself reflecting on how different things were back in Garagos. A lone pottery in an isolated village – any contacts to pack and ship would have to be made in Luxor or maybe even in Cairo. We take a couple of photographs and say goodbye to Mahmoud. Peter tells me later that he thinks Mahmoud and Mohammed are related. I imagine generations of the same families have remained in the Khan for centuries.  

Mohammed takes us to the lantern maker whose workshop is now open. Again another tiny little workshop. Mohammed introduces us to the owner Hani who has a table outside where he is finishing the copper pieces. Inside another Mohammed shows us how he solders the copper panels together.  I only take a few photos and videos before the camera battery dies. I look around (standing on the same spot). Lanterns hang from the ceiling and are also stacked up on the floor – taking up three quarters of the floor space. There is also a shelf with small lanterns and candle holders.

Hani the owner shows us that some of the designs are based around traditional Islamic patterns and others represent the Coptic cross. The design he showed us of the Coptic cross had 12 points or sides which he tells us represent the 12 desciples.  


Although the lanterns here have a certain charm, they are not the quality that I am looking for – the copper/brass is very thin and I doubt that some of them are copper or brass at all. We thank Hani for his time and leave.

Mohammed invites us back to his workshop for a drink – hibiscus tea. He picks up a handful of hibiscus petals and then summons a boy from the street to go and make the tea. Peter asks Mohammed if he can do a spice mix for us – Ras el Hanout in Morocco – Mixed spices in Egypt! After we receive our bag of spice Mohammed shows us his saffron. He produces two tins and he asks us to guess which is the good one and which is the bad one – oh heck – another yarn again! We’re not worried – Mohammed has been a fantastic guide around the area we have already decided to buy some saffron from him. Neither is real saffron but we play along with him anyway and then make the purchase.

The boy arrives with the hibiscus tea and we sit down and drink. Mohammed tells us that his father is a professional Tanoura (Sufi dancer) – otherwise known as a Whirling Dervish. He would be dancing in Wikala the following night. This is such a shame – I would love to have seen the show. We have seen many Sufi dancers in Luxor – they traipse from hotel to hotel and cruise boat to cruise boat doing the same show night in and night out. It is an amazing spectacle, very hypnotic to watch – and I would imagine even more so with a professional dancer.


Mohammed tells us that he will get the key to his house which is above the spice shop. "Wikala was built in 1504 A.D. by Sultan Qunsuwah Al Ghouri, late during the reign of Mamelukes. Wakalat El-Ghouri was originally designed as an inn for accommodating traders coming from all parts of the globe as well as a marketplace for trading goods and a venue for making trade deals. Before the discovery of the Route of Good Hope, Egypt had been the hub of overland trade caravans from east and west …………"


Two minutes later Mohammed comes back and invites us to enter a large wooden doorway around the corner from his spice shop. We climb up four or five floors – I lose count – the heat is oppressive and I’m totally out of shape! We reach the roof of the building. Mohammed and Peter continue to climb over the rooftops – I stay and take some photographs – just absolutely wonderful views over the Khan and also of Cairo. This is just fantastic - we can see all the way over to the Citadel.

Peter and Mohammed return. We go back to the spice shop where we say our goodbyes. I’d love to come back and see Mohammed – he has been an excellent (unofficial) guide and has been a key to helping us unlock some of the secret treasures held within the Khan.

We cross a small bridge that takes us to the middle of the Khan – the part we are more familiar with. We decide to make another attempt to find Midak Alley. We wander up and down the streets we know – relying on our barings to guide us to this small area. We end up doubling back on ourselves a couple of times and then we eventually give and decide to go to the Naguib Mahfouz Café to eat. As we make our way there we pass a lantern bazaar. I notice a lantern in the same design that I have at home, hanging at the front of the stall. The owner – another Mohammed comes to talk to us. I ask him how much the lantern is and he says 180le. This was cheaper than what we had paid for it in a local shop in Luxor. I liked the fact that Mohammed hadn’t tried to haggle with us and start with some ridiculous price. He tells us that his family have a factory that produce the lanterns. We talk for a while – he shows us some lovely silver plated and copper coffee pots. We exchange details and tell him that we will contact him when we’re back in England.

We arrive at the café and order tea and a mezze to share. Babaganoush, tiny cheese pies, tahini, yoghurt dip, tameya, nice fresh bread – gorgeous! We sit and watch life go by for a while. Khan is a carnival full of lively characters. Everything is a show and I’m always entertained by the interaction between the locals and tourists. Some tourists are up for playing the game – others run the length of the alley, keeping their heads down and trying not to make eye contact with any of the vendors. Walking in the Khan definitely feels a little more 'full on'– from the vendors that is. It’s still friendly but just a little more 'in your face' than what I’ve experienced in the past. It’s definitely a much more comfortable experience than in the Souk’s of Marrakesh but business is bad here – 9 months into a revolution and everyone is desperate for the business. It’s now 4pm and we leave the café and the Khan and catch a taxi over to El Daher to visit Peter’s aunt Aziz and cousin Ayman.

We arrive at the apartment. Cake and tea await us. When I say I don’t have sugar in my tea this is met with great surprise. I now remember that every time I have been offered tea by Peter’s family and I say I don’t take sugar – it’s always met with a look of shock. Sugar although not expensive is a treat and a treat that is offered as part of their hospitality. Ayman is an account manager in a tour company in Cairo. Most young people seem to have employment connected to tourism in one way or another. We spend an hour or so – Peter and Ayman talking about politics and how bad the revolution has been for ordinary people so far. We now have to go and pick up our luggage from the hotel. Before we go to the airport we have one more family visit to make. Ayman walks us out.

We get a taxi easily outside on the street – the driver is a young guy called Mina. Back onto the crazy freeways of Cairo. Traffic over the island is still congested and the beeping relentless. I begin to worry that Abdul will be outside the hotel. We will have to pull up to the front of the hotel to pick up the luggage. Peter tells me not to worry – he has been speaking to Mina and if Abdul is there he will explain that Mina is his cousin and has been driving us around Cairo for the last couple of days to visit the family. Sorted.

Luggage is picked up, doorman tipped and we say goodbye to crazy Cairo city. We drive out to Heliopolis. Although the traffic is still very heavy, the streets become wider, tree lined and we can definitely sense we are driving into a more affluent area. Peter makes several phone calls to his Aunt Alice and Uncle Michel for directions to their apartment. We drive past St Georges Church where a wedding seems to be taking place. Peter tells me that this is the church where is cousin got married so we must be close to his aunt and uncles home. Eventually we find it. As we get out of Mina’s car both Michel and Alice are standing on the balcony waving to us. We walk down a driveway lined with potted cacti and enter the building at the side. We climb the stairs and are greeted with warm handshakes and four kisses on cheeks. We are invited to take a seat out on the balcony as it is cooler.

Alice makes us tea and again is surprised when I say I don’t take sugar. She asks me if I will have just a little sugar – Peter and I laugh. Michel and Alice are about to go to Austalia to visit their son Maged. He and his family have been in Australia for 5 years where he works in a managerial position in a bank. They have been going to Australia to stay for 6 months of the year for the last few years – now they are retired they can live between Australia and Egypt quite easily. As I look out from the balcony across the tree lined street I can see other families doing the same, drinking tea and relishing in the warm gentle breeze, far less polluted than central Cairo. We take some photos of us together – now having to use my iphone as the battery on my cameras has exhausted itself. Mina is still waiting for us. We say goodbye, wave goodbye to Alice and Michel who are again standing on the balcony.

Off we go to the airport. It’s now nearly 10.00pm and the flight leaves at 11.00pm. It’s a good job that we didn’t make it to Egyptair to get an earlier flight as we’ve really squeezed every minute into these four days. We leave Cairo. As we take off I think about how the city below is just beginning to come alive.

An hour later we land back in Luxor. Again Bob has arranged for one of his drivers to pick us up from the airport and take us back to the hotel. Just as Cairo is swinging into action, Luxor is going to sleep. The streets are empty and all is silent – not even one beeping car.

Stephanie Banks Yousef
tag:1001-nights.posthaven.com,2013:Post/221872 2011-09-26T10:43:00Z 2013-10-08T16:08:21Z 26th September 2011 - Cairo - A very busy day

I wake up early again to the sound of beeping horns – I think I’m almost beginning to expect it like my morning alarm call for work each morning.  I open the balcony doors and sit on the sofa writing up my notes for the blog.  Peter wakes up and takes a shower.  As he comes back into the room we hear two loud bangs from below - they definitely sounded like gunshots.  Peter goes onto the balcony to look.  After a minute or two he tells me that the place is swarming with police – I can hear multiple sirens in the distance.  I tentatively make my way onto the balcony and pluck up enough courage to look down.  There are 3 large police trucks and at least another 3 police cars on the roundabout next to the hotel.  We both take turns in videoing the spectacle below.  I imagine it was an attempted bank robbery as the police seemed to be concentrated around the Faisal Islamic Bank.  The furore dies down and we decide to get our act together and get ready to go out. 

Once we’re ready Peter calls me from the balcony.  He tells me that he can see Abdul waiting outside the hotel.  I feel bad but we decide to go out via the coffee shop at the back of the hotel.  Maybe we should at least have told Abdul that he hadn’t been fair with his prices but on the other hand both Peter and I felt let down by him and taken advantage of.  We had known him for over four years and he was even a witness at our marriage.  Abdul is from a relatively middle class family and all of his family are in good jobs so we make the assumption that he is pushing the limits as he would with any other tourist.  Anyway, that is probably the last time we will see Abdul as we are told that the Sheraton is due to close shortly for refurbishment.  This particular Sheraton we’re told is owned by the Libyan Government.  Not sure where we got that nugget from so I’m unable to verify it.

Once out of the back and onto the street it isn’t long before we pick up a taxi.  Our first stop today is Al Ain Gallery in Dokki not far from the hotel.  Taxi fare 10le.  The gallery is owned by Randa Fahmy a master metalwork designer who showcases her own designs and also that of other local craftsmen.  This is a beautiful gallery.  For sale are Randa’s own metal work designs, beautiful copper lanterns that take their influence from the traditional designs.  But Randa gives a modern twist to her work.  There were also substantial pieces of wooden furniture that were deeply carved and adorned with arabesque features.  We also saw pottery from Fayoum, embroidered wall hangings and charming cloth dolls from Siwa.  A section of the gallery houses a jewellery collection by her sister, acclaimed jewellery designer Azza Fahmy.  We buy  a couple of pieces of pottery and as we leave this beautiful gallery I try to take mental pictures of the way the products are displayed.  http://www.randafahmy.com/index.php

We are out on the street again hailing a taxi.  We are now going back to Zamalek to the Alef Gallery that we failed to find a few days earlier.  The traffic over onto the island as usual is hideous but it isn’t long before we arrive at our destination – cost 15le.  This again is an absolutely beautiful gallery.  It is made up of themed rooms that display the most beautiful products – all handcrafted, all based on traditional styles but again with a modern twist.  One room displays fabric, fabric made of cotton and silk and really exquisite patterns.  We are told that the gallery has been open for 20 years and that they employ all of the craftsmen who produce the work.  This gallery is very well located to benefit from the wealthy residents in Zamalek.  Definitely worth a visit – even just to admire the wonderful handcrafts.  http://alefgallery.com/

We leave the gallery and decide to walk down the street.  I’d read that there was a shop that sold handmade products from Siwa around the corner.  We had timed this with the end of school – clearly a private school.  Children emptied out onto the quiet street into waiting cars and mini buses.  Groups of children approached us trying out their English with “hello””how are you?” “I love you”.  We find the shop and take a look around.  Again another beautifully designed shop.  The walls are decorated with panels of rock salt mined from Siwa itself.  The shop has a range of lovely embroidered cotton tunics, shoes and handmade jewellery.  Children knock on the shop window to try and attract my attention.  We say our goodbyes and make our way to a Costa Coffee that we’d noticed earlier – again another opportunity to take a bathroom break in surroundings that you know will meet a minimum standard.  After tea and chocolate gateau we go out and find another taxi.  Here we meet Sami the taxi driver who we actually spend the rest of the day with.  We ask him to take us to the Abdeen Pottery in El Fostat village, Old Cairo.  I’ve got my bearings a little scewed but if I’m right we’re not far from Coptic Cairo.  Sami tells that we are in a local area, an area where tourists don’t come too often and that everyone in the neighbourhood looks out for each other.  As we drive into the Fostat village we can see that the style of the houses is different to what we’ve seen anywhere else.  The buildings look as though they would be more at home in a coastal village somewhere.  Many of the houses are decorated with tiles – very charming.  All seem to be in the business of making pottery as huge pots and jars are piled up in front of each house.  We are looking specifically one pottery that we read about in Cairo 360 – a what’s on guide for Cairo.

We are greeted by the brother of the owner of the pottery.  We are shown around the pottery and get to see the artisans at work.  One man does the hand painting, he is currently decorating tiles in a traditional Turkish design. 

We then go through to another room which is set up with several potters wheels and a couple of finishing benches.  We watch one artisan throwing tiny perfume pots.  These are made by piling up a tower of clay about 15 inches high and then working the top section into a small perfume bottle.  We have several of these bottles at home already though the contain holy oil from the church and not perfume. 

We are then taken to an artisan who is cutting patterns out of clay lanterns which are then left to dry before firing in the kiln. 

We are then left to browse the products which are displayed in various parts of the pottery.  We select 4 pieces to buy – a tile and a ceramic plate decorated in a Turkish design and a tables protector for a teapot and a soap dish.  We don’t ask the prices of anything – Peter goes to pay.  We say goodbye and are back in the taxi with Sami.  I ask Peter how much it cost for the products and he told me 200le.  This was way over the true value of it.  They knew we were looking for suppliers of handcrafted items and yet they still overcharged us – perhaps Peter should have haggled a bit – after all he is Egytian!  

As we leave Fostat village we stop at the Amr ibn aas mosque to take a few photos. Sami asks us if we would like to see a crystal factory.  We didn’t have anything else planned so we agreed and then left it to Sami to drive us there.  I think I was expecting to be taken to another small workshop where everything is made by hand.  I could see that the area we were approaching was getting more and more industrial.  One and a half hours later we arrived at the factory of Crystal Asfour one of the worlds largest crystal making factories.  This particular branch employs 28,000 people – there is another factory in Cairo which is even bigger.  I wasn’t sure what type of place we were coming to.  As we walked into the building we walked up some steps and then found ourselves in a massive showroom adorned with crystal from floor to ceiling.  There must have been hundreds of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling – some so huge they could only be designed for large hotels or palaces.  We spent about forty five minutes walking around looking at the crystal – I’m not actually a fan of crystal and the only thing that I bought was a crystal bracelet.  Peter tells me that when he went to pay he was given a discount – without asking!  Excellent! 


It was now about 7.30 and it had already turned dark ages ago.  We were now going to visit Peter’s Uncle Samaan in Ain Shams – Sami takes us there.  We have been with Sami for half a day and we are charged 100le – Peter gives him 120le.  When we arrive in the street Uncle Samaan is already waiting for us on the street.  After introductions we are taken to their flat on the first floor of an apartment block.  The wall between their flat and the neighbours is smeared with the red brown bloody handprints.  This Islamic custom is carried out as a form of celebration  for weddings, new baby, graduation, new car.  A lamb is usually brought to the door of the house/flat and slaughtered - either by the butcher or the woman of the house.  Blood is imprinted on the doorstep or doors or near to the entrance of a house and is a sign of protection for whatever change has happened.  

Uncle Samaan and his family have a lovely apartment, decorated in bright blue with carefully co-ordinated sofa’s and drapes.  The walls are adorned with Christian pictures and statues of Mary sit in display cabinets and on sideboards.  I am introduced to his wife Agabi and daughters Monica and Veronica.  Monica is at university studying German and English so she temporarily takes over from Peter’s translation duties.  We talk about lots of things.  We talk about the traffic in Cairo and how taxi’s are a law untothemselves.  They tell me that both Samaan and Monica go by taxi everywhere – Samaan because he is a lawyer and needs to get to different parts of the city quickly and Monica because it is unsafe for her on public transport.  I ask why it is unsafe for her.  Agabi tells me that since the revolution, some boys think they are given the right to behave how they want to.  On public transport they grab at girls and make inappropriate comments – it isn’t safe for girls to go on public transport in Cairo.  Freedom they tell me, for some people means freedom to behave badly - I recall this isn't the first time I have heard this comment.  I tell Monica that in England it can also sometimes be unsafe for women travelling alone – I tell her about the pink taxi’s for women only – maybe they need  pink buses for women only in Cairo.

It isn’t long before we are invited to eat.  Agabi apologies that she hasn’t cooked a home meal for us but she was unsure when we would be visiting.  She brings out a selection of bread, cheeses, fried chicken and salad. It was exactly what we needed.  Samaan left to pick up some cola from the shop below.  I noticed that everytime he popped out of the flat the door was locked immediately after him.  I got the sense that this was a family that didn’t feel too safe at home but I didn’t want to ask why.  It is now 10.00pm and it is time for us to go.  We say goodbye as we leave we are told that we must visit again and next time a special meal will be prepared for us.  Uncle Samaan walks us down and waits with us until we find a taxi.  We arrive back at the hotel exhausted.  Tomorrow is our last day so we pack and then go to bed.



Stephanie Banks Yousef