1001 Nights - Stories of Traditional Handcrafts from Egypt

History of Garagos Pottery and more ……….

Posts for Tag: Garagos

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.

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!





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!

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

20th September 2011 - Relaxing day and then to Garagos

It’s Tuesday and we start the morning with a fantastic breakfast. We both start with a glass of kirkaday (hibiscus juice). Peter has meat, cheese and salad with a good helping of Egyptian fuul – fava beans flavoured with cumin, lemon juice and tomato puree. I have melon and pomegranate seeds followed by an omelette and tameya (falaffal) with tahini. This is all washed down by copious amounts of tea!

We spend the day by the pool – well I did. Peter was busy doing errands and going to the bank. However, Peter can't usually walk very far in Luxor without being greeting by friends, family, acquaintances. I know when he says he'll be an hour he'll be several.

Anyway, it’s nice to spend a bit of time shaking off work and trying to acclimatise to the heat. It’s 38 degrees today – way too hot for my liking. I lay under the shade of a parasol and swim in the pool to keep refreshed. Every one sitting by the pool is able to get a lounger in the immediate area – nobody has to locate themselves further down on the pontoon. Nobody has to queue for a drink at the pool bar. The pool staff are very attentive, ensuring that those of us who don’t want to be in the sun are protected by the parasol at all times. The numbers are clearly low in the hotel – and if it’s low here it will be low everywhere in Luxor. This is very sad to see.

Later that evening Peter’s father comes for us with Andre – the brother of Ehab (Peter’s brother in law) to take us to Garagos. We have packed enough for a few days and our hand luggage bags are filled with colouring books and bottles of whiskey – the latter always welcomed and shared generously at family get togethers.

We head out of Luxor along the dusty airport road which is lined with flowering hedges of bourganvillea and jasmine. Peter’s father and Andre give updates on events in the village. We turn off the airport road and start following a road that takes us North of Luxor. We cross several small branches of the Nile which are encased in rows of date palms – many of them have self- seeded in the shallow edges of the canals themselves. Every so often we’ll hear the ‘phutting’ of mechanical water pumps, forcing water from the canals into the irrigation channels that are etched like veins across the agricultural land. The further we get out of Luxor, the narrower the road gets. Egyptian drivers whether in rural backwaters of upper Egypt or the metropolis that is Cairo have a ‘need to speed’. Andre slows down only to skirt around a pot hole or negotiate passing another car or the occasional dok dok (a cross between a scooter and a Reliant Robin).

We pass mud brick houses, very simple dwellings. People of all ages sit clustered together in the shade. Some straight on the bare earth outside – some sit on the traditional palm seating which often doubles up as a bed. On some nights it’s far more comfortable to sleep outside. Washing hangs from rope washing lines strung between date palms and dogs bark in the distance.

After crossing the train track we arrive in Garagos. As we drive into the village we pass rows of local shops – small shacks providing a range of essential items and services. Although only 25km from Luxor many of the villagers haven’t travelled outside of Garagos – especially the women. Local produce is grown on the extensive farm land in and surrounding the village and most families will keep livestock such as chickens. We approached the family home down a network of tight alleyways. The road once ashfelt is now encrusted in years worth of dust and resembles a dirt track rather than a modern road.

As soon as we arrive at the house we are deluged with a huge wave of family members coming to the house to say hello. Huge smiles, beautiful and handsome faces with warm, welcoming handshakes (four kisses from closer family members). I never fail to be taken by the way children come to the house and shake the hand of everyone like little grown ups. The mother of Nasira brought 2 dozen eggs – I’m told it’s traditional to bring gifts like this for visitors who have travelled from afar. Peter tells me afterwards that the mother of Nasira is very old – she had walked from her house with the eggs but couldn’t make it up the step into the house. The lady is referred to as the Mother of Nasira as a mark of respect – Nasira being the name of her eldest son. I’m not sure at what point a woman is no longer referred to her by her name – I’ll ask Peter later.

Soon after we arrive Margreet arrives with the 2 year old twins Sara and Susanna. They have grown so much in 9 months. It isn’t long before we are asked if we are hungry. Peter’s mother has been preparing a meal for us and regardless of whether we are hungry or not we must accept the offer of hospitality and eat.

Although a large house with good ventilation, it isn’t long before the heat exaggerates my existing exhaustion. We are given a room on the first floor and after a shower we retire for the night. The heat of the night was tortuous. The ceiling fan seemed to recirculate hot air and cockerels across the village seemed to have no concept of night or day. Time was marked at 4.30am by the voice of the muezzin calling to prayer from the minaret in the mosque less than 20 yards away. I think of the air conditioning in our hotel room.

I love being back in Garagos. Nonetheless we may need to schedule our visits in winter when the evenings are cooler.