1001 Nights - Stories of Traditional Handcrafts from Egypt

History of Garagos Pottery and more ……….

Posts for Tag: Garagos Egypt

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!





Monday 5th March 2012 - A stroll down Garagos Memory Lane

It's hard to imagine that we are already on our sixth day in Egypt, time has absolutely flown by. We seem to have been flying back and forth to Garagos and haven't had the opportunity to spend any time relaxing. This morning we are going back to Garagos for the rest of our stay, though planning to come back on Tuesday night so we can pack ready for my flight back on Wednesday afternoon. Peter will be staying for another week and already has most of his clothes in Garagos.

After breakfast, Peter phones Hamada to come and pick us up his car and take us to Garagos. He has to take his daughter to school so tells us he will be there at about 11 AM. In the meantime we take this opportunity to have a generous breakfast and to take a stroll around the hotel grounds. This is such a lovely, green and peaceful place. It's such a shame that we haven't even had a couple of hours to spend lying in the sun and swimming in the pool, especially as we have paid for a one week stay here. I take a little solace in knowing that we have spent less money by staying at the Sofitel than we would have if we'd have paid to stay at the Sonesta.

I always feel torn when I come to Luxor. I usually come with a real physical and mental need to relax and get some sunshine but at the same time want to spend as much time as possible with Peter's family in Garagos. I don't take for granted for one moment how privileged I am to be able to have experienced what I have during my stays in Garagos. I know I'm not the first Westerner to have stayed in the village. I know that visitors, usually connected to the church have also stayed here in the past. I don't doubt that they were offered the full arm of the generous hospitality that goes in hand with staying with an Egyptian family, but I stay here as an extended member of the family - and that feels to me, like something incredibly special.

I know we have a lot to squeeze into our last couple of days in Garagos but at least I have a couple of days to relax when I get home before returning to work on Monday. I had hoped to visit the village of Hagaza which is about a 30 min drive from Garagos. Hagaza is famous for its hand crafted wood products made from hardwood grown in the locality. Like Garagos, this project was developed by a French Jesuit priest called Father Petros. He taught the local Christian community skills needed to produce beautiful wood carvings and then to develop this as a business. In the 1950's Jesuits came and settled in and number of poor, rural communities, bringing education, training and health and welfare where it was needed. In the governornate of Qena, they supported a number of communities, each developing a craft that has now become unique to each of those villages. Garagos is famous for its pottery, Hagaza for its wood crafts, Naqada for it's linen and cotton weaving.

Peter and I are still allocating time to the 1001 Nights hand craft project but have not been purchasing the products in the volumes that we originally planned to due to the uncertainty of the current political environment. However, we are still both very interested in promoting regional handcrafts of Upper Egypt and will continue to discover more about the history of the traditional handcrafts and the people that produce them. At the moment any spare time we have, is being dedicated to what we are calling the Garagos History Project. For the last six months we have been doing a lot of internet research to try and document a timeline going as far back into the history of Garagos as we can. The earliest documented reference to Garagos that we can find relates to St Verena who we understand was born in Garagos in the year 279 A.D. We also read that she was born into a noble Christian family and was the sister of St Maurice who was part of the Theban Legion. St Verena's mother was thought to have supervised the tailoring of the priests and deacons outfits.

The next reference I have to Garagos on the timeline is a establishment of the church in 1879. It may be unrealistic to expect to find any documentary evidence relating to Garagos between these two periods of time as records were usually only kept in relation to religious or political events. However, it really is the contemporary history of the village that interests me most - saying that it would be interesting to find out more about the foundations on which the village was built.

Although I would like to have spent more time with Peter's family talking to them about Garagos, I know that the first important step is for them to understand what Peter and I hope to achieve from the project. Without this, the project won't go anywhere. At the very most what we can achieve during this visit is to plant the seed of thought – to just let them know that we would like to write the story of Garagos and the people that live here today. If they want to share their stories – great, if not – it's not a problem. There is an Arabic proverb that I learnt where I first started studying Arabic. In Arabic it is “Haba haba erkal einab”. This translates as “eat grapes one at a time” and simply means, take things one step at a time. You can never hurry an Egyptian as after nearly four years of marriage to one can testify!

Anyway, there's currently another Egyptian who can't be hurried and that's Hamada – it is now 12.00pm and he still hasn't turned up. We had hoped to have set off a little earlier today but at least we are able to spend a bit more time at the hotel relaxing.

Peter gets a missed call on his phone from Hamada to let us know he is here. Peter has already brought the large package from Ehab to the reception. He carries this and our bags out of the car. Hamada seems a little distracted but nonetheless we set off for Garagos once more. During the journey I try to make notes on the journey to Garagos so that I an describe the directions on how to get there in the future.  Unfortunately Hamada is driving very fast and I find it difficult to think of anything apart from whether we will get there in one piece or not. Hamada tells us that he has to be back in Luxor to pick his daughter up from school. He should have told us this before so we could have chosen another driver - which I would have preferred rather than endure this hair raising journey. Anyway, we arrived back at the village where Peter's father is waiting for us.

We all go up to the first floor where Peter's mother makes us some tea. It is a beautiful day today, the winds of the last few days has dropped and there is definitely an increase in temperature. Not warm by Egyptian standards, but warm enough for me! A little while later, Peter suggests that we go for a walk down to the farm and the green land. He knows only too well how I hate being cooped up in a dark room and also how I love being outside in the sunshine.

We turn left out of the house with Peter's father and take the short five-minute walk to the farm. The cow and the water buffalo that belongs to Peter's father are tethered to palm trees and graze on the freshly cut clover that is grown in the fields nearby. Peter and his father stroke and pat the two animals. Peter's father invites me to come and stroke the cow. Peter had previously warned me about the water buffalo which can be quite aggressive so I am less concerned about approaching the cow.

Also in this enclosure surrounded by a high mud brick wall is a donkey and another water buffalo belonging to other members of the family. There is also an old waterwheel that he used to be driven by donkeys or water buffalo to pump the water into the irrigation channels. This has now been replaced by a motorised pump which is a fraction of the size and takes considerably less effort to work. Various uncles and cousins come and say hello. They shake hands with us and exchange the usual greetings. We then walked together to another enclosure across the way which is where Peter's father has a banana tree, a mango tree, an old grapevine growing up a trellis and I particularly notice the mint growing rampantly underneath our feet. Last time we visited you brought Peter's father a large selection of vegetable seeds. He has the idea that this is where he will grow them though the soil will need a lot of preparation first - and I think he has Peter in mind for the job when he is in Garagos next week.

As we leave this enclosure, we continue down to track, following the irrigation channel to the end of the farmland. When we were there in September, we visited the new family home that Stephanos was building for his family.  At the moment only one floor has been built and currently houses chickens and sheep.  This currently sits right in the middle of the green land and is a completely peaceful place.  Fauzia is at the house and sees us coming and of course we are invited to drink tea. A plastic chair is brought out to me to sit on, everyone else sits on the doorstep, or the felled trunk of a palm tree that is nearby. Bit by bit other family members come to join us including Mina who has come to show off his bike to me. I am fascinated by the way that he has adorned this simple bike with a variety of home-made accessories made from bits and pieces that have been recycled from elsewhere. On the front is a plastic windmill and on the back is a rack to carry things. On the handlebars is a mirror he also has a buzzer which looks like it has come from a door. It is connected to a couple of batteries that are also taped to the handlebar. At the moment he's doing a small repair job on this, reconnecting the wires between the two components. He does this with such skill and ease. It makes me think about the children in my own family who have more than they could possibly wish for in terms of toys, bikes etc. Despite that, I do wonder whether they also miss out on some of the opportunities that Egyptian children have to develop skills that come from need rather than desire. The saying “need is the mother of invention”springs to mind and here in Egypt children are not spoilt with the abundance of material possessions that children are in the UK. But surely there is a richness of experience that comes from learning, doing and making for youself - not to mention the development of construction/engineering type skills at an early age.

I must admit that since being married to Peter I have become more aware of the difference between need and want. When we used to go shopping Peter very rarely bought anything because he “didn't need” it. Whereas when I went shopping if I saw something and I wanted it I would buy it. We have both moved more towards each other on this issue, though a gap still does exist. One thing that Peter used to do that drove me mad was the fact that he would never let me throw anything away, even if it was broken beyond repair. Old DVD players, old Hoovers that had given up the ghost, set top boxes that were now defunct, stuff that anybody would throw away. I would put things in the bin only to find that Peter had rescued them and hidden them elsewhere in the house. I would ask him what he planned to do with the broken bits of rubbish and although he said he didn't know, he wanted to keep it “just in case”. In Peter's family home there are cupboards, sideboards and whole rooms filled with things that appear to have no use. However, when I think of my mother who was a war baby she has a whole house filled with junk that we have tried to syphon off into the charity shops or recycling centres over the last 10 years!

We stay for about 20 minutes, various people come and go. Peter's father leaves and we tell him we will follow shortly. We begin to make our way back to the family home. We walk back down the mud path, back along the irrigation channel and before we reach the enclosure with fruit trees, we see someone in an adjacent building waving to us. Peter tells us that it is his Uncle Saieed and we have to go and say hello. I haven't met his Uncle Saieed before which surprises me considering the close proximity of his home to the farmland which we visit regularly. We enter an oblong room about 25 feet long and 15 feet wide. The room has a mud floor and cane seats along both walls. There is a small television in one corner. We receive a very warm welcome by Mr Saieed and his wife. I am also introduced to his sons Romani and Abd Naseer, his daughters Eva and Rose and his niece Danielle and Danielle's mother. I am being careful not to use the names of the women of the household as a matter of courtesy. I mentioned in my blog from the previous trip that once a woman reaches a certain age – or maybe once her son reaches a certain age, she becomes referred to as – The mother of (and then the name of her oldest son) and not by her first name.  Peter seems a bit vague on the point at which this becomes practice.

Tea is offered and accepted. Peter tells me that Mr Saieed also used to have a pottery in Garagos. This also comes as a big surprise as another pottery in the village has never come up in conversation before. As the conversation progresses I ascertain that Mr Saieed used to work at the Garagos pottery but for various reasons he left to set up his own pottery. Not only did the family do pottery but weaving was also parts of the crafts they produced. Danielle's mother goes into another room and comes back with a necklace made from seashells which she gives to me. The necklace is lovely and I thank her for the gift. She tells me that they used to make them and sell them when tourists used to visit the pottery.  I ask how long it is since the pottery was here and Mr Saieed says about four years.  When I speak to Peter later he tells me that it was much longer than this.

I'm not sure whether Peter told Mr Saieed that we were interested in researching the history of Garagos but before I knew it, a table has been put in front of me and Romani brings from another room a large bag of photographs. We spend the next hour or so going through the photographs which we both find very interesting. Romani periodically disappears into another room but then brings back a piece of pottery. These are also given to us as gifts. The pottery that we see here is similar to the Garagos pottery but Mr Saieed's work is more detailed – more artistic.

He tells us that he did exhibitions in America and Russia and shows us the corresponding photographs with various dignitaries he met at the events. I have seen some of the family photographs before as they appear in the albums of Peter's father. One photograph that is very interesting is one that was taken in Peter's family home. It features various relatives, Father Montgolfier who established the dispensary in the village and also commissioned the building of the Garagos Pottery by the architect Hassan Fathy, a Catholic sister, Peter's father, Peter's grandmother and also his mother who is holding a baby. The baby is Peter.

Although I have seen this photograph before, it now strikes me as really fascinating. I had spent the last few months trying to find out more information about Father Montgolfier via the internet (and not really discovered anything) that I had almost forgotten that this man (who had become a legend in my mind) was a very big part of lives of Peter's family.

These photographs speak volumes about this place in a particular time. We are  shown further photographs of the weaving looms, traditional musicians, a Sukkah who is a man that walks the village selling water from a vessel strapped to his side. There is a photograph of Peter's grandfather Zakria weaving palm baskets – this photograph was part of a display that Uncle Saieed used at his exhibitions. The photograph is described as “An Egyptian peasant makes a basket from palm branches, an ancient Egyptian tradition.”

I think by now we have been hear for nearly two hours and know that Peter's father will be wondering where we are. We say goodbye to Mr Saieed and his family and walk back to the family house. We go up to the first floor where Peter's father looks at me and raises his hands as if to so “where have you been?” Once Peter tells him that we have been looking at old family photographs with his Uncle Saieed he seems happier. Margreet had been to the house with the twins but had returned home as we had taken so long.

There is now only Peter's parents and us in the house – unusual as there always sees to be visitors. We spend the rest of the evening watching the television – mainly the political channels. The occasional debate between Peter and his parents take place but they never agree when it comes to politics and Peter knows they will never find common ground so knows when to quit.

It's beginning to get chilly so we go to bed about 9.00pm.



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.

Wednesday 29th February 2012- Arrival in Luxor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3rd October 2012 - Return Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now home to do some research.

23rd September 2011 - A relaxing day in Luxor

Well it’s now Friday morning.  It’s 7.30am and I’m sitting on the hotel balcony overlooking the view that never fails to take my breath away. 

I think today will be a relaxing day.  I’ll sit by the pool, take some photo’s or video’s and maybe pen a bit more for the blog.  Peter is going to Egyptair and also to the Vodafone shop to buy a wireless dongle to save us making the trip to Snack Time to upload the blog.  Later we’ll pack for Cairo.

21st September 2011 - Garagos

Today more people come to say hello. Conversations drift towards the uprising.  Many feel despondent and feel the country has no leadership and is becoming more and more lawless.  “Egyptians don’t know what freedom is – they see it as an excuse for bad behaviour and taking the law into their own hands”.

Peter’s mother and sister Margreet are preparing a special meal for us – one of their chickens and a variety of vegetables from the land. Sara and Susanna are a delight and entertain us with the usual antics of two and a half year olds.  

Throughout the day several members of the family come to us to express their concern about us going to Cairo at the weekend.  We had planned our trip to avoid being there on Friday when most protests take place. The week before we left for Luxor protestors had tried to tear down the security wall of the Israeli Embassy, resulting in the Israeli Ambassador leaving the country. We also heard this morning on one of the Egyptian news channels that there had been an attack on the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Cairo. However, we have a carefully planned trip and will travel by taxi instead of the metro.  We have made arrangements for Abdul to pick us up from the airport and be our driver throughout our visit.  Abdul was born and bred in Cairo, is an ex policeman and someone who knows the City like the back of his hand (or as much as anyone can).  We had spoken to Abdul and his son Mohamed before leaving the UK and they told us everything is OK in Cairo - the odd protest but these can be avoided if you have your bearings right. Despite our reassurances, little can be said to put Peter's family's minds at rest - I just hope they don't catch today's news.

We return to the hotel later that evening.  I had intentions to write some more on the blog but was too exhausted.  It will have to wait until tomorrow.