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.