1001 Nights - Stories of Traditional Handcrafts from Egypt

History of Garagos Pottery and more ……….

Posts for Tag: Garagos Pottery

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. 

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.



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.

11th February 2012 - Possibly Solution to the Monotony of Typing a Blog

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

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

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

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

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


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


10th February 2012 - Excerpt from Architecture for the Poor - Hassan Fathy

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

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

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

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

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

30th September 2011 - Another Visit to the Garagos Pottery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


29th September. To Garagos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.