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.