1001 Nights - Stories of Traditional Handcrafts from Egypt

History of Garagos Pottery and more ……….

Posts for Tag: egypt

Saturday 7th April 2012 - Exciting New Development in Research for the Garagos Book!

Peter and I have been planning to write a book about the village of Garagos for about 6 months. Garagos is a village 25 kilometres north of Luxor in Upper Egypt and the place where Peter's family have lived for generations.

Our most recent visit in particular has thrown up some very interesting stories about the village and has inspired us even more to put pen to paper (words to computer). However, the main problem lays with anecdotal evidence is that there is a lot of conflicting information especially as there is very little information documented.

During our visit in March we explored rafts of photographs which did shed a little light on the situation, however, we have known for some time that the source of this more 'valid' information lies in Cairo with the Jesuits priests - more than likely at Le College de Saint Famille in Fagalla, Cairo. Peter's father did tell us that there was a Dutch Jesuit priest called Father Khalil who had recently visited Garagos and was also writing a book about the village but he couldn't give us more information that this.

The lives of most villagers - most certainly the Christians in Garagos have been shaped in one form or another through the interventions of the Jesuits who came to live in Garagos. From the establishment of a dispensary, schools and also a the pottery that Garagos has become known for, the Jesuits have changed the circumstance of many people.

I have tried contacting a number of organisations that I thought may be able to help ascertain information around the names and dates of service for the Jesuits that came to Garagos. Extensive internet research has led us in various directions but we now know that a lot of the information that has been published in English, Arabic and French is in fact incorrect.

It feels like we've spent months hammering away at the internet - trying numerous spellings of Garagos such as Geragos, Garagus, Garagosse, Jarajos - me in English and then Peter in Arabic. Emailing any contact that we thought might be able to help us. We took this information with us to Garagos to either confirm or deny, the information we had found. I think we came back really none the wiser regarding dates of service for the priests.

Once back home and again enthused with the stories we had been told I tried a few leads we had been given and also a few more searches through Google. I thought I needed to spread the net a bit wider than Egypt and searched for other Jesuit organisations in Europe.

I came across the website for an organisation called Jesuitica in Belgium. I outlined the nature of my enquiry in an email, attaching a photograph that was taken in the home of Peters family. The photograph featured Father de Montgolfier, a Jesuit that served in Garagos in 1947, Peter's mother and father and grandmother and other family members. In the photograph is also a baby of about 6 months of age – the baby being Peter.

Almost immediately I received a response from Father Rob Faesen. Father Faesen told me that information relating to the Jesuits in Egypt could be found in the archives of the Jesuit Province of the Near East. He told me that the archivist a Father Charles Libois was in 2006 residing in St Josephs University in Beirut but this information may be out of date. He gave me the email addresses for the Assistant to the European Provincial Superior and also to the webmaster of the website for the European Provinces. He said that if I didn't get any joy from these sources to come back to him and he would investigate further contacts.

I forwarded my enquiry again to the email addresses provided and almost immediately I received a response from the Assistant to the EP, Father Dermot O'Connor. Father O'Connor confirmed that the Jesuits in the Near East were administered in the one province in Beirut. He gave me the email address for the Assistant to the Provincial – a Father Bassili. He also gave me the email address for Father Charles Libois who was now residing in Le College de Saint Famille in Cairo, also with a note that Father Libois was now around 84 years of age.

I emailed my enquiry once again, attaching the same photograph taken with Peter's family and Father de Montgolfier. I again received a very quick response – firstly from Father Bassili who asks me if I can understand French. Although he can write in English, he is far more fluent in French and will be able to describe the information in more detail using this language. He also tells me that he showed the photograph to a fellow priest living in the same community in Beirut. He tells me that he is 31 years of age and comes from Garagos. He showed him the photograph and he immediately recognised the people in it. He finishes his letter saying that if he is able to write to me in French he will write to me about Garagos “more and more”.

I showed Peter this email.  He tells me that he is sure that the Jesuit Priest Father Basilli mentions is Father Mario - a member of his extended family.

Within hours of receiving this email I also received one from Father Charles Libois. Addressed to Madame Stephanie, Father Libois asks me a series of questions – as with Father Basilli, whether I can read French as most of what is written about Garagos is in French. He also points out that St Verena was not in fact born in Garagos but near by in Thebes (modern day Luxor). I felt rather frustrated that such a magnificent claim such as Garagos being the birth place of St Verena can be wrong – but I guess that's the nature of the internet! Father Libois asks me what is Peter's full name i.e. Peter followed by the name of his father, grandfather, great grandfather. Also whether Peter is from the Orthodox Church or Catholic Church in Garagos. He also asks whether he recognises Zaki Muhareb and Labib the tailor in the photograph – or is it Naguib his brother?

My heart jumped like you can't imagine. Father Libois knows the family members so it is likely that he knows Garagos itself and has maybe even spent time here! Any deflation I felt after finding out about St Verena is more than made up for now.  I wondered if he knew Abouna Khalil, the priest that had visited just one month ago and seems to have some connection to the village and Peter's family.

I excitedly put together a response, replying to each of Father Libois's questions in order. I also attach further photographs of the visit that Father de Montgolfier made in 1979 and send the email off into the ether immediately.

When I arrived home from work the following day, another email from Father Libois was waiting for me in my inbox.

He says that he just has one question for now. He asks if Peter's father is the brother of Mathilde, the wife of Labib the tailor, finishing by telling me that he visited them about one month ago.  Again this information excites me. This does begin to confirm that Father Libois knows the family quite well.

I reply immediately to Father Libois confirming that yes, Peter's father is the brother of Mathilde and brother in law of Mr Labib the tailor. I also mention to him that we were also in Garagos – exactly one month ago.

Yesterday was Good Friday. Waiting in my inbox was another email from Father Libois. In it he provides me with some very interesting information about Father de Montgolfier and Father Henry Habib Ayrout – or rather corrects some information I had about the two priests. He explains that Father de Montgolfier was a foreigner and “insisted on social amelioration” whereas Father Ayrout was Egyptian, a man of the country and swore by the development of schools. He tells me that much separated the two men who could both be very stubborn and at times their visions clashed.

Father Libois ends his email by telling me that he served in Garagos for three years between 1964 and 1967. He says that although his name is French, he is fact Dutch, and that the villagers of Garagos will know him as Abouna Khalil!  

As fate would have it, and as Peter's father had told us, Abouna Khalil AKA Father Charles Libois had been in the village one month ago but had left days before we arrived.  

Since then, very interesting email discussions with Abouna Khalil and we hope one day to meet with him on one of his return visits to Garagos or in Cairo.

Wednesday 7th March 2012 - Farewell Egypt (See you next week Peter!)

The alarm was set for 7.00am this morning. Peter has arranged for Hamada to come and pick us up at 8.00am. If everything goes to plan we will be back in the hotel in time for breakfast as I have acquired rather a liking for the pancakes and home made syrup.

I have one very swollen leg this morning and the been feels more acute. I definitely need to get it checked out when I get home. We get up and gather all my belongings together. Most of Peter's things are already in the Garagos so it's really only my packing we have to do when we get back to the Sofitel. Whilst we wait for Hamada I show Peter's mother the photographs and video's of Sara and Susanna's party which I think she enjoyed seeing. Peter's father suggests that he comes to Luxor with us to see me off to the airport but Peter tells him that it is OK and too much trouble for him.

Hamada is actually on time today so we say quick goodbyes and make our way out to the car. Peter's father thanks Hamada and we set off back through the village and back to Luxor. This time Hamada is driving more reasonably and I get a chance to note the directions to and from Garagos which I will outline later.

We are back at the hotel in good time for breakfast. Peter takes our bags back to the room whilst I go to the restaurant and find a table. I get us both fresh kirkaday and tea. We enjoy the breakfast. We've worked out that the danish pastries that have been put out under a plastic dome are usually the freshest ones. It's a rather hurried breakfast as we need to bathe and pack before the checkout time of 12.00pm. Once back at the room I run the bath whilst pulling all of my clothes out of the wardrobe – again realising that I've only worn 20% of the clothes that I brought with me. There is no way we will be finished by 12.00 so Peter phones reception to see if we can have an extension on the check out time – and I tell him that it doesn't matter if we have to pay extra. Peter finishes making the call and tells me that they think he is the cousin of Mr Sabri from the Sonesta so say that we can have the room until 2.00pm without any charge. Phew – we can manage everything without rushing now!

We are finished before 2.00pm and have a cup of tea in the room before taking the bags out to the reception. Bob and Tony are going to take me to the airport and will be picking us up at 3.00pm. We spend the last hour walking around the grounds of the hotel and then find seats on the sunset terrace overlooking the Nile. We again reflect on the trip and agree that it has been interesting but that it flew by so quickly.

The rest of the day is rather uneventful. Bob and Tony go to the airport with us. I say goodbye to Peter and Tony as he has an airport pass saw me all the way through the check in and up to the passport control – carrying by bag for me as I hopped along behind.

The flight was one of the longest I have had to endure in the most cramped of conditions and no in-flight entertainment and a throbbing knee joint. Not the best. However, it has been a good trip and I return home with a even more motivation to get the Garagos History Project underway. I know Peter will be doing more investigation during his remaining week there so can't way to find out what he uncovers!

Tuesday 6th March 2012 - I Fall for Garagos!

Today we are going to visit the pottery and Peter has already made arrangements with Mr Riad to meet us there. We have to be there early as Mr Riad is going to a funeral at 12 o'clock. This morning we skip breakfast but drink tea to give us the little kick start we need. Before we leave the first floor Peter's mother offers to lend me something to wear – I guess that she means something that completely covers my body. I am already wearing full length trousers and a tunic that has a round neck and three quarter sleeves. In fact it is the top that I have worn before which seemed perfectly acceptable and I can't imagine how much more I can cover up. I decline her offer but do put a tunic with even longer sleeves over the top of my other top. I always dress modestly in the village but there seems to be more concern than usual about adhering to an appropriate dress code – not within the family but in other parts of the village. It's now about 9 am and we make our way down from the first floor to go outside. In front of me on the granite staircase is Peter and his father. The stairwell is dark, as we don't bother to switch the light on. The next bit, is a bit of a blur, as I misplaced my footing, thinking that I had reached the bottom of the first flight of stairs, when in fact I hadn't. All I remember is falling forward, landing with full force of my weight on my right knee.

My first thought was what a fool I must look in front of Peter's father, scrabbling around on the floor – not very elegant at all! I stand up and take a few moments to assess how I feel and where it hurts. Peter and his father are asking me if I'm all right and I repeat a couple of times that I am OK. To be truthful I just needed to get out of the dark stairwell and go and lie down. I felt a little odd, at first I couldn't quite describe it, but then as the blood drained from my face I knew I had to get off my feet as soon as possible. I could walk back up the flight of stairs okay, so I kind of guessed that my leg wasn't broken but it did hurt like billyo!

I lay down for about half an hour. Peter's father asks if he should call a doctor. My leg is throbbing but at this stage I don't feel it requires a doctor. I'm also not quite sure to what lengths they would have to go to bring one here. I will be back home tomorrow night so can assess how my leg is then. I know that we are going back to Luxor later that day so I also don't want to miss the opportunity to pick up a few more pieces of pottery to take home - regardless of a certain curiosity to check out the local health service! Peter's mother brings in a tube of cream for my leg. It says in English that it is for trauma caused by falls. I'm not sure if it can help, but rub it onto my knee anyway.

When I get up I find that I can walk but can't bend my leg. I imagine I'll wake up tomorrow with a massive bruise on my knee.

We set off again to the pottery. Once Peter's father has seen us down the staircase (safely) he turns left to go to the farm and we turn right to go to the pottery. I limp along the street slowly. Peter had told me before we left not to speak to anyone – especially the children if they approach me in the street. During our trip in September, in the short walk from the house to the pottery we had a small crowd of children following us trying to talk to me in English. It couldn't be described as threatening but it did at times feel a little uncomfortable.

This time there are very few children around – they are probably all in school. As we walk down “Montgolfier Road” I notice that the fields to the right that had been laid out with large squares of dates to dry September, were now home to well established wheat crops – land is never left fallow very long - it's too much of a valuable resource.

Mr Riad greets us at the Garagos pottery. He wants to take us over to the kiln to show us some pottery that has just finished being fired. It isn't possible to see all stages of the process when you come to the pottery but by now I think we've seen it all. Mr Riad tells us to listen to the pottery singing and sure enough, like a clay choir, each piece took a turn to make a high pitched 'chink' sound as it's body temperature acclimatised to the cooler air.


We know we don't have much time to spend at the pottery today so go to the store room and pick out a number of pieces to take home. Mr Riad offers us tea and Mr Louis brings it for us. We spend a bit of time talking to Mr Riad about the development of the pottery again. He confirms bits of information that we already have but again I think that we need to have some concentrated time with Mr Riad to talk in more detail – but as I mentioned before – bit by bit.

Before we leave the pottery we decide to go and visit the kindergarten which is located in a tall building behind the pottery. This building was built by the church, originally with the idea of developing it into a hotel for tourists who had come to visit the village. This was at a time when many tourists were coming to Garagos. Unfortunately this was no longer the case after the Queen Hatchepsut's atrocity. The building was never completed, however the ground floor has been converted into a kindergarten for the local school children.

We walk into a large open grassed area where children are playing. We are greeted with a large radiant smile by Sister Mariam who oversees the day to day running of the kindergarten including the administrative duties. We stay outside until the children have finished their playtime. Some of the children come and say hello to me in English – one little girl holds her arms out to me and kisses me on the cheek.

We go inside the building and Sister Mariam introduces us to some of the staff working there. We are shown around the two classrooms which are for KDG1 and KDG2. Shortly after a female relative of Peter's comes into the room to say hello to us. Sister Mariam invites her to join us and offers to make tea telling us that “our house is your house”.

Time is running by. We have quite a few more visits to make so decide to make tracks back to the house. We say goodbye to Sister Mariam and Peter's aunt and walk (or hobble) out of the pottery and kindergarten complex and back down Montgolfier Road. As we turn off this road past the wheat fields, Peter tells me that he has noticed a couple of people videoing me on their mobile phones – they're not used to seeing Westerners in the village. I imagine video's of this strange limping woman being posted onto Youtube!

We hear the loud, booming voice of Peter's Uncle Romani who is standing in front of a shop – when I say shop this is more of a roadside shack. After greetings we are invited back to his home for tea. Mr Romani's house is just around the corner – all the family live in such close proximity to each other. We walk into a bright hallway where two elderly ladies clad in black sit on chairs shelling nuts. They are introduced to me as the mother of Romani and the mother of Romani's wife. This is a large house which is decorated beautifully with gold embellishments along the cornice line. There are long cane benches along three of the main walls furnished with blue and yellow cushions – clearly the house of a successful man. Mr Romani is clearly proud of the room as he asks me what I think of it and I tell him that I like it very much. Dominating the room is a large photograph of William Mr Romani's son who died tragically in a car accident at the age of 22.

This is another visit that ends up a longer stay than we planned as we begin talking about the family history and Father Montgolfier. Peter's cousin Maged joins us and he speaks good English which is a relief for Peter who is suffering from interpretation fatigue. We spend over an hour talking about the history of Garagos and then another talking about politics (I'm not involved in the latter). This is broken up by a short break to eat a lunch of boiled eggs, bread, cheese Maged's father pops in at one point briefly as does a couple of other family members. Uncle Romani has given us lots of information this afternoon – not all of it new information but it is helpful to cross reference it with other things we have been told. It's now early afternoon and we had planned to leave at 2.00pm to go back to Luxor. I sort of had a feeling that we wouldn't be going back today so start calculating in my mind what time we will need to leave Garagos in the morning if we still need to pack and check out by 12.00pm.

Maged offers to take us to the village flour mill which is owned by Mr Romani, Maged's father and another member of the family. We turn left out of the house and walk no further than 20 yards to a large building. Firstly we are taken around the back of the building where Maged shows us an old disused water pump – Mr Romani's business (as well as government work in a school) is installing industrial water pumps for both agricultural and domestic use. The mill, the only one in the village used to pump water as well as mill the grain to produce flour. He points up to the roof to a whistle which used to be sounded to let the villagers know that the next batch of freshly ground flour was now ready to purchase.

Maged then takes us into a room in the back of the mill which houses a large engine - from the metal plate it indicates that it is of German construction.

We then follow Maged around to the front of the mill where a couple of elderly ladies dressed in black are filling bags with flour straight from the mouth of the tube connected to the milling machine. This has been very interesting to see and we thank Maged for showing us. We all walk back together to Mr Romani's house and Om Romani is sitting outside on the cane bench - Peter chats to her for a little while before we return back to the family home.

We go up to the first floor where Peter's Mother and father are watching television. I've taken the stairs one at a time as I can't bend my right leg and wonder now if we should have called a doctor after all. Anyway, I need to stop harping on about my knee!

We are offered food and tea but we had recently eaten at Mr Romani's so opt just for tea. We are told by Peter's father that Ehab is home from Safaga and that there is going to be a party for Sara and Susanna's birthday this evening. We tell them that we have already decided to stay until the morning but will need to leave early as we need to pack and check out by 12.00 lunchtime.

It's now late afternoon and we still haven't managed to visit the families that we said we would. Because the average visit can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours we decide to go and visit Peter's Aunt Matilda and her husband Mr Labib. This is always a lively house to visit with several generations of family living together in this large house. The house is a two minute walk. Along the way neighbours greet Peter and vice versa.

We first walk through an entrance to an outdoor area which has a hedge of Rahan (Egyptian Basil) growing. The aroma seems to peak in early evening. To enter the large double doorway we have to climb over a mound of sand that has been tipped in front of the doorway – I don't ask but assume building work is in progress somewhere. I grab hold of the metal door and haul my body over the sand hill dragging my leg behind me!

Mr Labib is sitting at a table in the large room reading a paper. Also in the room is cousin's Shaib and Aiyad. After exchanging greetings we are told that Peter's Aunt Matilda is out milking the cow but will be back shortly. Other family members come in to greet us – cousins Yvonne, Akmel and his two children Nardine and one year old  baby  and Akmels wife Katerine. Also Kissinger and his sons Mina and Shenouda. Gerges also pops in briefly but can't stay as he is meeting his fiance that evening. Matilda returns with a pale of milk. She speaks little English but we converse better in limited French (limited on my part as Matilda speaks fluent French from living with and being educated by French nuns).

Nardine, Mina and Shenouda play in the other side of the room. We watched them join hands and move in an out of the circle singing a song called "Eftahee ya warda" The song is about the opening and closing of a flower.

Peter's father has now joined us and it isn't long before the discussion turns to politics. It appears to be quite an involved discussion and I have no idea of what is being said but the children have brought out a box of plastic figures which they proceed to step out onto the chair in front of me. We occupy ourselves - the children asking me what the name for a certain object is in English and in return I asked them what the name for it is all in Arabic. And Matilda asked us if we would like to stay something to eat but Peter tells her that we have been invited to a barbecue at Mr Riad's house to celebrate the birthdays of Sara and Susanna.

Before we leave me take a few photographs of the family group and then make way to Mr Riad's house.

As we enter the house there are a lot of activity going on. Ehab is hanging balloons around the room, Margreet and Mr Riad's wife (Om Osama) along with Andre's wife Marmar are preparing food. Waseem tells me that he's going to be the chef of the night and is going outside to get the barbecue going and Sara and Susanna are playing with new birthday presents - a toy laptop each.

The men of the family take out tables and chairs to a passageway between their's and the house next door. We are invited to come and sit outside and and have a drink whilst the food is prepared. Michael has now joined us and along with Peter, Waseem and Andre they all take turns at trying to get the barbecue going.

Shortly after, a turbaned gentleman appears at the bottom of the alley riding a donkey. I am told this is Bakheet, a cousin and uncle somewhere in the family. Bakheet tethers his donkey to an empty gas bottle at the front of the house and comes to join us.

It isn't long before Mr Riad brings out a bottle of whiskey and offers it around. All of the adults except for Michael who is fasting, accept a shot. Several rounds of whiskey go around the group, and although I don't particularly like blended whiskey I accept the third glass of whiskey, explaining that I am taking it just for the pain!

I think the whiskey has gone to Bakheet's head because Mr Riad explains that he won't be going home on his donkey tonight but will stay here – apparently he can see three donkeys!

I looked down the alleyway and can hear excited laughter from Sara and Susanna. Ehab has climbed onto Bakheet's donkey and Peter has lifted Sara and Susanna in front of him. He takes them for a short ride up and down in front of the row of houses. When they are lifted off the donkey the stand on the mastaba at the front of the house – Sara happily plays with the donkey's ears but Susanna seeks refuge in the arms of Peter, clearly a bit more cautious about approaching the donkey. Riding on it is one thing but stroking it is another.

Waseem has done a good job of cooking the chicken on the barbecue however, it has turned a little chilly so we decided to continue the party indoors. Plates of food are brought out from the kitchen and put onto a long table. Egyptian tables are clearly built with large families in mind and most of us managed to squeeze around. Those that don't fit take seats elsewhere in the large room. There is barbecued chicken, macaroni, soup, fresh bread and salad on offer.

After the table is cleared of plates, two large cakes are brought to the table. They have been decorated with cream and fresh strawberries and are adorned with decorative birthday candles. The candles are lit, the lights go out and “Happy birthday” is sung in English and then Arabic to Sara and Susanna.

Time is running very quickly. It is now nearly midnight and we have to be up early in the morning to return to Luxor to pack before checking out. It's been a very enjoyable night and great to have been able to share in the birthday celebrations of Sara and Susanna. We probably won't have time to see anybody in the morning so we say our goodbyes now before leaving Mr Riad's house. We walk with Peter's father and Michael back to the house. Peter's mother is already in bed and Peter and I go straight to bed without a shower. 

I reflect on the trip with Peter.  One week has gone by so quickly.  It has been a real joy spending time in Garagos again but I think next time we will need to spend more concentrated time here.  I have probably learnt more about the village than I realise.  Not necessarily about it's history and it's development through the Catholic Church but about how far more conservative it is than Luxor - and Luxor is in comparison to Cairo and Alexandria, very conservative. 

The family are very willing to talk about Garagos but they all have slightly different versions of events from each other, but regarding dates when the Jesuits came to the village etc we can verify this with the church itself.  On occasion I have detected slight tensions from within the family particularly around religion.  Although all Christian, the family is still divided on some beliefs between the Coptic Church and the Catholic Church.  I'm sure Peter's parents will talk to him more next week about a number of issues. 

My knee has now swollen to quite a size but there is hardly a mark where I expected to see bruising. The village dust has permeated every pore of my skin and for now I imagine the luxury of a full-on bubble bath tomorrow morning back at the hotel. 

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.



Sunday 4th March 2012 - Hooray - We Make it to the Valley of the Kings!

This morning the alarm goes off at 5:30 AM. The driver Mahmoud is due to pick Lou and Bev up from their hotel at 6 AM this morning. Peter calls Mahmoud who tells him he will be at the hotel shortly. At 6 AM Peter phones Mahmoud again who says that Louis and Bev are now with him. They tell us they are fine and ready to set off. We keep in touch with them until we know that they have 'finally' made it through the checkpoint – which thank heavens they did! We decide to get a few more hours sleep before getting up.

At 8:30 AM we get up and go for breakfast and then sit in the hotel foyer waiting for them. During this time Peter makes more phone calls to check their location. At about 9.30 they arrive at the hotel. We greet them and invite them all into the hotel for a cup of tea before we start the days excursion. We sit out on the terrace and let them take in some refreshments after the 3.5 hour journey. I then take Lou and Bev down to the bottom of the hotel grounds to show them the view over the River Nile. I point out the Theban mountains and tell them that this is where we are going to go first. 

I advise a toilet break to everyone as the toilet facilities cannot be guaranteed once out of the hotel. We set off in the car with Mahmoud and head out of Karnak into Luxor. There is still a light breeze today which I'm sure we will be grateful for once we reach the Valley of the Kings. We drive down the Corniche and head out towards Awamia, passing the Sonesta Hotel on our way. We tell them that they won't see scenes like this along the red Sea coastline - this is the real Egypt. After we cross the bridge over the Nile Peter explains that the West bank is the gateway to the amazing Valley of the Kings. The east bank of the Nile is the city of the living. Luxor and Karnak temples greet the sunrise. The sunset on the west bank throws shadows over the City of the Dead - the Tombs of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings and Queen Hatshepsut’s temple.

The first stop is at the Colossus of Memnon - this is only a quick photo opportunity especially as the hassle from the souvenir sellers is too much - very persistent - even when Peter tries to intervene.  

We get back into the car and continue our journey into the Theban Mountains. We can see how much more excavation has been done behind the Colossus of Memnon. Several statues that must've been laid flat out during the earthquake, have now been re-erected and are standing vertically once more.

We drive past Carter's house sitting on top of the hill overlooking the mountain. In front of us we can see old Gourna village and the last few remaining houses sitting on top of the necropolis. We tell them about how families have lived there for generations and have made their living from robbing the tombs that lay beneath their houses. We then tell them how Hassan Fathy the famous Egyptian architect was commissioned to design and build a village to rehouse these local people.


To the right of us we can see the Ramuseum and in front of that some mud brick granaries. We drive down the winding tarmac roads that takes us up into the mountains and then down into the valley. When we get out of the car we are surrounded by men and children trying to sell as postcards, statues, anything that they can. Again the hassle is still quite full on. We walked through a small selection of shops selling the usual tourist items and then head into the museum entrance where there is a model of the Valley of the Kings. Waiting for us on the other side are small carts that will drive us further into the valley – and again more souvenir sellers trying their best to make a sale. One young boy climbs onto the front of the vehicle we are sitting in – I can see that Bev finds it difficult to refuse the children. We have already bought a pack of postcards. As the carts set off the boy is still clinging to the front of our vehicle. Eventually he gives up and jumps off – returning to the entrance for the next batch of tourists.

Once at the ticket kiosk we decide which tombs we are going to see and the man in the kiosk recommends the tomb of Tausert. Tausert was the Queen and last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty. We also decide to visit the tombs of Ramses the third and Ramses the fourth. The man also tells us that we must leave any cameras we have with him. I said that in the past you used to be able to take photos outside of the tombs and he said not any more. He said that he trusted me as long as I can my camera in my bag he wouldn't take it from me. Oh well I said to Bev - it's not just about the photos!

We walk up the incline towards the first Temple, although not hot by any standards at this time of year, we really begin to feel the heat. We go into Tauserts Temple which is really quite impressive. Peter does an explanation of the paintings. There is a sarcophagus at the bottom of the tomb. The Guardian of the tomb starts to make conversation with Peter. I ask what he wants and Peter tells him that he thinks that he knows him from somewhere. Shortly after he tells Peter that he can show us something special. He waits until the other tourists have left the tomb and then takes out a torch and shows us an inscription underneath the lid of the sarcophagus. I'm not quite sure what secret this was as we had already seen tourists coming in with their own torches and looking at this inscription. Anyway, with this we feel obliged to leave him a tip.


We go into the tomb of Ramses the third – I'm not able to do this tomb justice in my description but this link does a better job.


After this Louis and Bev go into Tutankhamen's tomb – you have to pay extra for this ticket and Peter and I have already seen it so we wait outside. The tomb itself in comparison to some of the others is not as outstanding in terms of its wall paintings and it is also quite small. I think any visit to Tutankhamen's tomb must also be done in partnership with a visit to the Cairo Museum to see the treasures that the tomb once held. This is the point at which you will become awe inspired. It is just incredible to imagine that such a small, unassuming tomb would have held such amazing treasures – but especially in such large volumes.



We then go into the tomb of Ramses fourth. The photo from the Flickr website was clearly taken by someone before the ban on camera's onto the site.


The heat has rather exhausted us so we go to get the little train back to Mahmoud. An old man selling statues of Bastet the cat god. He approaches us making miouowing sounds. The same children also come towards us but there is little energy left to humour anyone.

We make the short journey on the carts back to the car park where Mahmoud is waiting for us. We now leave the Valley of the Kings and make our way to Queen Hatchepsut's Temple. We don't have time to visit the temple but just wanted to show Lou and Bev what it looks like from the outside and maybe a quick photo opportunity. (By hook or by crook I will keep everything on schedule!)  Mahmoud parks the car and we get out to have a look. It isn't long before a man in a uniform comes over to us and tells us that we are not allowed to park there without paying. He tells us we are not allowed to take photos either. Things have really tightened up in the tourist spots and not necessarily for the better. We wonder if it is because over concerns of security. Peter is more cynical and says that it's more likely that after the police were humiliated during the revolution they feel they need to come back strong – it's a matter of pride!

We get back in the car and head away from the valley passing numerous alabaster factories on the way. We head back down to the Ramla - Peter has already phoned Osman to ask him to arrange a motorboat to take us back across to the east bank of the Nile. By now we are in need of refreshments so decide go to Ramla on the Beach again. Shortly after we arrive, Osman meets us again and comes to join us for a drink. When we arrive we see Hamada with a couple of tourists from our hotel - they use Hamada to drive them every time they come to Luxor. It's good to see that after introducing Hamada to Osman and Ramla on the Beach he is already bringing tourists back – that's how it works here!

We drink tea and Cola. Louis notices some of the birds that are flying across the Nile and names some of them – he used to be a Park Ranger so is familiar with wild life. Osman tells him he is very knowledgeable about birds. Earlier Louis had broken his sunglasses and the sun is very bright and asks if there is anywhere near to buy some new ones. Osman offers him his sunglasses and Louis declines the offer, but Osman insists. Louis puts on the glasses – these aren't cheap ones either. I must say that many Egyptians, or more specifically those that work in tourism come in for a lot of criticism about only thinking about money. We have been to Osman's cafe twice in the last two days and on neither occasion would he take money for our drinks. I think it's true to say that in general most tourists will experience the negative side of Egyptians working in tourism and have a real battle on their hands trying not to get ripped off. I'm sure that it's because of Peter that I have mainly experienced the kindness and generosity of Egyptians. There may be a business motive behind this on some occasions but Peter is well liked and trusted by people and this counts for a lot. 

A motorboat draws up on the edge of the Nile. As we walk closer we see that the driver of the boat is Abu Halawa. Osman takes the wooden plank from him and helps us onto the boat one by one. We wave our goodbyes to Hamada and shake hands with Osman and thank him for his hospitality. As we leave the west bank, Abu Halawa hands the rudder of the boat to Peter who steers us (under the direction of Abu Halawa back to the east bank. I remind Abu Halawa of the photograph that I took of Peter and him all those years ago and take one more for posterity. 



We arrive at the jetty and disembark the motor boat shaking hands with Abu Halawa. We climb the steps to the Corniche where Radwan is waiting for us in his carriage. I can't believe this excursion is going so well and to plan and still on time – especially after yesterdays fiasco. Peter introduces Lou and Bev to Radwan. Lou decides to take the seat up front with Radwan so I hand him the camera to capture the ride around the town. Radwan tells us that his wife had a baby girl – during our last trip he told us that he had recently got married and was expecting a baby so it was great to hear his news. We begin our drive around Luxor. We take a quick drive through the souk and then pass by Luxor Temple. Radwan drives us down the wide open roads around the back of Karnak Temple. This is a bit of a relief after the tight squeeze going through the souk.

Radwan is a qualified guide and furnishes us with interesting information about the temple. We stop at the recently excavated avenue of sphinxes where we take a couple of photographs of Lou and Bev. We then continue our journey to the entrance of Karnak Temple where we say goodbye to Radwan and his horse Sabrina.

We spend about an hour in Karnak Temple, we are lucky there are only one or two groups of tourists in there – lucky for us I mean as I know it is difficult for the people that are trying to make their living from tourism. Lou and Bev walk around the scarab three times – this is supposed to be good luck. This is only a whistlestop tour – you really need at least a full day in Karnak Temple to take in it's wonders .  

It's now about 4.00pm. We decide that we are now all more than ready for something to eat so make our way over to the terrace of the Aladdin Restaurant next to Karnak Temple. We are approached by a couple of souvenir sellers who have armfuls of pharaonic statues but after the experiences throughout the day nobody has the energy to put up resistance but we just continue walking. As we approach the restaurant Peter seems to have lagged behind. When we turn around we see that he has stopped to talk to the souvenir sellers. We stop and wait for him thinking that he will soon catch us up but he is clearly in deep conversation with them. We decide to leave him to it and go and find a table on the restaurant terrace – this provides us with some great views over the Nile.  

Mahmoud has now joined us again and is shortly followed by Peter who is carrying a number of objects – 4 pharaonic statues. He lays them out on the table and asks Lou and Bev to choose which one they want. They select one and Peter then asks them to choose another. I detest fake pharaonic statues so before Peter gets any ideas of bringing them home I push the remaining two statues towards Lou and Bev – we will already have problems juggling our luggage allowance on our return journeys but Lou and Bev are delighted with their gifts. 

We all enjoy and lovely meal of mixed grill, a range of salads and pizza's. I also enjoy my first beer since arriving in Egypt which went down better than I could have imagined!

I know Lou and Bev are a bit nervous about missing the checkpoint for their return journey after their experience the day before but Mahmoud assures us that they are OK for time. I say that we can make our way back to our hotel ourselves but it appears that Mahmoud came with a large package from Ehab in Safaga which we need to take back to Garagos – no problem after the efforts he went to to arrange Mahmoud for us.

Mahmoud drives us to the Sofitel where we say goodbye to Lou and Bev. After a quick freshening up in the room we make our way out into the hotel grounds to watch the sunset. We walk down to the edge of the Nile where we watch kingfishers hovering and swooping on their prey in the river. Sitting on a mooring rope of a dahbeya sits a cattle egret. Its white feathers flutter in the breeze as it sits vigilant and patient, waiting for a far more generous prey than what the kingfishers are willing to accept. 


The sun begins to set behind the Theban Mountains and its orange glow spreads itself across the Nile - West to East. It begins to get chilly and midges are now coming out in full force.  

We go back to the room, and have a bath and a cup of tea. What an exhausting day. Before we call it a night Peter makes a final call to check that Louis and Bev are safely back at their hotel – which they are. They've had a fantastic day and we're thrilled that we've been able to show them a bit more of Egypt than it's beautiful beaches. Hopefully we've given them an appetite for Egypt and they will come back again.

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

1st October 2011 - Farewell to Garagos

We sleep in late again today. My body clock is just beginning to adapt to the late nights and late starts – usually I’m an early person. We plan to return to Luxor later. Peter has arranged for Hamada to come and pick us up. It’s always difficult saying goodbye. We had hoped to visit Hagaza a nearby village that is famous for its beautiful wooden hand-crafts. We will leave this until our next trip.

Tahani has prepared breakfast for us. As we break into our freshly boiled eggs Tahani begins to talk to Peter about her concerns for Michael. I don’t want to talk about this family issue but Michael and their hopes for him getting married is always a topic of discussion for his mother or his father with Peter.

Ehab, Margreet and the twins arrive. I know Margreet loves having Ehab at home but I guess she feels that as soon as Ehab has arrived back in the village it very quickly time for him to return to work in Safaga.

Peter’s father comes back from the farm with a bunch of freshly pick Molokhia (Jews Mallow). Again this is something that I also find an acquired taste but here’s recipe in case you’re interested:


Peter’s father now continues the conversation about Michael – poor Michael – his ears must be burning! It’s an age old situation – parents with concerns over their children – whatever their age.

Sara and Susanna entertain us with some belly dancing. I video them and then download the video’s onto the netbook for them to watch – a game that could go on forever!

Sometime after midday day we get a call from Hamada that he is in Garagos but has got lost somewhere. Several phone calls later, Peter goes out to find where he is. The village is like a maze and it is easy to get disoriented. Mr Riad comes to say goodbye to us and sits and waits with us until Peter returns with Hamada.

As is the custom, Hamada is invited into the home to drink tea. As he enters Peter’s father greets him with “Alf Salam”. Hamada declines tea but accepts a glass of water.

Shortly after our bags are carried to the car and we say goodbye to Tahani and Alfons, Mr Riad, Ehab, Margreet and the twins. Other family members are in the street waiting to wave us off. We have to reverse back down the narrow street - just before Hamada arrived, a local man with a donkey and cart selling vegetables stops near the house to sell his wares. This street is only wide enough for one car so it requires some navigation and co-ordination to reverse without scraping against the wall of a building.

We wave goodbye and I can understand how difficult this is for Peter’s mother and father. They miss him terribly and I know they want him to stay in the village instead of returning to Luxor.

We drive out of the village and back along the canal that feeds water to the land. We see boys jumping from a bridge into the canal and I begin to think of the swimming pool that waits for us back at the hotel. As we draw nearer to Luxor Peter tells me that Hamada is going to take us straight to an alabaster factory on the Westbank – oh well – when in Egypt – just go with the flow!

We drive into Luxor and then back out on the Movenpick Road towards Awamia. Eventually we get to the bridge that takes us over the Nile onto the Westbank – much quieter and more agricultural than the East bank – but also full of amazing wonders.


We drive until we come across the amazing sight of the Colossi of Memnon. Unfortunately the photo I take is from a speeding car so not my best phot of the Colossi - well actually I only manage to get one of them from the back!


I remember being so in awe of this amazing the sight the first time I came to Egypt. The Colossi were built to guard the mortuary site of Amenhotep. Since I came past here last, more archaeological finds have been discovered by the Colossi. Bit by bit Egypt reveals more of its hidden secrets.

We drive past small pottery workshops. We arrive at the alabaster factory. Unfortunately we also arrive at the same time as a coach load of Russian tourists! Fortunately we aren’t herded in with the Russians – a man from the factory greets us and takes us over to three men who are sitting on the floor demonstrating various different stages of the process. This is all very well-rehearsed – like a sketch from a show – but more of this was in stores once inside!

We walk into a large showroom displaying a massive selection of pots, jars, tea sets, chess sets and of course pharaonic statues of all sizes. We had managed to get ahead of the Russians but now they stream into the room escorted by a number of the factory’s staff. They are welcomed to the showroom. I wasn’t paying much attention but a minute into the welcome speech the lights go off. I think my first instinct must have been that a power cut had happened as is quite usual, but then a chorus of Happy Birthday rises from the depths of darkness. As I turn around I notice that a section of the display is glowing a flourescent green – jars, vases and pharaonic figures all glowing in the dark. The Russians cheer and the lights are switched on again. The work 'Pantomime' springs to mind!

Peter, Hamada and I browse the shelves, I'm constantly shadowed by the man that welcomed us at the entrance. Alabaster is a beautiful stone and is shown at it's most beautiful when lit from within. The jars, pots and candle holders are stunning – pharaonic statuettes less so. Peter and Hamada speak to the gentleman that met us at the entrance. They talk about prices and shipping – I leave them to it.


The alabaster products are a reasonable priced but Hamada tells us later that guides will get 50% of any sales. During this brief visit I am given two alabaster ankh's and an alabaster scarab beetle - little tempters to encourage me to buy - but I think of the pottery we already have to carry home.  We leave the factory and the Russian tourists behind to return back to the East Bank. It's late afternoon and the light casts a warm glow over the Theban Mountains. We drive past Qurna, the deserted village resting on top of the ancient necropolis.

Quote from Wikipedia:

"Kurna (also Gourna, Gurna, Qurna, Qurnah or Qurneh) are various spelling for a group of three closely related villages (New Qurna, Qurna and Sheikh ‘Adb el-Qurna) located on the West Bank of the River Nile opposite the modern city of Luxor in Egypt near the Theban Hills.

New Qurna was designed and built in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy to house people living in Qurna which is now uninhabited. New Qurna was added to the 2010 World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites to bring attention to the site's importance to modern town planning and vernacular architecture due to the loss of much of the original form of the village since it was built.

The Villages

New Qurna (or New Gourna)

New Qurna was built between 1946 and 1952 by Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy midway between the Colossi of Memnon and el-Gezira on the Nile on the main road to the Theban Necropolis to house the residents of the Qurna. The design, which combined traditional materials and techniques with modern principles was never completed and much of the fabric of the village has since been lost; all what remains today of the original New Qurna is the mosque, market and a few houses. UNESCO World Heritage conservation wishes to safeguard this important architectural site. The World Monuments Fund included New Qurna in the 2010 World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites.

Qurna (or Old Gourna)

Qurna is an abandoned village about 100m to the east of the Temple of Seti I. Until the early 19th century the community included at least parts of the Temple of Seti I. Several travellers, including Richard Pococke or Sonnini de Manoncourt even name a Sheikh of Qurna. Edward William Lane relates in 1825 that the village was abandoned and not a single inhabitant lived there. Comments by Isabella Frances Romer suggests that the resettling started in the late 1840s. New Qurna was built in the 1940s and early 1950 to house the then residents who strongly resisted the move.

Sheikh ‘Adb el-Qurna

A series of housing built in and around the mountain grottoes located about 200m north of the Ramesseum at Sheikh ‘Adb el-Qurna. The stretch of land has been the bitter battlefield between the original owners and the Egyptian government for the last 60 years, because it lay on top of an archeologically area, part of the Tombs of the Nobles. Edward William Lane relates that the residents moved into these grottoes from the village of Qurna, which they abandoned, when the Mamluks retreated thought the area, following their defeat by Muhammad Alī's forces in the early 19th century.”







You will see the mention of the architect Hassan Fathy. You will read more about the links to Hassan Fathy and the Garagos Pottery on the 1001 Nights page in Posterous as our research and compilation of the story develops.

We drive past the sugar can fields and several banana plantations. We see the green footed lesser egrets paddle in the irrigation channels running through the green land. Again that familiar smell of smoke seeps in through the car window. I don't know why the burning of sugar cane stubble is so wonderful – well yes I do ­ it's one of the most evocative smells of Luxor.

We cross the sugar can train track and are now close to the edge of the West Bank of the Nile. We pass what were once brighty coloured houses and shops, now scarred with the patina of age and the desert dust. They line both sides of the street like a guard of honour, escorting us visitors away from this very special place.

Before long we are back at the hotel and now wash the Garagos dust from our hair (literally and figuratively). We are in time to watch the sunset over the Theban Hills from the balcony – I will never tire of this beautiful site.

We decide to eat in the hotel in Aladdins Restaurant outside in the hotel grounds. It's a nice warm evening we don't have to walk too far considering our near exhausted state. Unusually, we see that a sound system has been set up. We haven't seen any evening entertainment here in the hotel on this trip due to the lack of tourists. However, there appears to be a group of 'day' tourists and they are dining at the hotel before returning to the Hurghada this evening. We are told by the waiter that they had planned to put on a belly dancing show for the tourists but the belly dancers haven't arrived and are late. This is such a shame – the tourists finish their meal and head out to their coach without seeing the 'entertainment'.

We get a phone call. Tony is waiting outside the hotel for us. He is going to take us to the tourism company office where he still works and where Peter used to work. We are also going to pick up our bits and pieces that 'went missing' in the Sheraton in Cairo. We drink tea in the office with Tony and Mr Mourad the manager of the travel company – the three of them talk about old times and also about how hard tourism has been hit since the uprising.

Peter and I have decided to do a caleche trip around the city. Peter's friend Radwan is waiting for us on the Corniche. We say goodbye to Tony and Mr Mourad and walk out to meet Radwan. It's a delight to see him again – Peter has know him for a long time – the travel company always uses good, reputable caleche drivers who speak English. Radwan is a very polite young man, university educated and now tells us that since he saw us last he is now married and expecting their first baby. Congratulations are shouted in English and Arabic. Radwan is also a qualified guide. He tells us (as we've heard from everyone so far) how bad business is in Luxor and even though his wife is about to have a baby, he will be taking work in Hurghada so that he can support his family. Radwan says that it's difficult to get a handle on the real situation in Egypt. Information differs significantly depending on it's source – state tv, the internet, the grapevine. He says it's the information that people don't know that is most dangerous. Peter and Radwan continue to talk about the state of the country – I take in the familiar sights of Luxor by night.

I spot a couple of significant sights – we go past one of our favourite coffee shops Alfa Leyla we Leyla (One Thousand Nights and One Night) and then as we pass the Franciscan Church, the sign on the front of the church seems to say 1001. I like to think they are lucky signs for our little project!

Radwan drops us back at the Sonesta. We say goodbye and wish him all the best for the birth of his new baby. Before we go to bed we sit on the balcony and drink a glass of wine. Birds swoop across the Nile and over on the West Bank we hear a donkey bray and the soft chugging sound of a motor boat.

Peter and I talk about our visit to Garagos. It's only when away from the village that we appreciate how different the way of life is - not to the UK but to Luxor. The difference is also apparent between Luxor and Cairo – Egypt is indeed a country of many faces (and differing mentalities). Our visit is nearly at an end and there is a sense of sadness about leaving – for Peter his family and birth place and for me a country I have grown to love. Exhaustion takes over us.  I hope tomorrow is a lazy day.

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.