Sunday, 5 September 2010

Nile grazing in Aswan

A painless sleeper from Cairo - soft white sheets, a cinnamon roll in the morning - arrived in Aswan, southern Egypt, at 9.30am. We stumbled through the heat (having gently dipped into a cool Zone 1 in Cairo, we are back in Zone 2 of 40c plus) to our hotel, the Keylany. We found our little room, simliar to most rooms we stay in - but very clean. More delights than bedroom bound cleanliness were to come! Yes - delight upon delight! And all at the same price as our normal B&B! For breakfast a smartly dressed waiter serves pancakes, fresh fruit and fresh lemon juice - which is joyous, as we have had many an egg over these last few weeks. Also in the Middle East they LOVE 'Nescafe' which means instant coffee, but NOT HERE - REAL coffee is brought in a gorgeous crumbling stone mug. These guys are going against the grain (in more ways than one...) and I am relishing it. They serve all of this yummy goodness on a roof terrace with wooden sun loungers and a little POOL! perfect for zone 2 temperatures. The joy of this little space is that no one seems to use it, and we spent a wonderful few hours up there on our first day with a non-alcholic beer in the pool. So strange to sometimes get those glimpses of being on an amazing holiday - and the next minute be embracing all SORTS of comfort challengers!

Aswan is a sweet town. The Nile seems to have magically transformed from a flat grey to a sparkling blue, the hot sun dancing on its ripples and graceful white feluccas sailing to and fro. The pace of life has slowed and we can cross roads again - most of the time. There is a wonderful souk (market) that flows in old arches through the town, with copper lanterns, blue and red spices, pretty glass bottles and wicker baskets. With the influx of beauty comes the influx of tourists, which we did not expect. Zone 2 creates a low season at this time of year, but there are still a few white faces and long shorts bopping about. The mark of tourism is greater than this however - we meet it almost continously as we walk the streets. We haven't been as hassled as this since we began our trip. Everywhere we go cries rise of 'felucca ride, I give you good price' or 'come and see, come' or 'spices?' or 'where are you from?' - the list is endless. I wish our patience too was endless, but it has started to wear on us.

It is a complicated business - this 'hassling'. Egypt is renowned for it, but I know it won't be our last encounter with desperate pleas for business. The intentions behind it are mixed - curiousity, money, fun, laziness, aggression. And I think the source of these intentions has a long history. Egypt's economy is struggling under severe population pressure. The reason for this struggle is also complicated. I know my country has acted appaulling in Africa throughout history and continues to through subtler means. Regardless of global context, the man in front of me hassling me to buy spices is poorer than me. I know it from his shoes and the fact that I can come and go to Aswan, and he may never leave it. Contempt for him is totally inappropriate - compassion and reptenence is better. We are reading Les Miserables at the moment, and I love this part, spoken by the bishop:
Teach the ignorant as much as you can, society is culpable in not providing instruction for all, and it must answer for the night it produces. If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.
We want to be like this bishop, but we are not always.

Amidst all this, we have also managed to relax, which has been wonderful. We caught a ferry to a neighbouring island, Elephantine Island and suddenly I felt like we had arrived in Africa. Everything up to this point has seemed distinctly Arab - men with lighter skin speaking Arabic, the desert and the Westernised cities, the women in seamless layers of black. But here I felt like we were exploring what I understand as Africa. It started with colourful mud huts among towering palm trees, and developed with the smell of smouldering fires and the sounds of cockrel cries. Goats hit in the shade and a woman walked between walls with baskets poised perfectly on her head.

We found a old man who had decorated his house in bright Nubian colours - blue, yellow, red, green against white walls, alongside jewellery and pink wicker hanging in neat lines. It was his own little restaurant and we sat on his roof balcony, watching maybe the most serene scene on earth. The Nile passed by, blue and deep, with strong palm trees decorating its edges. Behind the river lay daunting sand dunes, and the sun hot in the sky. White feluccas glided by and a couple of men were digging steadily outside their home. We spent hours there, eating and enjoying this beautiful place in quiet.

Quiet... until we met EL CROCO. El C was a little weeny croc rescued from a fishing net by our Nubian host. He took him in and raised him, and now he is a bigger and scarier croc. He is still a minicroc, but who doesn't get jittery over a minicroc? Especially in a very escapable tank in the house you are eating in. However we fearlessly hung around El C, amazed at his beauty and jagged little munchers. This harmless play is recorded on our previous post. El Croco decided at one stage he had enough.

These felucca sailing boats I've mentioned are a sight to behold. They seem ancient, made out of canvas, rope and wood - the wood painted white but wearing away at the edges. We hopped on one today for an hour and basked in the gentleness and beauty of the Nile. Our sailor had a brilliant smile and allowed Nick to steer us for a bit, much to his enjoyment! As he sailed I hopped around the boat taking in how beautiful it was. Man wants to steer, woman wants to appreciate beauty. Man also wanted to explain the techicalities of the sail but this was too great a reach across the divide and within minutes both were retreating to what they knew best.

We now approach the end of our week's delay in Egypt. Tomorrow we board the ferry to Wadi Halfa. Leaving behind the car horns of Cairo and the feluccas of Aswan, we hope to wake up in Sudan on Tuesday.

El Croco!

Hey, with Cate's new birthday camera, this blog just got a bit more blogtastic!
We will try to upload some photos as we go...

It does video as well - here is us with a pet crocodile (see Aswan post coming soon):