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Published: March 21st 2007
Day 43, Thursday 8th March:
We awoke at 6am and ate breakfast while Captain Ruby navigated the boat to a different part of the riverbank where a small ferry was loading with flat-back trucks and carts pulled by donkeys. Allah jumped out onto the ferry and tied the felucca to it with a thick rope so we could hitch a ride across the river. Once on the other side we all got out and into a waiting car which took us to the ancient temple of Komombo. This was of the same basic design as that of Philae Temple, which I had visited three days before, having four so called 'pylons' surrounding an area of columns. The others then continued in a minibus to Luxor while I returned with Allah to the felucca where Ruby was waiting.
Allah was due to sail the felucca back to Aswan that afternoon which would be relatively quick and easy as it was downwind and so he wouldn't need to tack. Ruby and I got into a flat-back truck with a friend of his and we headed for Ramaadi, Ruby's village. We rode for about an hour along a dusty and frequently potholed road going north, roughly parallel with the Nile. For much of that journey all I could see to my left, i.e. west, was the edge of the Sahara; nothing but sand as far as the horizon. It was my first view of the great desert. There were occasional mango trees and date trees on our right, but otherwise it was as absolutely dry and lifeless as the desert on the other side.
We nosed our way into Al Ramaadi, a village of about 4500 inhabitants, crossed a large mud square and then Ruby and I left the vehicle to walk. Weaving our way through the alleyways we gradually became surrounded by excitable children, five of whom were Ruby's, and after a few minutes I was shown through a tired looking gate into the yard of Ruby's house, where I then met his wife. The house had been constructed by Ruby's grandfather and was made of mud bricks, like many of the walls I had seen on my way through the village. It was single storey with three bedrooms, of which one was for Ruby, one for the children, and one for his wife's mother; Rubi told me that his wife always slept outside. There was only one tap, which was in the enclosed yard, and the toilet, also in the yard, was a simple brick built structure open to the sky except for a piece of plywood lodged awkwardly between the walls above head height. As I was taking all this in, Ruby's wife appeared from the tiny doorless kitchen and brought into the yard, where we were sitting, a large circular metal tray with omelette and bread and honey for Ruby and I, as well as the customary cup of tea.
Mohammed, who owned the felucca Ruby had been navigating and is Ruby's uncle, also lived in the village and after this lunch we visited him. We sat on fabric covered benches, which might have been beds, and we drank more tea. We were offered sticks of sugar cane with which you bite a piece off, chew out the sugar, and then spit out the remaining inedible woody bits to be pecked at by the goats, chickens, rabbits, ducks and pigeons which continually wandered in and out through the ever-open doorway.
We also visited a friend, Farah, who's english was noticably better than average, and who appeared to have quite new fabrics on the benches in his house, and even a carpet in the sitting room, in contrast with Ruby and Mohammed's houses whos floors were of compacted earth in every room I saw. Farah later joined us when we went to the local cafeteria which was a room measuring about 20 feet square with, of course, an earth floor, a television on a stand in one corner, and a few chairs facing it. In another corner was a very unevenly built counter, or bar, faced with tiles. The owner put a straw mat outside the door and provided a set of dominos and a piece of board to play them on. Ruby and some of the locals then sat down on the mat there and played a few quite animated games while I listened and tried to pick out Arabic words I'd learned.
Back at Ruby's we were served our evening meal, again on the large tray, and which, again, we sat at cross-legged. We ate a piece of roast chicken each with rice, falafel, some kind of spinach paste, a thick vegetable soup or sauce, and bread. In the evening several of Ruby's friends came and sat in a group on the floor, chain-smoking and chatting into the night. We were all men; there were no women or children in sight, except when Ruby called out for chai (tea)!
Eventually everyone departed and I went to sleep on a bed in the room which Ruby slept in, while Ruby slept on the floor, insisting that he always did so as it was better for his back!
Looking at the family life there it occured to me that there is a very good social framework in place which is largely missing in english society. Families and friends spend all their time together, talking and laughing, and I think that in general there is a psychological stability which comes from this kind of close-knit society. No individual, or couple, live out their lives in isolation and, I think, stresses and strains tend to be absorbed by the social group as a whole: They are socially stronger.
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