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Published: October 24th 2019
For once, our morning call was not at some hair raising time in what seems like the middle of the night. We had time for a nice breakfast enjoying the view from the terrace, and then it was time to check out of the resort in preparation to boarding our cruise ship, The Queen of Hansa. But before we did that, it was time to board the motorboat that would take us to the Nubian Village, Gharb Sohail.
The saga of the Nubians in the area is a sad one. This minority non-Arab society was displaced from their ancestral homes by the construction of the High Dam. To make matters worse, the lands given to them to relocate were on the barren desert of the West Bank of the Nile, not amongst the rest of the population in Aswan. Many refused to leave the banks of the Nile and have built settlements. There is a small village on Elephantine Island and further down the Nile there is Gharb Sohail with a population of around 3,000 who, for the most part, make a meager living from tourism.
This displacement and perceived discrimination is a point of contention that rears its
head every so often. It is one of the reasons for the high security that surrounds the High Dam.
Our tour director, Amr Hassan, is a great admirer of the Nubians and had arranged for one of their community leaders and expert on the life and customs of the Nubians, as well as the fauna and flora of the region, Jamal, to be our guide on the trip to the village, where we were to visit a Nubian house for the traditional Hibiscus tea and more stories.
We left the resort and proceeded down the west side of Elephantine Island, across from the cliff tombs and through the First Cataract. The description I read of the Cataracts is this: The Cataracts are shallow lengths of the Nile River, where the surface of the water is broken by small boulders and stones jutting out of the river bed, as well as many rocky islets. In some places, these stretches are punctuated by whitewater, white at others the water flow is smoother, but still shallow.
The river trip is beautiful, slowly cruising past small settlements and isolated huts and beautiful rock formations, the smattering of lush green narrow bands
on the river banks and the stark desert behind them. We past the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener Island, and the Mausoleum of Aga Khan, Sultan Muhammed Shah, who died in 1957.
The Nubians love colors and Gharb Sohail is no exception. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of the village, but the house we visited was beautiful, taking every possible advantage to showcase the outdoor and its surroundings. On a large open room, Jamal told us about the history of the Nubians, and some of their customs and traditions.
For me, it was a very poignant experience. On our arrival and disembarkation from the boat we were immediately approached by a group of ladies selling their colorful trinkets. Our guide shushed them away, so they called after us "Later, Fatima, later" and, as we found out when we left the house, waited patiently for us to come out again.
I bought a couple of things from them, but I would have bought a lot more had I known beforehand how very precarious their living is. During the low tourist season, after their long days in the heat, some of them may bring home about $4 a
week. But they don't beg. I saw very few beggars in Egypt. And they don't expect handouts. They make and sell their products for their living and I still wish I had bought more from them.
I, unwillingly, was the cause of a lot of screaming between two of the ladies. I was reaching for one keychain from one of them when another put hers in my hand and took my money. Oh, my goodness! Chaos erupted! At least it was all verbal and not physical abuse.
After our return from the Nubian Village, it was time to board our transportation to Luxor, The Queen of Hansa cruise ship, and enjoy lunch on the ship.
The ship is an older ship that was recently renovated and the cabins were as large as many hotel rooms, with floor to ceiling glass windows to afford a view of the river as we cruised, and an open top deck with a pool and a covered, comfortable bar area.
The restaurant was on the lower level of the ship and the meal, served buffet style, was an assortment of international dishes that included beef, poultry and fish but no pork,
and a carving station that served a different choice daily. I am not used to eating a big lunch, but I was a little shamed by the size of my plate after I finished making a pass by all the selections. Not to mention the large choice of desserts!
The waiting staff was wonderful too. They were attentive, funny, and friendly. I quickly bonded with one of the waiters, Khaled, and after the first time allowed him to led me to the same table and the same seat, just to enjoy the little tricky games and jokes he entertained me with at every meal.
After some time to rest, we headed out for the visit to Philae that afternoon. Usually, there is their version of siesta time during the hot hours of early afternoon, but our schedule required that we utilized the afternoons to accommodate all the sightseeing, so off we went, loaded with plenty of tour provided water bottles, for the drive to the port where we boarded another boat to take us to the temple.
The Temple of Isis is one of the monuments rescued from the waters during the construction of the High Dam
Boat Ride to the Nubian Village
Somebody has built a little home in the rocks.
and moved to higher grounds. Originally located on the island of Philae, now submerged, it was moved to the nearly Agilkia Island during a ten year project.
Philae was a sacred site, believed to have been one of the burying places of Osiris and an ancient pilgrimage center for the cult of Isis.
The present temple dates back to approximately 380-362 BC, and was completed around 690 AD. It is an amazing example of the cult of Osiris, Isis, and Horus.
The approach is dramatic, coming upon the island and the temple by boat, it provides a great opportunity to observe the complete main temple of Isis unobstructed.
Unfortunately, this temple did not survive without having been transformed into a Christian place and many crosses and Greek inscriptions can be found throughout the temple. In this temple, as well as others, many of the old deities have been chiseled out, but it is a beautiful temple and the last to be constructed in the classical Egyptian style.
Several Roman Emperors, including Augustus, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, also commissioned reliefs for this temple.
The two sets of pylons are stunning.
On our way back
to the ship, we had a scheduled stop at a perfume factory. Their process is quite amazing, and they had a very large choice of oils and perfumes, all without containing a drop of alcohol. They were not cheap, and I was limited by the size and weight of what I could carry in my suitcase, but I ended up buying some of their Mint and Eucalyptus oils for my diffuser at home, as well as Sandalwood oil. The Sandalwood is amazing for the skin!
That evening, our ship entertainment was Nubian, with some traditional dances as well as a comedian act. Yes, I'm not kidding. This particular performer included some of the audience in a side splitting lesson of one of their dances. I really had tears running down my face from laughing. It was a fun evening, at least for the watchers.
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