Aswan is home of the Nubians. Yes, you can find them in other parts of Egypt and in Sudan, but Aswan is really their haven. They are very proud of their heritage and rightfully so. Nubians constitute the earliest black civilization going back all the way to 2000 BC. What’s more, Wikipedia says there’s only half a million of them left.
In Aswan, my friend Owen and I were lucky enough to stumble upon Khalid, a proud Nubian and a sweet person. We spent a couple days with him sailing the Nile, learning about his city, meeting his family, and enjoying their hospitality. It was interesting to hear him talk about his culture because he always spoke about it with such pride. He pointed out that that they have their own language, two actually, he introduced us Nubian music, pointed out how he wraps his scarf differently, and boasted his love of the land.
As soon as we met Khalid, it was a relief. Our exchange was very human. It was a relief from being treated like a tourist so many others. Finally, we had found a friend.
Months later we would return to Aswan for an epic three-day felucca trip from Aswan to Edfu with Khalid as our captain. But for now – the last week of 2008.
Half-demolished buildings are typical of Luxor, and apparently, they happen in Aswan, too. The ever-present and ever-expanding tourism industry “requires” wider streets and removal of residual housing anywhere near antiquities and the residents have no say in the process. One day you’ll get a knock on your door saying the city has to demolish your building. They hand you the key to a new building, which hasn’t been finished yet. A couple days later, the bulldozers come in.
This was taken on an island named after Lord Kitchener, a British Earl and army general. He was a mixed bag; in one of his tours of Sudan at the turn of the 20th century, he managed to do some positive things for Islam. Things like: saving farmers from greedy moneylenders, insuring they had proper land and tools, preventing Christian missionaries from converting Muslims, passing reforms to preserve Friday as a day of prayer, rebuilding mosques, etc. As Wikipedia notes, “In 1899 Kitchener was presented with a small island in the Nile at Aswan as in gratitude for his services;” He converted it into an epic botanical garden, with thousands of exotic plants and trees. Today, it is a very pleasant place to escape to.
Unfortunately, Kitchener also played several other roles following his Sudan tours which weren’t so flattering. For one, he served as Commander in the 2nd Boer War (a war between the British and South Africa), and was responsible for a brutal campaign which included moving civilians into concentration camps where the conditions were so bad that tens of thousands of women and children died of sickness and malnutrition. He also served as Chief of the Indian Army, where the British empire carried out the cruelest massacres and most paralyzing economic reforms of that time.
You can only get there by felucca boat or motorboat. Duh.
Inside one of Khalid’s homes.
Egyptians, like everyone except Americans, are crazy about soccer, ahem, football.
This is Khalid’s new home. Can you tell? Look at the bright purple paint. It functions as the guest home when they have them – and that’s pretty often. It’s incredible the effort and care they put into the place. Along the outside there are a couple stray lines of Arabic painted in with a stencil that pattern around the home’s exterior: “Allah akbar” God is great. Indeed.
Khalid sleeps on the roof. A lot of people in Egypt do this in the summer. Air conditioners are only for the wealthy, so the night breeze usually does the trick.
Henna preparations for marriage. This is just one ritual that really adds to the wedding ceremony.