Village Life – Egyptian Style

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Its 3.44 am. One of the many roosters out there crowing sounded just like Claudia crying and so triggered an adrenalin rush to my head and… so here I am wide awake. It has taken around a week for my brain to get used to the usual pattern. The roosters kick in around about 3.00am, the dogs all have a half hour yak followed by the donkeys and then the cats. Just when you think its all over about 4 mosques burst into song in at the same time at 5.30am giving you this weird quadraphonic sound in your head… it is followed by one on its own that sounds like a bee in a tin can with a microphone and a very loud PA system.
I am sitting up in bed and as I look out of the window I can see the old city all lit up. The people here lived within the walls of the city for thousands of years until 1929 when it rained for three days solid… and half the city melted and turned back into mud. When the sun rise’s you can see all the palm trees behind the city ruins and beyond them the salt lake to the west of the town.
I’m in an oasis called Siwa. It’s a 120km from Libya and about 800k from Cairo, and its one of the most interesting places I have ever been to. It is classic oasis. Perfect liqueur ad sand dunes leading right up to the edge of a lake with the token palm trees on the edge of the water. ALL of the women walk around town completely covered by a blue robe and a black non see through veil that totally covers there face… it reminds me of a town out of one of the star wars films that is set in north Africa with mud houses and robots walking around. It is not like anywhere else we have been to in Egypt and is far more African and laid back. Dahab has had its day… this is the place to come and chill out.
We had finished our ‘land fishing’ in Eastern Europe and our tour of the Nile with the Murry’s. We wanted to come somewhere in Egypt where we could relax for a couple of weeks and do nothing before arriving in Sri Lanka and starting our adventure there. We left Alexandra, which reminded me of Brighton with out any one in charge, and arrived in Siwa late at night after a nine-hour bus ride. If you ever play eye spy in the desert… you will be amazed at how many things begin with the letter S.
We had spent two days travelling from Luxor to Siwa, a total of around 1000kms including an overnight train from Luxor to Cairo, then another train to Alexandra, an over night stop followed by the bus the next morning. The kids now knew what it really meant to be a back packer. They had done their ’12 hour train ride’ and the long bus journey… and it was all water off a ducks back for them.
‘Dad… when we get to Siwa… we won’t be going around looking at land will we?’ ‘Don’t worry Sasha, we have spent all our money so even if me and mummy wanted to, we couldn’t buy anything.’ I was really looking forward to having a two-week break until I got off the bus and saw the old town all lit up… Wow… I thought, maybe I’ll just ask what an acre costs… just for future reference.
That was about ten days ago… on the second night in Siwa I popped the question. ‘ So… land here… cost… how much? Bicam? (how much in Egyptian) ‘Ah… you wand to buy land?’ the face beginning to grin, ‘ tree ford years ago…. vedy sheeeeep.’ ‘ Now… vedy expensive.’ The grin getting bigger… ‘Now 3-4 thousand pounds a fadan!’. ‘Whats a fadan?’ ‘4200 sq meters’.
The exchange rate for the UK to the Egyptian pound is currently 11.75… and 4200 sq meters is just over one acre…
‘Yes… your right… very expensive’. Sasha could tell by my lack of further questioning what I was thinking. ‘Dad, you said we weren’t going to look at land here’.
Sorry Sasha, but I just couldn’t resist it. Our two-week holiday has turned into our biggest ‘land fishing’ experience of the whole trip. This is Egypt… they will not steal from you, they will not hurt you or do anything bad to you. But for some here, lying through their teeth and trying to sell you land that is owned by someone less seems to be fair game. We have spent the last week investigating a very nice piece of land. We were ‘encouraged’ to ‘Buy land now, then do all guvernment checks later. Ees net a prublem… land vedy good… net a problem.’. We finally got the right person to come out and survey the land… the minute he got to the land he just smiled and shook his head. ‘We go back now… dis anodeur ones land’. Welcome to Egypt.
We only have a week left; Ruth Jacobs who has sorted all our flights out has managed to move them back to the 12th of December. It’s a small town here… it literally has one horse. Word has soon got around that we are back in the market and we are off to see several pieces of land later today, some at around a hundred quid an acre.
AHHHHHHHHHHHH……..AHUUUUUUUGGGHHHHHH….AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH………… yeap…. it’s now 5.30…
10th December 2004-12-10
5.35am… We did it. We did not give up. Our luck changed after our ‘bad pill’ and we got lucky. I had been using a local Internet café and had got to know the owner, a man called Fathi Malim. He needed some help with writing his new book and so we lent him Sasha’s laptop and Sasha had done a lot of proof reading for him. I told him the problems we had been through and he said he would like to help us as we had helped him.
We had got used to ‘ We meet here at 10.00 o’clock in the morning…’ ‘ OK, make it English time not Egyptian time.’ Big smiles… ‘OK, net a problem’. …at 2.30pm ‘Ah, there you are… shall we go?’ ‘Sody…busy… you get anader one to take you now…’ So when we arranged to meet Fathi out in a small village at 4.00pm we kind of expected him to be a bit late. At 4.30 he turned up. ‘Sorry I am late’ ‘ That’s fine… you’re… on time’ ‘My wife was sick and needed to have the doctor round, but she is OK now.’ ‘You sure you want to come and show us this land, we don’t mind if we do it another day’ ‘No, its not a problem, she has had the baby and she is now OK.’
. Um Sahala… our luck had changed. He introduced us to a very nice family and to cut a long story short… we have bought 40 acres of very nice land, right next to one of the salt lakes. I never felt like giving up… but trying to buy land with no car and no phone (it fell out of my pocket in the dessert) in the equivalent of the Outer Hebrides in Egypt… is not easy. Simon Jacobs, a good friend since school days has come in on the deal with us and bought two of the acres. Simon… we have either pulled off a very good deal… or we have bought a very expensive piece of paper… time will tell;)
The ‘ Dad, when are we going to get there’ turned into just ‘ Dad… when are we going?’ The kids have been great. They are bored of land fishing now and are getting very excited about Sri Lanka… and building a swimming pool. It hasn’t all been about hanging around for them. When I now walk through the Market Sq with Angus, he will say hello to about twenty people. ‘ Angus…. How are you?’. He knows everyone. All three of them have enjoyed getting to know people. Every ‘hand craft’ shop in town knows Claudia. She spends her time haggling and getting the price of a handbag down from 25 pounds to 5. She will haggle for days with a shopkeeper over one pound (10p). She now has several Siwan hambags to add to her collection from around Europe.
Due to local custom forbidding men to see any of the women, Penny, Sasha, and Claudia have all seen a very different side to Siwan life. They would all go off for the day and spend it with a bunch of women in their houses and go swimming and shopping with them. They would never really let on what they got up to in the privacy of their houses… but it must have been fun as they kept going back.
Dec 12th 2004 – 7.38am Windsor Hotel Cairo.
Clean sheets and cold Stella! We left Siwa at 7.30am yesterday and arrived here at 9.45pm. It should have taken several hours less but as we went to Marsa Matrouh, the main town near Siwa to organise a Power of Attorney we managed to pick up a truck load of police who kindly showed us the way and then happened to be all standing around when the government man pointed out our visa’s were out of date… Our friendly police guide suddenly turned into ‘ your nicked, follow us’. Any kid might have been a bit worried by this but Claudia worked out how to use it to her advantage. As we where standing around waiting for our new passport pictures to be proceeded so we could apply for a visa extension, (lucky they did them here and I did not need to go to Cairo and back) Claudia worked out that taking two armed policeman with her into the toy shop seriously helped her negotiating skills and suddenly it was ‘net a problem’ that Mummy and Daddy had dropped the ball.
12.18pm Windsor Hotel Cairo
I’m sitting in the same chair where I wrote the last travel log in the bar, the Egyptian adventure started and now ends here. Penny and the kids have gone off to the Bazaar for some last minute shopping. We’re catching a plan to Sri Lanka tonight and need to leave at 3.30.
For most people this would be the end of a pretty cool journey. For us… we feel it is just beginning.

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