This is our last evening in Egypt. There is a wedding going on in the street outside - it's noisy and the decorations that have been put up are bright and garish (lots of tinsel!) and the tables are groaning under the weight of food that has been produced. It would feed half of Luxor!
The wedding will probably last for three nights - that's traditional for an Egyptian wedding - and the celebrating usually goes on until just before the first call to prayer (which is just before sunrise). So we won't be getting much sleep tonight.... We've been invited so we will wander down a bit later, but only for an hour or so -I have to say that I don't really have the stamina to celebrate they way they do out here!
Also, as it's a traditional wedding and as tonight is the first night, the men and women will be separated which I find a bit frustrating as few women in the village speak English and my Arabic really should be a bit better by now.....
When we first came to Egypt the very first morning we took a fellucca (Nile sailing boat) down the Nile. We had decided to see how well we could manage 'on our own' as we didn't want to experience this beautiful country through the eyes of a tour-guide so we wandered outside our hotel - and were immediately besieged by locals following us, shouting at us 'Taxi!', 'Kalesh!' (horse drawn carriage), 'Sailing boat!', 'Papyrus!' - and so it went on. We had not experienced anything like this before and were a bit taken aback.
Suddenly this young Egyptian man wearing western clothing appeared in front of us. "Excuse me - you want to go on sailing boat? Banana Island? You are English? I give you fixed price - English like fixed price!" This is how we met Naggar - we liked him immediately. However, I realised that I had left my camera in the hotel room. I didn't want to sail down the Nile without my camera so told him we were going back to get it and that we would return in a few minutes.
He seemed amazed when we actually did return - we now realise that a lot of tourists are so freaked out by being 'hassled' that they use any excuse to run away back to the 'safety' of their hotel. We followed him to the fellucca and were introduced to his colleague who was softly spoken and wearing the traditional Egyptian clothing of gallebea. He introduced himself, offered us tea and whilst Naggar was making the tea he proudly showed us photos of his family - this is how we met Mahmoud.
We sailed to Banana Island where 'Mr Lovely' has his 'antique emporium' full of 'lovely items at Asda price!' It's still there - in fact, our flat looks over Banana Island - I have a real soft spot for Banana Island now - you can't visit Luxor without a visit to Mr Lovely's 'antique emporium' - it just wouldn't be right! We had a great trip and when we got back we paid and gave a tip, which seemed to embarrass Naggar who insisted that we had agreed 'fixed price' and insisted on giving us our tip back. We wouldn't have it - and he suddenly said "I like you! You must come and eat with me and my family tonight!"
Now, we're obviously Westerners and this sort of thing just doesn't happen in our culture. We take ages to get to know someone before we invite them round to our house - and even then I think twice about some folks, he he he! But we really liked Naggar and Mahmoud and we really wanted to experience the 'real' Egypt so we nervously accepted.
And so began a lifelong friendship - Mahmoud and his family are the friends who live on the ground floor below our flat and Naggar (who is now a very successful business man) always runs us around everywhere whenever we're here - he gets quite upset with us if he ever finds out that we have walked anywhere or if we got a taxi.
I love visiting Egypt. Because the culture is so different it's a place in which I can really switch off and truly relax. In fact, I think I experience a little of a dogs concept on life when I'm here! What I mean by that is - this is one of the few places where I will never think about the things that I've done and I will never think about the things that I have yet to do. When I'm here I find it easy to simply 'live in the moment'. And do you know what? It's nice - it's worry free and I like it. Our dogs can teach us a thing or two eh?!!
Friendship here is a serious business and it can take a little while to get your head around it. Most Western friendships require little in the form of responsibilities back to the other person - a friend is simply somebody whose company you enjoy. Being a friend is very different in Egypt and there are very few grey areas - people are either strangers or friends. If you are a stranger you can expect hospitality, but that is all. Once you are a friend you acquire a complicated web of rights and responsibilities. Friendship out here requires a lot of energy and constant nurturing.
For example, us Westerners seem to hate asking others for favours. Out here, Egyptian friends expect to be able to ask favours of you and expect you to ask favours of them in return. Initially, if you are unused to this state of affairs, you can end up feeling a little used or 'put upon'. But you have to realise that this is the intensity of an Egyptian friend and if you were not considered a friend you would not be asked in the first place.
It can lead to confusion though. As an example - back home if I observe that I like something that someone has I'm simply making a statement. Out here I have learnt - through embarrassing first hand experience - that if I say I like something they will always try to give that something to me!
Visiting friends and relatives is the basis of Egyptian life. Rather than 'going somewhere' or 'doing something' as is a Western custom Egyptians relish getting together for the sake of being together. Once you are together then that is it. To a Westerner who is used to 'action-oriented' socialising then being in some one's house for an afternoon or evening to do absolutely nothing other than sit around and talk can seem a little unsettling. Especially when you consider that visits are expected to last several hours - anything under 2 hours is considered rude.
However, it really is a great way to 're-discover' yourself and learn how to appreciate people without constant distractions. One of the reasons that I look forward to visiting Egypt is because I know I will enjoy genuine 'quality time' with my husband in the company of my friends. We have spent many fun evenings in Mahmoud's house, playing with the children, talking about the day with me being shown how to cook by Tiba, Mahmoud's wife. (I still can't cook though - she thinks it's hilarious that I've got to my age without being able to cook properly!)
One thing that will always strike you about Egypt is the noise - it is such a LOUD country! The language is loud and people shout and gesticulate wildly - when I first came here I initially thought that everyone was arguing! Privacy is a little known concept - people expect you to share your thoughts with everyone and everyone likes to join in with your conversation. In fact, in most Western societies 'personal space' when speaking with someone means keeping roughly 18-20 inches away from them. In Egypt the norm is a distance of 10 - 12 inches and I admit it does take a bit of getting used to.
The other noises in Egypt are the sounds of the animals - donkeys, geese, sheep, cows - they all mingle with the call to prayer which sounds from the many, many minarets five times a day. In between all this is the music - Egyptians seem to have a need for music at all times, it sounds in all their shops, all their coffee shops and drifts out of almost every home.
And then there's the traffic noise - horns seem to honk incessantly day and night. Horns communicate a drivers intentions to other drivers and pedestrians. One honk means 'I'm here!' or 'thanks!' if passing another vehicle. Two honks mean 'I am passing you!' Three honks means 'I'm driving fast - watch out!' It seems to work - just as well really, as lanes or any rules of the road seem to be pretty non-existent here. In fact, people drive with their lights off at night, seemingly going as fast as they can - yikes! We've asked a few people why they do this. The most common explanation is that they feel that lights would bother the driver in front or that it would run their battery down causing the car to break down. Naggar now puts his lights on if he drives us around at night as he knows how freaked out we get otherwise!!
I love the food in Egypt which is probably just as well as food definitely forms part of the Egyptian expression of hospitality and generosity. Stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, fresh Nile perch, sea bass (Bruce would love it here!!) falaffel, sun-ripened fruit, freshly baked bread - I often feel like I'm tasting food for the very first time when I come here it is just SO good I can't stop eating it! (My husband - and our bathroom scales - will testify to that!!) Luckily for me, being a good guest in Egypt requires you to show your appreciate of the food offered to you. How? By eating it!! In fact, if you refuse seconds - or thirds - you can seriously insult your guests. I always like to be as polite as I possibly can so do my very best to eat as much as is humanly possible. JD and Max are gonna have a whole lot more human to snuggle up into when I got back home....sigh!
Well - that's me done for now. The blog will be going back over to the domain of the boys again when I get back home and normal service will resume once more.
I'd like to say thanks again to everyone who has entered the 'bootie-licious' competition so far - I can't wait to show the entries, they're great! If you haven't got your entry in yet please do so by 23rd November - it's going to be fun!