Friday, June 20, 2008


You make the final preparations for your departure from Aswan. As you are shoving your belongings neatly into your back-pack, the receptionist peeks his head in the door.

Um, Sara. When you finish with that, I want to talk to you.”
“Okay. What about?”
“When you finish.”

The receptionist no longer has the ability to inspire negative emotion from you. You are ready to leave and never see his pudgy-ugly little face again. Ten minutes later, however, he comes back to your room. In his sun-stained hands he holds a steaming hot glass of traditional Egyptian tea and a cup of sugar with a spoon. He pathetically attempts to convey a puppy-dog face of apology, silently offers the cup of tea and sugar, and walks away.

“That’s weird,” you think.

It is not usual for anyone to give tea unless asked for- especially if not on good terms. You wonder what he is up to. You wonder if he put something in the tea to make you sick. You look in it, swirl it, smell it, and set in on the shelf. You finish loading your bags, pour the tea down the sink, and make your way downstairs to check out.

“Oh, you’re leaving?”
“Yeah. So what did you want to talk about?”
“I wanted to tell you I was so angry with you for going somewhere else for your felucca. Why you didn’t ask me?”
Smirking, you reply, “It doesn’t matter. I’m leaving. Halos, it’s finished. I got my own felucca. Goodbye.” Your pulse is racing. You begin to walk toward the door, but you pause, face him, and say, “And maybe next time you shouldn’t lie!” You walk out.

Back at the hotel where you made your felucca arrangements, someone arrives to lead you to your felucca which is a small sailboat. Boards across the center of it create a seating/laying area when covered with mattresses and sheets. There are two small cubby-hole sections at the front. One is for stepping into the boat as well as an under-board access. Your bags are stored underneath the boards. The only way to get to them is to crawl underneath. The other section, on the opposite side, is the kitchen area. It consists of a giant Bunsen burner covered by a rack to form a stove. This is where your next 6 meals will be cooked. Already aboard are two of your boatmates: Ale, a.k.a. Mudfoot, from Argentina and Tom, a.k.a. Mr. Lippy, from Australia.

You sit with Tom and Ale for about 2 hours talking about the experiences all of you have been having in Aswan, how many people are trying to rip each of you off, and what kind of sexual harassment has been faced. After a while, you all begin to wonder if the boat is ever going to leave the dock. Eventually, two more Australians arrive. They are Ana and Rob. The five of you have boarded and you set sail.

The next day-and-a-half are intentionally uneventful. The five of you get to know each other, relax, play Yahtzee and enjoy the pleasant breeze. There are a few tipping scares after some unexpected gusts of wind, enjoyable meals, sun block, and music. A teenage boy rows past on a boat made of empty water bottles in a plastic bag. Some Egyptian monkeys try to follow Ana and Ale to watch as they search for a bush to pee. Cruise ships dominate the water, providing a constant rocky sleep. By the last morning, Ale and Ana have weak stomachs.

Finally it is time to exit your loyal boat, “The Nile Dancer”, and pile into a covered truck. The covered truck will take you to your next destination: the Temple of Kom Ombo.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


You are stuck in the past. You don’t even exist in the same country anymore, but you are determined to continue with your story. You remind others that the following events occurred just under two months ago…

The next day, in Aswan, you settle your felucca situation. Following new directions, you find yourself in the lobby of a hotel, close to the original one you visited. It is dimly lit, poorly decorated, and furnished with a small seating area and television. Soon, you are introduced to “Jack” and make arrangements for a three-day, two-night tour. “Jack” asks you for a favor. You are skeptical, at first, but realize you can always decline later. “Jack” wants you to help him on the computer. He says that his English skills are intermediate when it comes to speaking and listening, but reading and writing are much more challenging. He has received an e-mail from a client who also speaks English as a second language and uses awkward structure. You are happy to help- after all this has become your specialty.

After translating and responding to a couple different e-mails, “Jack” is so thankful that he treats you to an Egyptian-style dinner at local prices. It is nice to have a meal here other than pizza or eggs, cheese and bread.

“What will you do now?”
“Oh, I’m going back to my hotel. I don’t like being out at night, here.”

You want sex? I need fuck you.

You make arrangements to meet with “Jack” the next day to complete the deal- meaning give him the money. The next day you wake up early. Today you plan to visit the Nubian Museum and Elephantine Island.

The Nubian Museum is about half an hour walk from your hotel. The only way you know how to get there, without getting lost, is to walk the Corniche along the Nile River.

“You want felucca?”
“No, thank you.”
“Good price. You know how much?”

The Nubian Museum unfolds the story of Nubian history and culture from over 6,500 years ago to present day. It contains impressive artifacts, stunning jewelry, portrayals of ancient and modern Nubian life as well as detailed displays of the construction of the Aswan Dam. Even though you decided against visiting the Aswan Dam, you find this display particularly interesting. The construction of the Dam was an attempt to control the flow and irrigation of the Nile’s water. As predicted, the restriction allowed for more crops to be produced each year. Unfortunately, it also had an adverse affect. The water table rose so dramatically that it began submerging some of Aswan’s most treasured monuments. Ironically, the construction of the dam brought wealth to the country by yielding rich and plentiful harvests each year, but at the same time the country would be losing millions of dollars from the resulting detriment to its tourist industry. Something had to be done.

A huge Unesco project involving many corporations, countries, and millions of dollars was put into effect. It involved the deconstruction and reconstruction of the monuments mentioned in a previous post. The result of this project is the monuments as we see them today.

“I still think it would have been better as an underwater dive tour.”
“Yeah, but then they wouldn’t make as much money.”

You decide that your most pleasant memory of the day is being approached by four young Egyptian girls inside the museum. The oldest is 12 and the youngest, 6 or 7 years old. They surround you, asking questions like, “where are you from?”, “what’s your name?”, “how old are you?” The rest you can’t understand. You gather by the intonation of a mother figure in the distance that she is telling them to stop bothering you. They walk away smiling and waving. About ten minutes later, they come back. The oldest offers you a pen and tells you to take it. You accept. They ask if you have a mobile. You laugh and tell them your phone number. They never call you- or if they did, you didn’t answer.

After the museum, you take the ferry over to Elephantine Island. The significance of Elephantine Island is that it was once the main source for trade of ivory and granite. It was also a renowned center for worshipping the Ancient Egyptian gods of Khnum, the creator of humankind and controller of the Nile’s water level, his wife Satis, and their daughter Anukis. The ticketed site on this island is the location of the ruins from their religious edifices. Here, there are some reconstructed temples, including one built by Queen Hatchepsut in honor of Satis, the ruins of a residential colony, and a cemetery for sacred rams. The rest of the island is filled with scattered Nubian homes made of mud-bricks, thatched roofs, and wooden doors with padlocks. Modern Elephantine families live here. It is open for people to walk around, but you feel a little awkward walking through the perimeters of their homes. You thoroughly wander about the island, however, as you get a bit lost trying to find the location of the ruins. After a few hours, you return to the mainland for the evening.

You make the final arrangements with “Jack” for your felucca trip, departing the next morning- the next leg of your journey.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


You are still in Aswan. You have been here for two days, but you already feel you should leave or switch hotels. Shortly after you wake up, you are greeted by waves of cool air. One of your Japanese roommates paid extra to have air-conditioning for one day. You decide to stay inside today- at least until it cools down outside. After that, your task is to locate the recommended captain of a felucca boat.

A felucca trip is an essential experience if traveling in Egypt. The felucca itself is a small sail boat. One can take it on a one-hour trip around Elephantine Island or Philae, or down-river from Aswan to Kom Ombo on a two-day cruise. The latter is the trip for which you are searching, but you must first find the hotel.

You are unable to locate the hotel with the suggested captain, so you decide to ask another hotel nearby if they know him. They say yes but he is not in business anymore, and they would be more than happy to offer you the felucca package available from their hotel. You decline after the quoted price is more than the one from your own hotel. So you decide to return and inquire from there.

Back in your hotel, you foolishly make it known that you sought help from another place. Suddenly, the receptionist, who was so nice to you in the beginning, has turned sour. Nevertheless, he says he will look into a felucca trip for you. You retire back to your room for some air-con relaxation, only to discover that the electricity doesn’t work- again. You spend a few hours watching a movie in the lounge area outside of your room. Later, you are approached by your two Japanese roommates and engage in a conversation which results in the decision to go out for pizza. Upon returning to the hotel, the light still does not work. The three of you ask the receptionist to fix it.

The receptionist waddles up the stairs,
“Oh, by the way, Sara, I checked for you about the felucca trip.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. They are all full.”
I see.

Apparently, your welcoming receptionist feels you have betrayed him. He has turned against you. You no longer feel you can ask him for or about anything. Suddenly you feel extremely uncomfortable here. You decide not to take a felucca. You also feel you should switch hotels. You start looking into other options, but none sound promising.

In the meantime, you still have some sight-seeing to do here, so the next morning, you wake up, pack a day-bag, and cross to the West Bank, via public ferry, to visit the Tombs of the Nobles. Here there are tombs of revered men from ancient Elephantine. Surprisingly, there are few visitors today. You are able to roam around relatively hassle-free. There are six tombs which have been preserved and labeled, but there are numerous other nooks and crannies available to explore- so, you do.

If someone had taken the time, thought, and dedication to properly preserve and excavate these tombs, the West Bank could be a series of easily-navigable, vast, underground channels, which could take years to fully search through. In reality, however, the only dedication made has been marked in the sand by human-produced liquid and the only time taken has been that to fill the emptied tombs with layers of rubbish. You carefully choose the ones you enter. You find piles of bones, bats and their droppings, trash, and creepy, dark spaces. One tomb that you enter stretches further than your flashlight can see. Inside, a cold feeling crawls over your skin. It says you should leave. Physically, you could have gone further, but you get scared about what you might find- or what might find you.

The last sections you visit are joined tombs of a father and son, each with a long flight of stairs leading up to the entrance. Instead of returning the same way you came, passing by key-jingling guards, you decide to descend one set of these stairs. You do not believe anyone uses these steps today, as they have deteriorated over time, but you imagine that someone devotedly walked up and down them, every day, in order to visit a loved one. Your visit ends with a peaceful stroll along the bank of the Nile. A cool breeze sweeps the surface and accompanies your slow ride back to the East Bank.

Upon returning from your four-hour excursion on the other side, you drink some fresh fruit juice, take a nap and a shower, and find some food. You come back to your room, and the light does not work. This time the receptionist’s solution is for you to switch to a room with a working light. For this room, there is one lock with two keys. After you have set up your new space, you receive a phone call convincing you to take a felucca trip- no matter what. You are given new information about the location of the hotel you could not find. You plan to stay here until you achieve this goal.

Later on, you go out for another pizza with your roommate. You each take a key, and when you return,

“Sara! Why did you take the other key? This man has been sleeping on this couch for an hour! Do you think that is fair?”
“Maybe you should make another key.”

Need a plan. Need a change. Need to leave. Need escape.

Need to be continued...