While we remain in Mut today, it is in fact our last night here (though we have been here for over 10 days now), and we will head to another oasis, Al-Kharga, tomorrow (as in Sunday). We are going to visit our new friend Muhammad Yousef, who we met here in Dakkhla (he’s been best friends since childhood with our hotel owner’s son, and its proprietor, Sameh Anwar), and whom we spent many enjoyable nights with. He left this morning to go to work, he is a law professor there, but it is on our way to Luxor, so we will spend about 48 hours with him in Al-Kharga before returning to the undesirable “land of the tourists.” Though we technically are tourists ourselves obviously, it has been very nice to be seen as just friends here in Dakkhla (where people refuse our offers of money for taxi rides/donkey cart rides instead of demanding baksheesh constantly), and we are not that excited to head to Luxor and have to put up with everyone’s false friendships/kindness as they simply hope for our money. The trade-off of course is that the “touristy” places are where the big archeological sites are, and we do want to see them, it just often feels like it is at a very high price. So after our final days of relaxation in Al-Kharga (and hopefully some football with Muhammad and his friends Monday night), we are going to try and dash through Luxor and Aswan (and maybe Abu Simbel), before taking a peaceful felucca ride back up the Nile. Then we’ll be off to Dahab, on the Sinai Peninsula, for a few days of snorkeling, before dashing back to Cairo to catch our November 10 airplane to India.
As for what we have been doing, generally we have been simply relaxing, but our day-to-day affairs are of course far more exciting than that. Today we finally got to ride on a donkey-cart, something we had been dreaming of since we first saw one. The donkeys here are super-cute, we want to get one when we return to America, and we encourage you to do the same… then you can be transported via ass power! Before that we were at the Anwar family’s second (and much nicer/newer) hotel, the Bedouin Village Oasis, taking photos for them as a favor for a new brochure they want to design. Frankly, our camera is assuredly the best in town, so taking a few pictures was an easy favor to reciprocate their continual kindness. We also got to see the eldest Anwar son Mohammad’s house, which is attached to the hotel, and it is simply beautiful.
Today the town returned to “normal,” since Ramadan ended 4 days ago, which was then followed by 3 days of partying and feasting, and then yesterday was a weekend (Friday and Saturday here, so Sunday = the new Monday), but apparently Saturday is busier than Friday, since Friday is the Muslim holy day, with virtually everyone going to the mosque for the noon-time service. That means that the Anwar’s restaurant (adjacent to our hotel) reopened for business, so for lunch today we had fire-grilled chicken, rice, stewed vegetables, fresh cucumber and tomatoes, plus hot tea for lunch – which was all amazing! The chef, Mr. Mahmoud, does most of the cooking, though our friend Sameh helps a lot as well (and is also a great cook). And tonight for dinner we will finally get to try some of the local falafel, which has not been available until now, much to our chagrin.
Last night we had a pretty interesting time, since first our dear friend Sameh had his first episode (ever, apparently) with a self-induced upset-stomach, since he had neglected to eat dinner before battling with the mighty local brew, Sakara 10%, which is a worthy opponent of any imbiber, and clearly bested poor Sameh, out of practice after the month-long abstinence of Ramadan. That alone would have been exciting, but that all happened right before we headed to a neighboring village, with Muhammad (or M-$ as we call him) at the wheel, and Sameh ill in the back seat, to attend a friend’s wedding… well, that is what we were told, though later it came out that it was an engagement party, but either way when we arrived not only was the music pounding, but dozens of children literally mobbed us (like we were celebrities). It was quite crazy, as men were pushing children away from us, our arrival was announced by the MC, and everyone stared at us the entire time. Liz wisely refused to dance, as the men were somewhat in a frenzy all trying to out-dance each other, plus her sage logic that she shouldn’t be dancing if none of the Muslim women were allowed to proved reasonable enough to the men pressuring her to dance. That, and Anderson, Sameh, & Muhammad all formed an effective barracade between her and the omnipresent swarm of children. We met the bride-to-be, who wore an immaculately detailed beautiful turquoise dress, and the groom, Sameh’s friend, who was in a stylish modern suit, though with the language barrier who knows if they understood us, but at least our intentions were clear if nothing else was. Anderson then was pulled into the dancing frey, and after briefly dancing with Sameh and some other men, the MC announced that this song was “for the American” – in Arabic of course… which meant that Anderson got to dance by himself in front of everyone at the wedding. Fortunately it was a drum-n-bass song, and his days of rave-dancing aren’t that far in the past, so Anderson evidently held is own well enough, since after that he was escorted to dance with a girl from the village to an Arabic song, which was rather hilarious since all the men formed a dancing ring around to keep the crowd from pressing in on them! Pretty crazy, a definite whirlwind, and then within two minutes we hastily departed, cutting through the crowd back to our car, with the herds of children pursuing us. It really felt like the papparazzi, 3rd-world style!
Later in the night the groom-to-be came to the Anwar Hotel for a more relaxed conversation with Sameh, which was funny in its own right since he had passed out, and also since he arrived with several of his lawyer friends, who were eager to show off their material possessions (like a BMW) to we Americans. Funny, funny, funny, but good times as always!
We spent another day (during the 3-day post-Ramadan Eid feast) with Sameh’s mother’s family, which included Sameh’s 3 sisters, their husbands, and a bunch of their children, as well as his grandmother who is absolutely hilarious even though neither of us understand what the other says at all. She is in her 90s, lacking many teeth, but still very spry for an old lady and, like all the Anwars, extremely kind to us. We all took a day trip to their garden, which in reality is a field, but it is filled with many crops nonetheless, so in addition to the prepared feast that they brought with them (bread, 3 types of cheese, beef dip, fresh cut vegetables, etc.), we also got to eat fresh-picked dates, oranges (they are green, not orange), peanuts, and sugar cane. Everything was delicious, and could not have been fresher, something the average American supermarket experience is sorely lacking. We also had tea, with water boiled over make-shift fires started from dry palm leaves, and then played some football in the dirt, and chatted a bunch in the limited sense that we can, though several of the men spoke reasonable English, and one of Sameh’s nieces does as well, so Liz (but not Anderson at all) spoke with her a bit, too. Gender segregation is a predominant fact of Egyptian life, engrained in the culture primarily due to Islamic law, but also supported by the patriarchal society at large. Particularly in the rural areas, most women have no chance of going to a university, and spend most of their lives shut-in at home working on domestic chores. Not that women don’t have social lives, but it often restricted within their extended families, and behind “closed doors” in many ways. So while the men lounge on streetcorners smoking sheeshas (tobacco from a hookah) and drinking shai (tea, sugar-laden usually), the women are effectively prohibited from a cultural standpoint from participating in either activity, which means that Liz is always the only female present when we are out and about. All this really means that Egypt and India are far more similar than we ever could have imagined, except for the difference in religion (Islam vs. Hinduism), so the initial shock that everyone warns about when you go to India will hopefully be significantly lessened for us (we hope!).
Well, more to come on our time in Mut, soon, we promise, but for now its off to the land of falafels since our bellies are rumbling!