Qabawi is a small village a few kilometres west of the Nile within sight of the entrance to the Valley of the Kings. Several years ago, the government began a campaign to move all the people living in the small hamlets that have existed beside, and in some cases, on top of the archeological sites. The governor has a master plan to create the world’s largest open-air museum, but this has had a mixed reaction from the archeologists and the public.
When Ashraf Khodary decided to build the small hotel that was to become the Desert Paradise Lodge, he had no idea that he would soon be surrounded by large tracts of characterless one-story concrete two-bedroom homes, lit by street lighting that would turn the night into day. Qabawi is being morphed from a sleepy little corner of the West Bank into a sprawling suburb, with little or no work or public transportation for the relocated residents.
After a long day visiting Abydos and Denderah to the north of Luxor, and an even longer two-day journey to the south to see Abu Simbel ahead of us, we decided to take a day off and relax around the hotel for the day. After a leisurely breakfast in the sunny courtyard, we set off for a walk through Qabawi towards the Theban hills further west. There was a slight breeze and the sun was shining but it was cool enough that we still needed to wear a sweater, something we never expected to need during the daytime hours here in Egypt.
There wasn’t really much to see, but we walked along the broad new road with trees and flowering shrubs along both sides and on the boulevard down the centre. The previous evening, Anil had reminded me that we had been in Egypt for several days and I still hadn’t taken a photo of the national flag. A short distance along the road, we came upon what looked like a government building with a flag fluttering in the breeze overhead. I pulled out my camera and snapped a photo before I realized that I had just taken a picture of the local Police Station.
I’ve learned from travelling in other militaristic countries that it’s not a good idea to take photos of airports, bridges, military bases, and sometimes even police stations. I was all prepared to show the guard that I had only taken a photo of the flag, but there didn’t seem to be a problem as we passed the gate. Perhaps the fact that everyone here thinks that Anil is Egyptian gave me an all clear.
We carried on enjoying the warm sunshine when a group of three women with a young boy called out to us from the opposite side of the road. When we responded to their greetings, they asked us if we would come to their house for tea. One of the women spoke surprisingly good English and we were able to thank them for their invitation, but told them we had just eaten a late breakfast and needed to go for a long walk to get some exercise.
The same woman then explained that they were going to buy the bread for the day and asked us to come along with them. I was pretty sure that they weren’t planning to buy bread at the supermarket, and that they were headed to the local bakery instead. I could think of nothing better to see, and I thought it would interest Anil as well. We turned back towards the direction from which we had come, and chatted with the women as we walked.
We were able to learn a little about their lives, the number of children they each had, the ages of the children and also their names of course. They were really surprised to learn that Anil was not Egyptian and told us, as so many others had already done, that Anil has an Egyptian face. After a little more time, they also commented on the fact that he didn’t talk much at all, but instead let me carry all the conversation.
I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but we spent the next couple of hours in the company of these two married women Ulfat and Nasra and one young unmarried girl, visiting the very modern supermarket, lining up at a small window to purchase the bread and walking back to the small homes where the women live with their husbands and children. We were not uncomfortable with the relative poverty we encountered in their homes, but it was surprised to see that one of the women had a modern front-loading washing machine and an electric iron, in addition to the television in the living room.
The biggest treat of the afternoon, in addition to spending time with these friendly women, was the fact that we were invited into the bakery to see how the unleavened bread was prepared. I took several photos and even shot a short video to share with others on my travel journal. We bought the women a couple packages of chocolate biscuits to serve with the tea, but we left them for the family to enjoy, and instead, we munched on a loaf of the freshly baked bread.
If you are interested is seeing the very amateur video I shot at the bakery, please click on this link, Qabawi (Luxor) Bakery.
The women were keen for us to come in the evening for a meal, but we explained to them that we had already arranged for our dinner to be prepared at the hotel. It was great to spend the afternoon in their company, but we didn’t really want to return again after dark. We exchanged contact information, and said a long, drawn out goodbye. We promised to see them once again before we leave Luxor and when they asked when we would return to Luxor, we replied ‘Perhaps next year”.
The woman who spoke English well was quick with her reply, ‘That means about 15 days from now’. I laughed at her wit, for indeed, it’s only 15 days until the end of 2010, when we’ll be far away celebrating New Year’s Eve in Sri Lanka. I replied to her that we would love to return to Luxor “In-shallah”, and she smiled because she knew this means, maybe – ‘If God Wills’.