Journal: Thursday 21 November 1996
At the end of our felucca trip, Abdu invited myself, Robin and Lucy to visit his home in the West Bank village of Esba. We were keen to see more of ‘the real Egypt’. The felucca pulled up against the riverbank and we all climbed down the precarious wooden plank onto the shore, a reedy muddy patch of ground leading to a dirt track across the fields. Esba was about a mile from the river and as we followed our guide Abdu between the green rows of crops and irrigation ditches, we hoped we would not be abandoned here as we had no idea of where we were.
Eventually arriving at the village we saw a picture-book image of the sort of place you imagine in bible stories, small flat-roofed mud brick houses in narrow, winding streets, barefoot children rushing to meet us, yelling in delight while narrowly avoiding donkeys loaded with fodder and tradesmen with hand carts selling unrecognisable items. Women in colourful galabeyas stood in the shadows of doorways watching us curiously, shouting at their children to stay close, they obviously didn’t get many foreigners here. As Abdu invited us into his house to meet his mother, chickens in the courtyard clucked and scattered and I could smell the wonderful aroma of newly baked bread. Abdu appeared to have many brothers and sisters and we must have been introduced to half a dozen of the elder siblings, while the little ones followed us everywhere with their eyes. We were invited inside the house, into a reception room with a hard-packed dirt floor. There was little furniture except for two wooden benches with long flowered cushions and a small table where a tray of tea magically appeared. Egyptian tea is served in small glasses and is very strong and very sweet as sugar is usually added in the brewing stage. Abdu had told us that most of his village worked on the land, a farming community where money and luxuries were apparently scarce. Hospitality however was not scarce and we were made to feel very welcome. Abdu spoke good English as he had worked for many years with tourists on his felucca and we had a translated conversation with his mother who was very sweet. She kept disappearing into a back room and coming out with photographs and small precious objects which she would proudly show us. We didn’t want to intrude for too long so we made a small donation for the tea and hospitality and said our goodbyes to Abdu’s family.
Next we were taken to visit the local school. Lucy is a teacher and she was eager to see an Egyptian school. Again we were greeted very warmly by the principle and taken into a classroom, shown the blackboard and books and encouraged to have simple conversations with the children so that they could show off their skills in English. They were all extremely polite and well behaved and the whole experience was very enjoyable. Between us we managed to collect up a bundle of pens to leave at the school for the children and we left as the school day finished, the children pouring out on their way home. We had also bought a box of sweets to hand out to them, but found this task a bit daunting, so Abdu did it for us. It was a like feeding the wild animals, but great fun as they all shouted and laughed with us.
Esba was obviously a very poor community and the villagers had little in the way of modern amenities, but I will never forget the generosity and welcome shown to three strangers, foreign women, who to the people there, must have seemed very wealthy.