Journal: Thursday 17 July 1997
On this trip we all seem to have made so many friends and met lots of new people. Egyptians are always so generous, they insist on you eating at their houses and meeting their extended families. It was difficult to keep refusing and making excuses, which seemed rude, so today Robin and I went over to the West Bank for lunch with an Egyptian family who had invited us several times. The Sayed family had four sons and two daughters of varying ages and we all had a lovely lunch together before being shown over their house.
The narrow house, typical of many on the West Bank, was divided into three stories with an impressive double metal door opening into a wide hallway. To the right was a reception room for guests, where lunch was served on a large central table with wooden benches down each side. The hallway led into a large kitchen or family room behind, which doubled as a bedroom for some of the children, with a cooking area beyond that – the domain of the women. Upstairs was an apartment for the eldest son, with another opposite and two more on the floor above, still in the early stages of construction. Mr Sayed explained that new floors were added to Egyptian houses as the sons became adults, and they would eventually live in these separate apartments with their own families. It all took time and building work was done whenever money became available. This is the reason why many Egyptian houses look unfinished, with iron girders sticking out above the roof level, always ready to have another floor built. I think that the maximum number of stories allowed is five. Each separate apartment had a lounge, bedroom, kitchen and shower-room behind its own front door. The interior floors were beautifully tiled throughout with large ceramic tiles, the cool floor-covering favoured by Egyptian families. We went up onto the roof, where we could see right down to the river and across to Luxor in the distance. To my surprise there were chickens kept up here too.
Later in the day we took up another invitation, this time from Ali, one of our taxi drivers. All five of us crossed the river on the old passenger ferry to Geziret and were met by Ali with his taxi. He had wanted to show us a special place before dinner but wouldn’t tell us where, so we were intrigued as we drove up the road towards the monument area, turning right and then left into a wadi near Deir el-Medina. This, he told us, was called Gebel el-Alwan, the Valley of Colours. We walked up a narrow footpath in the valley bottom and there really were rocks and boulders of many different colours. Some of them had been broken open and we could see the powdery pigment colours of reds, browns and ochres which were used in ancient times to create the colourful tomb paintings. The path was also strewn with pieces of pottery and flints. I picked up a large flint and turned it over to look at the worked edge. It was much bigger than anything I’d seen at home and the napped edge was still quite sharp. I could feel the smoothed surface fit into my hand as it must have done thousands of years ago when some ancient worker used the tool. It was a fascinating walk.
Ali had arranged a meal for us all at the Cafeteria Mohammed, a tiny local restaurant near Medinet Habu. We walked through a little garden, washed our hands under a tap and into a room which seemed more like someone’s house than a restaurant. We seemed to be the only people eating here tonight. Ali ordered dish after dish of amazing Egyptian food – far more than six of us could do justice to and he insisted we try a little of every dish. It is always a bit of a problem explaining that I am a vegetarian in Egypt, as so many dishes are based on meat or chicken, but there are always just as many vegetable and rice dishes to sample and a huge pile of baladi (local) flat bread. It was all delicious. Ali wouldn’t let us pay for anything as he said we were his guests and he probably spent more than he’d earned from our taxi rides. We would have to think of another way to make it up to him!