Tour Groups run you around what’s touristy. They do not go out of their way to help you get photos of, let alone become familiar with, the everyday, work-a-day Egyptian, who is none too familiar himself. But Egypt is not essentially the modern skyline and nightlife of Cairo or even the temples, tombs and monuments in and around Aswan and Luxor. Today’s work-a-day Egyptian descends from centuries of obscure people who tried and often failed to make a living along the Nile, who believed in the religious myths they created and the gods they worshiped in the temples, who obeyed the pharaohs and have stood bemused by visitors to their culture at least since Greek and Roman times. The temples remain the powerhouse of the divine which governed even the pharaohs and these people look at you as if to say, “so what’s so fascinating anyway”? These are the essential Egypt.
So here are the few I was blessed to get a photo of.
Egypt, like other Middle Eastern Countries, is full of bazaars. The bazaar is one of the few places a tourist can mix it up with the people of the country instead of those, almost all Westerners and many Americans, with you on the trip. Also you can negotiate prices but the sellers are wily so that you can walk away thinking you have gotten an article cheap and have actually paid more for it than it’s worth. The sellers are generally poor, though, so what you paid, even if too much, is in a larger sense worth it.
When these shots were taken we were on board our ship, The Queen of Hansa, and on our way to Luxor (named Thebes by the ancient Greeks), and the Egyptian Temples there, including the Valley of the Kings and The Valley of the Queens.
Our tour package included a ship for cruising the Nile named the Queen of Hansa. It provided a comfortable way, as you can see, for heading from the area of Aswan, Lake Nasser and the Egyptian Temples on the Island of Philae to the Temple at Luxor, about which more later.
Huge numbers of these sailboats, called Feluccas, cruise the Nile. You can charter one for more than a day but usually have to bring your own blanket and food.
Near the spot where the northern tip of Lake Nasser, a reservoir, intersects with the southern tip of the River Nile is The Island of Philae, famous since the 4th century BCE as the center of the cults of the Egyptian gods, Isis and Osiris. The mid-twentieth century construction of Lake Nasser submerged Philae for at least half of the year, and when it became clear that the Aswan High Dam would submerge the island’s magnificent temples forever, the Egyptian government, in connection with UNESCO, relocated them to to the nearby Aglika Island–still called, nevertheless, Philae. Thus the temples, which would otherwise have been lost to modern tourists, remain accessible to them. Access to Philae is by motorboat, a fleet of them visible in the first photo below. Egypt is full of smokers, and you can see one of these gentlemen in the second photo below.
The Egyptian cult of the goddess Isis extended across the Mediterranean during the Ptolemaic period, which lasted from 323 BCE to the death of Cleopatra in 30 BCE, and continued long after that. The sister of Osiris, Isis was an enchantress who briefly revived the dead Osiris and conceived a son by him named Horus, with whom the pharaohs identified themselves in opposition to the evil Seth. Isis was credited with instituting marriage and stood for the established order of things. She became the divine mother not just of Horus but of all the gods and the patron especially of women. The worship of Isis as a nurturing mother rivaled the devotion to the Virgin Mary in the early centuries of Christianity.
The hotel shown in my earlier post was close to the Cairo airport, so it was relatively easy for our tour to catch a flight to Aswan, which sits at the base of the Nile River at Egypt’s southernmost tip. The first photo is of me at the Aswan Dam, an enormous piece of construction work undertaken by Egypt’s President in the 1950’s, Gamal Abdel Nasser. The so-called High Dam has succeeded in managing flooding, improving irrigation, providing hydroelectric power and in all these ways contributing to the economy of Egypt, Unfortunately, it also came close to extinguishing the ancient Nubian population around Aswan–farmers, mostly, who suddenly found themselves in an alien technocratic society. The huge man made reservoir resulting from the construction of the High Dam is called Lake Nasser.
The second photo is an instructive map of the African states to the south of Aswan, including, if you look closely, Sudan (a protector of the Nubians), Ethiopia, the Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
The third photo shows you the Nasser Memorial (in the distance in photo 1) closer up. The tendency of Middle Eastern countries to play East against West and vice versa (as in Turkey’s current purchase of jets from Russia) was also evident back in the Cold War era when both the United States and Russia were interested in supporting Egypt’s construction of the Aswan Dam and Nasser looked to Russia to fill the necessary monetary gap. This stunning memorial to Soviet-Egyptian cooperation stands as a reminder of that period when, by the way, I was still in high school.
Finally there is this photo of a stern fellow I know nothing whatever about. I call him my “Egyptian buddy.”