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Traveling to Egypt: Aswan – Day 4 (2021-01-24)

All through the night, there was a cacophony of train car noises whether it was conversations, loud phone calls, robust snoring, passengers boarding or disembarking, doors opening and then slamming, apologies, attendants selling food, trains honking, trains brakes entering the station, the Islamic call to prayer, ….  Of course, I didn’t notice any of this – not!  I tried headphones, and then earplugs, different headphones, questioning my sanity in not looking harder for my own cabin, etc.  In the end, while it wasn’t peaceful, I did get some sleep and woke up in time to watch the sunrise as the train trundled on and on.  Considering we paid $12/person for this night’s accommodation, which relocated us 550 miles south while we sort of slept, it wasn’t too bad.  I would do it again actually. In case anyone asks, I was masked up (really – this is how I looked for most of the trip).

Riding the train from Cairo to Aswan

We arrived in Aswan just before noon and disembarked.  Repeatedly declining assistance and a driver, we walked a mile or so to the KFC that identified the ferry boat to carry us across to Elephant Island in the middle of the Nile.  Once across, we then walked back downriver to the Nubian guest house to drop off our bags and greet our host. 

Our Nubian host in Aswan (although beautiful face hidden to protect her identity)

Our host was a wonderful woman of about 65 years.  She was short in stature but full of spunk and vigor in her manor. She greeted us in a traditional black hijab and spoke broken but quite adequate English. That evening we sat overlooking the Nile and talked with here about here life.  She married a Nubian man from a much poorer Nubian village. Her mother didn’t approve of the marriage, but her dad didn’t think he had much choice, so he went along with it.  Unfortunately, the marriage was abusive, and she separated after having a son.  After some time, the community persuaded them to give marriage a second try but while pregnant with her second child, the abuse continued, and she return to her parent’s home, never to marry again. While she didn’t say anything explicitly, I imagine it was incredibly brave especially given the Islamic stigma regarding divorce and a woman’s place – in the 1970’s none the less. On a different topic, she also talked about how she likes the current government as they provide safety rather than the threat of war, even at the expense of freedom and democracy.  I suspect the view is relatively common among those 60 and older.

In the afternoon, our host setup a driver to take us to the Aswan High and Low dams, the Unfinished Obelisk, and the (relocated) Temple of Philae. The Obelisk was unfinished because it cracked down the middle before it was even extracted. I say relocated in regards to the Temple of Philae because it would have been buried when building the Aswan High Dam but the UNICEF relocated it to another before the dam was complete.

At the Obelisk we were ushered in to watch a free 15-minute National Geographic movie and then promptly asked for tips.  As we walked around the Obelisk, the security guard proceeded to demonstrate to us what we already knew from the movie and then he too cajoled us for money – and then money for his friend.  It’s non-stop.  You can’t even go to the bathroom without someone asking for money or, at a minimum, to buy a few squares of toilet paper – even if you are a guy and just went pee.

The temple required a boat ride and I confess that I was exhausted when they started haggling with us so we paid too much but oh well.  I don’t actually mind paying, even slightly more, but I have no clue how much a boat ride is worth here.  And asking me how long I am going to be at a temple whose name I can’t even correctly pronounce, doesn’t help.  Furthermore, preventing me from going on the same boat as some Egyptians when we are going to the same place, now that’s just silly.

Similarly, I shouldn’t have to pay when I don’t actually want your help.  Ask me if you must, but if I decline, leave me to get lost on my own, laugh at me if you like, but wait until I come back with my tail between my legs rather than constantly hound me or walk in front of me as though you are leading me to where I was already going.

Of course, there is the alternate perspective that tourism is all but absent here and they are desperate for some income.  What’s another $3.34 USD to me (a €50 EGP note). If you were trying to feed your family and the economy collapsed, wouldn’t you be doing the same when presented with no other options? But, still, when they provide a service you want – sure, but not when they just annoy you and want you to pay them for it. And so the internal battle rages over and over again while you are out and about.

We finished up our tour and headed back to the ferry, crossed back to Elephant Island and had a fantastic Nubian meal cooked by our host.  It was a great way to end the day.  After dinner looking over the Nile, we hung out with a couple (progressive?) Egyptian women who had hooked up with an American man that was holding out in Egypt as a cheaper option until post COVID-19 in the United States. His manner was a little off, but we tolerated him. In contrast, we had great discussions with the Egyptian women about whether it was possible to enter Jordan, or take a ferry across the Red Sea to the Sanai Peninsula.  Our host, however, didn’t agree, and took me aside to warn me that these women were lacking discretion, free loading and possibly engaging in less than proper Islamic behavior.

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