My steps were anxious and fast as I was leaving to book my ticket to Aswan. I arrived at the station and asked to reserve a place on the first available train. I held the ticket in my hands, unable to believe that I was finally going to be able to travel after several failed attempts over the course of 12 years, as my mother was always afraid to let me stray too far from her side.
Train ticket (photo: TNN)
I took my ticket, and smiled both in remembrance of and in homage to Nubi, may God rest his soul. I then went to work to share the news with my boss and colleagues: I would finally set off on my journey to Aswan. My overwhelming joy infectiously spread to them, and they were all convinced, despite their concerns, that I would travel, be happy, and be able to write about so many things — even more than both my colleagues and I would have ever expected.
Beloved friend Nubi from Nubia (photo: TNN)
I went straight home and packed my bags. Some light, flowy clothes to try to combat the intense heat, but also to lighten the load for all the other things I knew I had to bring with me: my camera, my laptop, some blank paper and a box of coloured pencils, so I could draw with the kids I knew I would see there. Then of course there was the second, smaller camera, so I could teach them how to take pictures themselves.
The children were very excited to get behind the camera (photo: TNN)
I said my goodbyes before leaving, and boarded the train that would take 14 hours to reach its final destination. I was not able to sleep due to my excitement, and with each passing station, sleep slipped ever further into the realm, of impossibility.
As soon as I arrived, I bent down to the ground to feel the earth in my hands. Every fibre in my body told me that I belonged in this place: mind, body and soul. I quickly went to drop off my bags in the hotel, and proceeded directly to the Nile to walk along its banks. The Nile in Aswan imposes with a grandeur as though it were alive, emanating its own spirit, taste and smell. I was reminded of the popular saying, “He who drinks from the waters of the Nile will without a doubt return one day.” The streets were quiet, certainly by Cairene standards. The people were beautiful, kind, and embodied the essence of hospitality, to a level beyond expression. For every item I purchased, the shopkeeper would gift me another from his wares, and make me promise that when I return, I’d come back to say hello.
I knew the name Aswan had originated from the Ancient Egyptian word “Sunu”, which means market, as Aswan was historically known as for trading and a major stop for merchants from all over the ancient world. The Ancient Greeks changed the name to “Seen”, the Coptic Christians then called it “Swon”, and once the Arabs entered the region, it was they who called it Aswan.
There have got to be nearly a million tales and stories from Aswan. Some of them are true stories, while some are fiction. Yet in the end, they all convey a great moral value. Aswan is the home of people from several different backgrounds including Arabs, Saidis (Upper Egyptians) and Nubians. They all live in peace and tranquility, regardless of customary and traditional differences. Even when it comes to difference in political opinions, the diverging views are held respectfully; even when going to protest, most of the time people simply carry banners expressing their opinion, politely and without confrontation.
An Aswani woman holding her hand-made crafts (photo: TNN)
Each person respects the choices of others. When I arrived, it was the first day of the most recent presidential elections. The polling stations were not too crowded, yet when Al-Sisi was declared the victor, everyone immediately went down to the streets to celebrate and listen music in “Mahata Square” (or the square near to the train station).
Four years ago, Aswan was fundamentally dependent on tourism. Its temples and vast quantity of ruins found there made for spectacular visits. Also, Nile cruises between Aswan and Luxor served as a constant source of new tourists curious to discover its splendour.
The current reality, though, is that trips going there have essentially come to a standstill, and the boats stay anchored at the port. The tourists that used to come in the past no longer venture to Aswan, as they imagine that it is not safe.
The fact is that I am a single woman, and I was there all alone and not one thing happened to me at all — far from it. You may say that there is no security and that something awful might happen to you there, but the truth is completely to the contrary. Every single person I encountered there went out of their way to help me without me even asking, and they warmly welcome any visitor, Egyptian or foreign, as a rule.
I have already said enough. I will not belabour the richness of my experience in Aswan, but rather invite you to see a few of the photos I took there. Each photo tells its own story, but the events associated with the photos will be revealed in the upcoming edition of my adventures in Upper Egypt.
Checking out some merchandise with Aswani locals (photo: TNN)
Bright colours are incorporated into every part of Aswani architecture (photo: TNN)
A group of ladies transporting goods on their row boat (photo: TNN)