For the love of Nubi


My name is Kholoud and I was born in Mansoura. My dad was a commodore, and that is why we were always on the move from one coastal city to the other. My father was very patriotic, and on every occasion he gave me a book about the history of Egypt as a gift.

It was only natural for me to grow up with the same sense of belonging as him, especially towards Upper Egypt which I felt bore the authenticity of Pharaonic Egypt. I could see it in the southerners’ faces; their olive complexion, pure smile and good nature that go back thousands of years to their ancestors.

As I grew up, I realised that we can’t make judgements based on outer appearances, and that in order to truly know people we have to mingle and socialise with them.

Jokes about Upper Egyptians (saayda) always fell flat for me and never made me laugh. In fact, they always provoked me; so did the preconception that darker skin is not as beautiful as ‘others’.

I couldn’t fathom how they never understood Mohamed Mounir’s lyrics in praise of the beauty of “colour” (a word used by the Nubians to distinguish their dark skin from others).

Until a certain point in my life, all I had gathered about Nubia and its people was based on the songs of Mohamed Mounir and Ahmed Mounib. I believed that Nubia was Aswan, and that Aswan was the southernmost city on Egypt’s map. This misconception, of course, is the result of Egypt’s education system that disregards Nubia, its history and its origins.

After my father died, I moved to Cairo and started to make friends and engage in wider social networks. I reached the conclusion that Nubians made the best buddies. That’s when I started to look further into Nubia.

I learned that Nubia is not Aswan, and that the city was much more than a beautiful place on the Nile packed with archaeological sites and a community kinder and more generous than any other.

When I became acquainted with Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, who was nicknamed “Nubi” by his friends, I found him to be a kind man. He was calm, successful and held a special place in the hearts of his friends. Nubi taught me a few words from the Nubian language, and because of him I developed a passion about Nubia.

When Nubi heard that I was a painter, he told me if I went to Nubia I would learn the true meaning of art, and the real taste of colours. He told me more stories about Nubia, the Nile, and the serenity, the abundance of time, the music, and the Aragid dance.

Every once in a while, I would call Nubi to brag about the new words I had learned in the Nubian language. Nubi would laugh at my mispronunciation and correct me. A while later, Nubi promised to grant me Nubian nationality, and that very soon I would be an ambissa (a friend Nubians consider as family). I was thrilled because my other Nubian friends called me a gorbateya (non-Nubian).

At that particular time, I held an administrative position at a firm though this job had nothing to do with art, my passion, and this made me feel down. My love for Nubia was consuming me, and on impulse I decided to quit my job and travel to Nubia. I decided to take tons of white paper and colours with me and sit among Nubian children. I would teach them painting, and they would teach me their language. I also decided that upon my return I would hold an exhibition on Nubia and shed some light on the emigration problems of the Nubians.

But this was not to be.

Nubi had a car accident and went into a coma for 21 days. I couldn’t call him to say Minabuh ambissa? (How do you feel, my brother?)

When I went to the hospital to see him, I fervently wished he would open his eyes and hear me telling him what I had planned to do. He would have been very happy.

One day at the hospital, I was holding Nubi’s hand very tight. He could hear me, but he couldn’t do much else. I told him “Ambissa, say hi to me.” He pressed my hand. “I want you to get up so we can go to Nubia together.” He pressed my hand a little tighter. At that moment, all I wished for was that Nubi would get better so that I can tell him how much I loved and respected him.

But, again, this was not to be. Nubi did not open his eyes.

Nubi died.

I drew closer to Nubi’s family and friends after he died. I was in constant distress, an emotional state that I am still immersed in. I know that nothing will save me except to go to Nubia and fulfil my promise to him to learn everything there is to know about Nubia; its identity, customs, traditions and art.

I have decided to go to Nubia, and Nubi’s soul will be with me every step of the way.

I will go to Nubia, and any success I achieve I will dedicate to his soul.

Nubi was an ambitious photojournalist. You can recognise him as the young man who played Mohamed Mounir in his 30s in an advertisement last year.

When Nubi was in a coma his friends submitted, on his behalf, a photograph he took in the Best Photojournalist of 2013 Awards. Three days after he died, his brother Ahmed received the award.

Nubi’s award winning photo

Salam to your soul, Nubi, my ambissa.

(This is the video in which Nubi played Mohamed Mounir in his 30s)