By project member, Paul Buck, Nevada State College.
I have been coming to Egypt for a long time. It’s hard to believe the first time was in 1981, almost 35 years ago. Some things never change: the unfailing hospitality of the Egyptian people, the traffic in Cairo, and the immutable ever-present Nile river which has been the life-blood of Egypt for thousands of years. But since the last time I was here in 2006, some things HAVE changed, some obvious, and others more subtle. As an occasional visitor and non-speaker of Arabic, and with only a superficial understanding of the culture, it’s not possible for me to divine the deep undercurrents of Egyptian society, or to have a clear understanding of all of the differences between rural villagers and modern urban Cairo other than from my own personal experience.
|The empty Nile promenade on the Luxor east bank.|
One thing that is very noticeable and catastrophic for all of Egypt, and not just Luxor, is the profound lack of tourists. Since the revolution five years ago, Egypt’s tourist industry has all but collapsed. It used to be one of the country’s top three sources of income, with millions visiting the Valley of the Kings and the pyramids every year. Now it is the high season when the weather is perfect but there are almost no tourists. A few buses pull up, but the Valley of Kings parking lot used to be jam-packed with excited foreign visitors. On the east bank, a beautiful new promenade has been built along the Nile — it’s deserted.
Another very noticeable change to me, is the amazing number of hot air balloons on the Luxor west bank, especially in the early morning at sunrise. At least five companies launch as many as fifteen balloons each morning for those visitors looking for a unique experience. They drift from near the ancient royal funerary temples and float generally south, sometimes directly over our house. There was a tragic accident a few years ago that killed several tourists, but the gondolas are operating again, and I hope to take a ride before I leave.
|Balloons from our balcony.|
Cell phones! This is a huge change. Seemingly every farmer, worker, and taxi driver, has a cell phone, sometimes several! And there is even excellent 3G cell reception everywhere in the Valley of the Kings (except in the tombs). Wireless internet service in our flat (don’t know about other places) can be spotty—but cell coverage is great. Taxi drivers often talk on their cell phone while driving - never a good idea anywhere - but especially dangerous in Egypt because there are few traffic lights, many road hazards (e.g. donkey carts), and lots of other distractions.
|A local butcher shop.|
Food, either in restaurants or bought in the local shops, seems pretty much the same. Fruits and veggies are the same: in-season varieties, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, etc. Food is abundant for most local people. Sadly, the shops here still don’t seem to have peanut butter! There are “supermarkets” much like a small or medium-size grocery store and they typically sell all kinds of food, including meat and cheese, and vegetables, and even housewares. But there are still many open-air stalls or small shops, some specializing in produce, or bread or pastry, or butcher shops like the one shown here. You tell the butcher which piece you want and he takes a cleaver and cuts it off for you.
A local restaurant we go to frequently is essentially the same although it now calls itself the “Ala-din Belzoni” (Giovanni Belzoni was an early Italian explorer of Egypt’s antiquities and the proprietors added him to their original name, Ala-din, to provide some attractive flare.) We haven’t been to any big fancy restaurants yet so I can’t speak to that. The picture below shows a typical Egyptian hot dish of potatoes, onions, meat and spices often in a tomato base
Yes, some things have changed, and some things will probably forever stay the same. Either way, it’s great to be back in Egypt, a country that has played such an important part in my life.