The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan and Times Forever Gone

20170406_174046

My Weekly Musings #11/2017

As a lot of authors and would-be writers, I am fascinated by the writers from the past. I read up on them and read some of their works to try to learn from them. I have great respect for the way they wrote and how prolific they had been in a time before the technology we have today to make writing and publishing easier, was available. (Although I haven’t personally experienced this ‘easiness’ of getting published in the mainstream yet.)

I am a huge, huge, huge fan of Agatha Christie. She wrote wonderful stories that are still enticing today. I have read many of her books and watched more of her stories onscreen and just when I think that I’ve read or seen everything, something ‘new’ pops up. Here, where we are currently living in Egypt, bookstores stock her books and I indulge. She wrote so many stories, that one day if I manage to get through them all, I can just start over and read them again if I want, because they will be as good as new to me.

Another fascination of mine is Ernest Hemingway. (I’m currently contemplating naming our next dog Hemingway. Or Blue. Or something totally different.) I love his writing – some more that others, because let’s face it – in the times that he wrote, not too much happened in most works of fiction and it took a long time to happen.

Although a fan, I’m not blind to these old writers’ weaknesses. There was a lot of drinking and substance abuse involved in the lives of some of these authors and though I don’t condone it, I also don’t judge them. (Today it’s well known that writers and other artists are prone to mental illness and substance abuse.) And in Ernie and his friends’ case I suppose they were pretty much products of the war they survived.

So, even though Ernest and the Fitzgeralds and Gertrude Stein and the likes lived their lives as if there was no tomorrow, I can’t help to romanticise the period and circumstances they lived in just a little bit. Although conditions were still volatile during and after the war, things got simpler after that. There was class and style and ambience and boredom about the way they did their day by day routines.

A few weeks back while on a Nile Cruise, we visited the old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, for the third time since we live here. Being there, walking through the big corridors, riding the old, slow wooden lift and sitting in the stylish library, makes one daydream about a time and innocence gone forever. In my mind I can see Aggie sitting in her suite, with her desk moved to in front of the open double doors, feeling the desert heat breezing into the room, stroking her cheeks and causing tiny drops of perspiration on her forehead underneath her neatly waved hair, while she is tapping along passionately on her typewriter – creating the circumstances for Hercule Poirot to solve the four murders in Death on the Nile.

In my mind’s eye, I can see Mister Hemingway standing alongside the chest of drawers, hammering the keys, thinking of rather having a cold beer down in the garden, whilst the current woman in his life is still in bed, nursing a hangover and moaning about him not attending to her immediate needs – to his utter dismay.

I can imagine the buzz in the dining room when the famous well-dressed Who’s Who whom chose to cavort in Egypt at the same time appears one by one or couple by couple in their evening best. They would look way different than our group of whom only some had bothered to follow the smart/casual dress code.

I hear Aggie and her hubby converse about the newest archaeological finding at a site nearby, contemplating from which dynasty it might originate. Over dessert, she wonders if she shouldn’t have stuck to only one murder in Death on the Nile, instead of the four, because “you know, Darling, I don’t want to contribute to the world becoming a more violent place”.

With war clouds still hanging over Europe, Winston Churchill decides that he has to come up with a strategy for the coming Armageddon.

And in another few years, Mrs Fitz frowned upon her husband’s alcohol intake, wondering aloud if it was Ernie’s bad influence on him or the other way around, while she remarks how she can’t grasp why she came to feel so lightheaded so swiftly.

Fast forward to a time the world became enchanted by the people’s princes, who, while smiling her shy smile to the world, is crying within her heart over her broken dreams and recent divorce and wonders what the future will bring as she listens to her Arab lover’s plans for their next holiday together…

Sitting on the lawn, having coffee at sunset with a group of people from all over the world – some of whom we know and more that we don’t know – it is so easy to being translated into another era filled with well-clad creatives looking at the same sun setting where cataracts form down under in the river. Watching the falloukas with their majestic sails on Egypt’s Nile of the Bible passing by, I sat back and dreamed that one day my name will be mentioned as a famous writer who loved visiting the old Cataract Hotel and that a book of mine will sit there on the library shelf next to my fellow South African, Andre P. Brink’s book. Wink-wink.

20170406_184714

PS: Google the Cataract Hotel to read about its history and about the famous ones who frequented there. It is an interesting place and if your travels ever bring you to Egypt, make sure to put Aswan on your itinerary as a must-visit place. There is a lot to see, including the Aswan Dam/Lake Nasr, the Nubian Village, the botanical garden Lord Kitchener planted from trees soldiers brought from all over the world and the Philae Temple – the youngest building from old Egypt’s history. It is also a four-hour drive/50 minute flight to the temple at Abu Simbel.

Cataract Hotel

© Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopeful Writer. Forever dreamer. Temporarily living in Cairo, Egypt.

Advertisements

Living outside of One’s Comfort Zone

camelbazaargetaway

Just before having to get out of the way

My Weekly Musings #4

Last week, our American friends invited us to visit the camel bazaar outside Cairo (on the Giza/Sakkara road). We’ve been living here now for just short of three years and I have never been outside of my comfort zone so much in my life. It is literally a daily thing. It is good for me – especially for spiritual me. Not only does it teach me plenty about the world around me, the people of this country, their strange culture and their fanatic religion, but it also teaches me a lot about myself. Living in a culture where you do not understand the language and isn’t even able to read their alphabet or have the same traditions and customs or worship the same God, things can get quite uncomfortable.

It isn’t necessarily a bad thing being out of your comfort zone. It confronts one’s own beliefs, upbringing, culture, customs, world view and lifestyle when you are thrown into a world where nothing is familiar or make sense to you. Not only do you question the behaviour of the people around you, but you question your own. It is not a once off thing, but an ongoing everyday introspection. And not only do you learn to value what is ‘own’ to you, but you also learn to embrace and appreciate diversity. Very early on in our stay here, I have decided that I don’t understand much (not even a reasonable bit) of this culture, but that I am not even going to try to understand it. It makes life here a little bit easier and less complicated to observe rather than to label.

Back to the camel bazaar. I’m sure that this place wouldn’t even exist in a Western country. It’s a raw experience. Camels, by their hundreds, maybe even more, are brought together on a Friday morning to be sold I was told, mostly for meat. Men and (some very young) boys herd the animals – hopping along on three legs as one of the front legs is tied with rope to keep the animal from running away – towards the various ‘auction stations’ with long bamboo sticks. It isn’t a pretty picture to see. On the surface and in the viewpoint of a foreigner like me, it is a harsh place for a camel to be. And also for the people involved.

Upon arriving there, we were only four females in a sea of males – something that already pushes the discomfortometer into the red. The sticks hitting the camels’ bodies – be it on the humps, legs or head – is another difficulty to deal with. Furthermore, none of the camels looked like they had the potential for dinner I would want to see on my plate.

But I realised that it wasn’t my world. It wasn’t my place to judge. With that I don’t condone the behaviour of the people or the suffering of the animals. Sometimes in life things just are what they are – people making a living, surviving the only way they know how to the way they did for centuries – maybe even millennia. My disliking it, my discomfort and the fact that I might disapprove of their way of doing as a foreigner in their country, is not going to change that. I’m not going to alter a country’s culture, customs and actions which are way older than my own culture. What I should do is learn to appreciate it for what it is.

I realised that I would probably be out of my comfort zone many, many, many more times in the period we have left here in this interesting, phenomenal country. How I handle my discomfort is what is important. If I can’t change people’s behaviour or world view, I can at least work on my own. I can learn to value the diversity of this place and the other countries we are visiting, as well as that of my own country when we go back. Hopefully, when we are back in our own culture – which is just as diverse – I will be able to feel less uncomfortable in the mixture, while still staying true to my own upbringing and beliefs and being more tolerant towards people who are different from me.

In the end, when one sees the bigger picture from a forever-living-worldview, we are reminded that we who confess Him as our Saviour are one body in Messiah (Romans 12:5). One day we will be immersed into His culture and all the discomfort of worldly customs, poverty and illness will be something from the past.

PS: I spelled necessarily correct without using spell check or a dictionary.

© 2017 Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopeful Writer. Forever dreamer. Temporarily living in Cairo, Egypt.

Those Big Small Things in between Facebook Status Updates

20150606_114239More Egypt Chronicles

Life is speeding so fast that it can overtake us very easily, leaving us clinging onto whatever we can to survive. And when we are in survival mode, we tend to focus on just that – survival. Sometimes we need to get off the runaway train, stay on the ground and just enjoy the moments of experiences added together that is called ‘life’. So many of us live for our “one day” – that day or days near or farther in the future when all our dreams will be realised into the utopian existences we spend all our free time imagining.

But sometimes we need real life to give us a slap through the face or shower us with the proverbial bucket of ice water to slow us down from our busyness or even to bring us to a halt in order for us to stop and be alive within the actual moment we find ourselves in.

It can happen through the shock of sudden death, the scare of illness, being faced with dangerous situations or just recuperating from something less serious – but as disruptive.

Shock or trauma or failure can sometimes be good for us. It can help us clean our systems, re-organise our priorities and re-evaluate the impossible goals we set for ourselves into obtainable ones and making us pause for a while. Very few things in life can be so good to us than coming to a complete standstill. And I really mean to stop doing what you’re doing and to live in the moment, with no looking forward to the tomorrow that may never be born.e always dreamt of living abroad for a period of time. Due to circumstances that dream got lost for a while, but after some time it found its way back into becoming a possibility and our lives were frozen in their tracks. Everything we did or didn’t do, planned or didn’t plan and decided had to be weighed first against the probability of going away for a few years. It changes one’s whole focus, lookout and pretty much everything you do.

The realisation of a dream can be a horribly, scary affair and takes courage to pursue. (Read my previous blog on this at https://fieliesdekock.com/2015/11/10/the-process-of-realising-a-dream-can-be-a-nightmare/)

We only heard six months later that we were going to live abroad. In Egypt. I cried for a day and then my previous positive-self reappeared and I made a pro’s and con’s list and, surprise-surprise, the pro’s list convinced me – not that it was the longest! (How is it that when your prayers are being answered and you get what you ask for that you get confused?)  But the crying subsided and the excitement and frightfulness kicked in. We had a lot to do – easier stuff and more difficult stuff. All the easier stuff had to do with the ‘whats’ in our lives. The more difficult ones had to do with the ‘whos’. My mother lived with us for 17 years and she had to be relocated. And we had to find houses for our four dogs. It wasn’t easy.

Fast forward…

…to living in Cairo, Egypt, for two years.

It takes time to settle into a new environment. And it took me one year an nine months to get so used to the new place to fall into a little bit of a rut – in spite of (or maybe because of) busyness.

Precisely one year and nine months after arriving here, I fell into a not-so-slightly ‘down’. (Don’t worry – it was caused by stupid pains, and although they remained, the depression flew out of the window after a few doctor’s visits. ((And I realised that my ‘depressions’ are always health related.)) And it is a fact that everything seems worse if you are far away from ‘home.’)

Now that the background history is told, I will get to the point. Since that day, three years and three months ago when we first heard that we may be moving, I have learnt to live in the moment. Because of the uncertainty of our situation, we stopped buying unnecessary things, didn’t make decisions with long-term consequences and just started taking every day as it came.

Due to the fact that we came to live in a country where the security situation can be volatile, our circumstances can change at any time and our stay can end unplanned and abruptly. So, I decided to keep living here the way we lived back home for those uncertain fifteen months before we left – in the moment. And I already decided to keep doing that when we get back home one day. But, as I am writing this – even that isn’t a certainty, because that is a tomorrow that is still to come. I pray though that it will happen for us all.

But back again (!) to the reason for this writing. During all these experiences the last few years, I have learnt to enjoy the ‘little’ things in life. Don’t get me wrong. With our current, temporary lifestyle come lots of privileges, which we enjoy and appreciate enormously! I mean, without this experience, my dream to see at least something of Europe would probably always have stayed only in the dream phase. We have cruised the Nile and we are scheduled to go again soon. We have snorkelled in the Red Sea (and fell in love with it)! On a French mountain I have played in the snow for the first time in my life! I attended my first (second, third and shortly my fourth) ball! I have stood in a chamber in The Valley of the Kings outside Luxor containing the petite mummy of king Tut. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. These are memories I will cherish for as long as my mind allow me.

But as it is in life – privileges don’t come free or cheap. And in between these very wonderful experiences are those that don’t reach Facebook status. And they take up way more time than those very wonderful ones. They are the ones that can make or break us. The in-between times when the heat, dust, cultural differences, strange religion, terrible traffic, the thin, sick, hungry street dogs, the stray cats, the tummy bugs, the illiteracy (mine!), the overwhelming crowdedness, the ‘ununderstandable’ customs, the poverty, the dirtiness, the interestingness, the bland food, the overripe tomatoes and all the things you miss from home, make you wonder how on earth did you make it so far and how on earth will you make the rest of the time?

I remember back home when we had some challenges, we would go for a walk in the afternoons and with my hand in my husband’s and with our son and our dogs tagging along, I felt like the richest person alive! And this, I personally believe, is where the secret of happiness lies: to find blessings and joy and thankfulness in even the littlest things in mundane life.

I have listed just a few of these things that make me happy. Some of them are not so little at all.

  • Reading Bible and praying whenever I want to, because the Living God of the Bible is always everywhere.
  • Mild weather.
  • Walking to the shops.
  • Walking to the shops on my own legs.
  • Walking to the shops on my own legs in mild weather.
  • Having good Egyptian people in our lives.
  • Eating the last piece of biltong someone thoughtfully brought when visiting.
  • Sitting (in the still mild weather) in our garden, listening to the birds chirping without the competition of the air conditioner sounds (because the weather is still mild and the aircons are still off).
  • Aircons in summer!!!
  • Drinking rooibos tea with my husband and son on a Saturday morning outside in the garden (when the weather is mild) or in the TV room or swimming pool (in summer, when the weather is not so mild).
  • Sleeping through the night without fear of violent house-breaks.
  • Waking up in the morning. (What a privilege!)
  • Having an Afrikaans (my native language) speaking buurvrou (neighbour) in the building across ours!
  • Having even more friends from home nearby and being able to lunch with some of them every week!
  • Feeding at least two of the many hungry cats in this huge city.
  • Watching ‘our’ two cats doing all their cat-things in our garden on top of the parking garage.
  • Taking pictures. Lots and lots and lots of them.
  • Being thankful for every ‘big’ or ‘little’ thing that works out.
  • Being safe after there had been uncertainties.
  • Aircons droning out the muezzin calls.
  • Power coming back on after cuts. (These days they aren’t as frequent and as long as in during the first year. Something to be thankful for – especially in summer!)
  • Experiencing everything with my husband and son!
  • Kissing my husband good night.
  • Kissing my son good night. (That’s probably not something he would like people to read on the Internet ((but he likes it – I can tell)).)
  • Seeing my husband happy because he can watch South African rugby and cricket matches on the satellite TV channels.
  • Paging through the teabags at my Japanese friend’s dinner to find a rooibos tea bag!
  • Having lots of friends from around the world to hang out with, visit new places with and to learn from.
  • Being able to buy the medicine I need and don’t get from home.
  • Being healthy (I hope).
  • Coming home to a haven of safety and tranquility.
  • Having a good landlady.
  • …the list can go on…

These are just a few things and when writing them down, I realise that they are not so little. They are pretty big and important. They are the glue that holds life together. To be in awe when seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time or feeling small against the largest of the Giza pyramids is splendid, but one can survive life without it. Of course travelling enriches our lives and I am a big supporter thereof (even if it is just exploring outside of you immediate comfort zone) and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on these experiences! But it really is the ‘small’ things that we can’t live without, which makes the mundane extraordinary – which is the difference between letting life get away from you and living in the moment. It is the ‘small’ things in life which brings sustainable happiness.

 

© 2016  – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock is trying hard to be an awesomest wife and greatest lover, finest mom and to write something all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s two cats and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.

The Egypt Chronicles – New Residents in a Foreign Country

image

image

l (and my husband) never had the desire to emigrate from South Africa, but we always had the dream of living and working abroad for a while. Hopefully our only son will one day earn his living mainly in our country too. Through the years so many things in our lives and our country changed and we started to think that the possibility of working and living in another country was lost. But ‘out of the blue’ the opportunity came our way and we took it.

We love travelling and thought that if we lived somewhere ‘in the middle of the world’, travelling would be much easier. (Read less expensive.) We South Africans are mos eager travellers, but it costs an arm and a leg for us to travel.

To live in South Africa have more advantages that most South Africans realise. Ask any South African living abroad or who had lived abroad or who travel abroad regularly. At this point, please let me just state that I do not criticise people who emigrate. l can really, really, really understand it when people leave the country after they had been hijacked for the third time…

l am also of the opinion that migration is a very natural thing and that circumstances ‘moved’ people to emigrate throughout the centuries – in this instance the crime rate in our beloved country became most people’s moving factor. It was this ‘natural’ migrating phenomenon after all which brought our forefathers to South Africa in the first place. l believe the point is now made. So, let’s get on with us living in Cairo now.

It goes without saying that it is much different to holiday in a country than to live in it. We came to Egypt with the intent of staying and not holidaying. I think we got that one right so far. But, in spite of travelling via Cairo elsewhere six times before, and knowing what it looks like, I was still overwhelmed on our first night here. In my head I did the Maths: 4 x 365 days to go. l didn’t feel up to it. But, the next morning I woke and the fatigue from the flight was gone and so were the woes.

Let me put it in perspective for you. l grew up in a small town with a population of only in the thousands  – the then black township people included – of whom you rarely saw a few dozen at a time and where, according to statistics only 33.5 people live per square km.

For the past 26 years we had been living in Pretoria, a city with 1.7 million people. The whole metropolis houses plus minus 2.4 million (675.1 people per square km). South Africa has between 48 to 52 million people (according to different websites, none of which claims to be correct). Our new city, Cairo, ‘they say’ has 20 million people! In one city! That’s almost half the population of South Africa! In one city! Will you forgive me if I felt just a tad overwhelmed?

But like in most situations where one feels overwhelmed, it always helps to get your facts straight. According to the CAPMAS, the country’s official statistics body, Egypt has 86 000 000 people – excluding the 8 000 000 living abroad. (Yes, Hany, you were counted too.) It states that Cairo has only 9,12 million souls. ONLY. I feel much better now.  🙂 Although,thinking of sharing a square kilometer with 47 257 other people in the Cairo governate IS daunting. On the other hand – stats here are only manipulated numbers. There may well be living 20 million people in Cairo. The indications are there. Enough of the stats. I’m more of a words than a numbers person.

As it normally goes in life, one can adapt quite quickly. While Cairo seemed like a dull, chaotic, dusty, dirty place on that first day, l wake up every morning since then to be surprised by something new. lt is as if someone comes every night with a box of crayons – not paint yet, but crayons work for me so far – to colour a new piece of the city just for me. And when I come out on the hotel balcony every morning to see what the day looks like, I find that the water in the Nile in front of me suddenly has changed colour. And so does the agricultural patches across the river and the  trees on the the other side of the river bank. And even the desert and the pyramids on the horizon. And the cars and shops in the busy streets. And some of the scarfs on the woman’s heads.

When you keep calm and draw a breath and get enough sleep, the world around you seems to become a better place. Because then you have the awareness to be wooed by the views and the sounds and the sights and the people around you. OK, I admit that the sounds are still something to get used to, but the friendliness of the people overrides the bombardment of the forever-present hooting sounds and the forever-present howling sounds from the mosques or the forever-present sounds from the traffic in the streets.

Every South African living here, tells us that they enjoy it here and those that are leaving or had left already, told us that they are/were sad about leaving. l don’t want to think about leaving. We just left South Africa. I don’t have the capacity for more goodbye’s in the near future.

We’ve been ‘living’ in Egypt for two and a half weeks now. So far, so good. Hopefully we will move into a house soon and then the real ‘living’ can start.

I don’t want to bore you, so I will stop here for now. Thanks for being on this  journey with us – wherever you are when you read this.

2014 Riette De Kock