Waiting for the boat to Sudan
7 June 2012
Aswan, Aswan, Egypt.
Our time with the Nubians on the West Bank of the Nile River in Aswan is coming to an end. The Nubians are an interesting people: they withstood the forces of Islam for hundreds of years, have a strong cultural identity and had to relocate after the creation of Lake Nasser. They have retained their Christian family names, but have slowly converted to a limited form of Islam and are now given Muslim names as well. Their view on religion is like no other I have encountered: open, all-encompassing, knowledgeable and, to some extent, universally acceptable to all theists.
Their love for the Nile seems genuine and inherent, and is reflected by the great number of Nubians with fellucas (a type of sailboat) and motorboats. These boats were an excellent investment in the past, since they gave them a great way to make money off tourists by showing them the wonderfully unspoiled Nile in Aswan, where the water can be drunk straight from the river. The recent revolution, however, has done little for tourism in the short-term, and in this time of elections and political transition there is little independent tourism. The tourists that do come are tied to their tour bus for insurance purposes and are not allowed to explore the country themselves, a devastating blow for independent entrepreneurs who live off tourism. In some cases we were the first paying travellers to pass through for weeks, even though there are many buses and ships with Western tourists in Aswan.
The Nubian society is a collective one, where the wellbeing of the many and generosity among peers is vital. A Nubian will probably become part of his family business and be assigned a task that matches his particular strengths by the family patriarch. This means that those with green fingers maintain the garden, while those with a skill for languages will be sent to learn English so that they can converse with tourists. The income generated is divided among the family members, with fixed percentages for different sources of income.
We are waiting in Aswan for the ferry to Sudan. The road that leads to Sudan was closed years ago by the Egyptians, effectively marking the end to the first trans-African highway, often referred to as the Cairo-Cape Town Highway. The barge upon which vehicles are transported had left some days before we arrived, so we have had to wait for it to return and for more overlanders with vehicles to arrive so that we can split the enormous cost of chartering the ferry. The wait was relaxing in the shade of the enormous Nubian family house of the Adam family. We parked our car in the front yard, set up our tent and within days the place felt like home. We had a “braai” (barbecue) with the other overlanders waiting in Aswan, and met many interesting people. Adam Home is famous among overlanders; it is the funnel through which African overland travel passes. The people you meet here are those who will generally be driving behind or ahead of you all the way to South Africa. The guestbook was full of the names of people we had spoken to when we were making our preparations for the trip, and will undoubtably be filled with those who have contacted us in one way or another, or are following our progress on the website.
Mohamed Sayed Mohamed was a good friend and host to us in Aswan. Among many things he took care of, it was mainly his vast number of connections that allowed us to stay up to date on new travellers entering Aswan. Indeed, mentioning anywhere in Aswan that you know Mohamed will certainly make things easier. Make sure you have him on your side; his phone number is 002 001 224 42 17 67.