Haboob

It wasn’t until the colours of Sudan hit me that I realised how oppressively drab the standard wear of Egypt was: men in brown or dark grey and women mostly in sober tones, often black. In Sudan the men wear white and the women exploded back into my eyes and heart! Oh the joy of such flowers again, red and hot pink and vivid green. Women appeared more elegant – taller, slighter – or maybe just less well fed. They seemed to glide around more gracefully, floating headscarves tied less tightly yet still never slipping down. I don’t know how they manage this; I was never able to pull off such a feat myself.

Later I realised that the Sudanese have evolved to be more graceful because of the heat. All the overanxious, impulsive or rushed ones couldn’t survive – you glide or you die!

* * *

The day after burying Monte, we dragged ourselves up after four hours’ sleep. Sampson was pale as death and beside himself with misery. Abu Simbel would’ve been stunning to see again in the early morning light, but we just wanted to be out of that place.

The ferry across Lake Nasser

We drove straight down to the ferry port and did our exercises in the queue at 8am. The lorry driver behind us showed some surprise at reversed gender stereotypes as Sampson sobbed periodically while I did some slow motion Bruce Lee. It was Wednesday 7th February, the last but one day of our Egyptian visas – we’d been there 3 months – so we had 24 hours to cross the border.

Big Reg tucked in next to the lorries as we pulled away from Abu Simbel

With the zoom, I could identify Monte’s last resting place in the bushes to the left of the temple mounds.

Zola looking back wistfully. Sampson looking grim trying to put it behind us.

We went back down to the truck to have brunch during the hour and a half crossing. It was weird to look out over the open water and smell the scent of river rather than sea.

Looking out across the man-made lake

with occasional bumps of passing former hilltops

the ferry snaking between them

Zola and I did 3 subjects while I refamiliarised myself with the contents of the purple documents folder, all ready to put on my Mandela skirt show at the border.

The other side

Heading for the border post

It was much less arduous exiting Egypt than entering, although the process still involved pointless piles of paperwork, superfluous flurries of stamps and an unnecessary amount of walking in circles in the heat. On the Egyptian side, we were held up by an intimidating security police chief in aviator shades and a leather jacket who seemed to be modelling himself a a heavy in a spy movie. You couldn’t deny he was impressively thorough – when we mentioned Wael the taxi driver finding us our apartment in Alexandria, he said he knew him and called to check out our story.

It took so long to win him over, we ended up sleeping in no man’s land.

We’ve often spent a night half way through a border crossing. It’s usually a safer and more peaceful option to park off in the waste land between secure posts rather than in the rowdy towns either side of them. Somehow the days following Monte’s death were like we spent a week suspended in that limbo.

Lucky – just hanging out

It was the first night I was warm enough without a sleeping bag. The Sudan side immediately felt much hotter. I spent another tiresome day criss-crossing scorching tarmac, topped by sitting patiently in freezing aircon for two hours holding out for the extra document needed to confirm the truck had not been sold in Egypt to guarantee we would get our cash deposit back from the AA. It involved a lot of massaging of male egos and I can’t be bothered to tell the whole story.

Thanks to Mr Mazar (right of Sampson) for graciously accommodating our needs. Eventually.

Across West Africa, somehow the bribery is more honest; underpaid officials outright asking for money is corruption I can handle, even if we never acquiesced. The interaction offers leeway for humanity and even humour. I have less respect for the fake charges and chicanery of the semi-state-sanctioned fleecing of North Africa, too often magnified by macho powerplay.

After pushing through two days of gruelling border bullshit on top of the shock of Monte’s death and the strain of his burial, I was utterly exhausted; every muscle in my body was aching and every cell buzzing like an angry wasp. PEM was about to catch up and klap me.

Driving into Sudan

When Big Reg stopped in the red black desert, I was lying down. Zola jumped out to let off steam and even Lucky seemed keen to go for a walk with Sampson.
“You should get out and see this” he said.
Didn’t he realise I would if I could?
Still, the silence was balm.

Everyone except me got out to stretch their legs before dark

Lucky really did go for a walk with him – it’s like she knew he was missing Monte

Because I couldn’t go and look, they brought back slate to show me

and interesting bits of amber-like lumps

and egg like rock…

We ate our simplest meal: tuna, cabbage and rice, and fell into our mossie nets. I was woken by the wind buffeting the truck. The next day, my arms felt like lead, fall out from carrying the heavy documents folder around the last couple of days.

On the drive into the town of Wadi Halfa, Sampson said “If Monte’s death brings us closer together, it will not have been in vain.”
“I haven’t been very good at you being ill, have I.”
It was a statement, not a question.

Lucky pining

After completing our alien registrations with a man napping on a bed inside the municipal office at 39˚C on Saturday morning, I stayed with Sampson in the cab because I didn’t want him to be alone. He drove and talked and cried and I managed 3 hours on that good straight road until l had to lay down.

Driving towards Dongola

through harsh desert scenery

mountains

and scrub

great tar

together

On this day, 10th Feb, long awaited rain in Cape Town made the BBC news – pushing Day Zero back from April to May.

At 3am, I woke feeling so ill, I was unable to get back to sleep. I was so disturbed by the intense level of pain at the nape of my neck, I nearly woke Sampson but didn’t because I knew how much he needed his rest. But if I was so much weaker after just a couple of hours’ minor brainshake, how was I going to cope on really bad roads?

I got up to walk but the flies that had descended at dusk seemed to be erupting in the heat wave.

Morning

Rush hour

Sampson drove till he found a wonderful spot for us to park off and rest by the Nile, next to some shady trees. But when we got out, the clouds of midges were insanely thick. I kept choking while doing T’ai Chi despite wrapping two layers of cloth around my face. Sampson only managed to escape bombardment by diving in the river. How on earth were Andrew and Dee coping on their bikes?

A local pulled up in a boat and demonstrated how to do it by dipping his scarf in water before wrapping it round his head. Aha!

Looked like a promising spot

But immediately we were all covered in tiny flies, even the cat

Sampson escaped into the water

But it was truly impossible to breathe without choking on the flies

They were myriad

and apparently attracted to the waste veg oil spills

So we reluctantly gave up our shady berth

We couldn’t relax outside and there was no point sitting indoors being cooked, so we drove on. Our West African mantra ‘There’s no such thing as paradise without falling coconuts’ had been amended to ‘There’s no such thing as paradise without choking flies’.

It was interesting how the Sudanese seemed to love a pop of colour

on their houses,

their outside walls,

or their gates.

The individual designs

I found intriguing.

We stopped somewhere just past Abri. It was 32˚C at 11pm. I was awake at 3am again but for only 2 hours not 3. My period started, only 3 weeks since the last one – more perimenopausal madness or did the shock of Monte’s death bring it on early? Either way, it was an energy-sapping extra burden I could do without.

In the morning, two little boys on a donkey came trotting up to investigate, circled the truck and went away without disturbing us. Later they came back to take another look. They were delighted when I spoke to them, but too scared to come in and see, just ventured half way up the steps. It was refreshingly different from Egypt.

In the distance, a woman was gathering wood by knocking dead branches out of trees with a long pole, a small girl of about 4 by her side. She came to greet, striding towards us unhesitatingly. A striking woman in her late 50s or 60s, she was lithe and strong, wearing a shift dress and a light wrap loosely round her head and shoulders. Her complete assuredness was markedly different from women on the street in Egypt. Was this a characteristic of Sudan or just her? She had an extraordinary light about her, burning, vital.

She beamed her welcome into our faces, asking our origins and destination in a flow of language she was positive Zola could understand. Him standing mute and unresponsive as usual in both sunglasses and a buff didn’t help. I had to fetch the family photo from our road block kit to explain to her that my son was as clueless as I was about what she was saying. There are 114 languages native to Sudan apart from the official tongues of Arabic and English.

She made eating motions, whether to invite us to lunch with her or asking for food I didn’t know, but when we couldn’t make ourselves understood, she just offered me her hand in a wonderful firm handshake of peers. I felt utterly humbled by her humanness and dignity. There was total acceptance, no front, no power dynamic – just mutual respect and recognition, live and let live. I longed to ask her about her life and its lessons. She had obviously made complete peace with it and I wanted to know how.

I wish I’d asked for a photo of her beautifully lined face and bright eyes, but they were far far away before I got my head into gear

* * *

Dongola was bigger than anticipated. Sampson found a carwash and was amazed at the availability of industrial strength foam and water pressure. It seemed bizarre that Cape Town was in deep drought and here in Sudan there was water to spare.

Gonna wash those flies right out of our hair…

Zola and I sat inside doing school with all the windows shut in 38˚C heat while Sampson helped the team scrub off the layers of fly-matted cooking oil, using a wire brush on the end of our drill.

It felt like being baked alive

inside a meringue

The team, Sampson and sparkling Big Reg

Khalid Kader greeted him like an old friend when we returned a week later for water

By now Sampson had one exchange fluently in Arabic that seemed to cover almost all eventualities: “Tamam? Tamam. Mashallah? Mafi Mushkila.”
Translation: “Alright? Alright. All good? No problem.”

An admirable example of determined recycling by young Malhas

We drove south of town looking for somewhere quiet to rest.

We ended up here,

opposite this spectacular mosque painted orange, coral and green.

I couldn’t face putting the stove on before 8pm.

It was stupidly hot

On Tuesday 13th, it was 24˚C, with a stiff wind much preferable to thick flies. Sampson and I set out to walk to the river, past strapping young men doing back-breaking work with short-handled hoes and donkeys and camels eating a breakfast pile of greens. We followed the lines of irrigation channels, with dams looking like tiny guillotines, to a pump house when suddenly my energy just drained away. My legs went so I had to sit. It had been 15 minutes. I knew I’d done too much but not how much too much.

With the wind rising and the dust thickening, I slowly made it back but had to lie down in the truck the rest of the day. It only reached a relatively cool 32˚C. Dad did Tech and Natural Science with Zola, in between cooking me potato cakes for lunch and editing the Red Sea diving video. I only managed to edit two paragraphs of the blog. My bleeding was heavy but I had no idea why my arms were aching so much. I was needing the cinnamon jar to ease my neck pain. Google informed me that the brain stem is a classic ‘tender point’ for Fibromyalgia sufferers – was I developing this as well now?

For the first time in 20 years I didn’t remember it was Valentine’s Day in time to write a poem for my husband. No matter; in the midst of grief, it didn’t feel appropriate anyway. We still didn’t have a good enough internet connection to risk trying to tell Ruby about Monte without being cut off part way through.

Neighbours

The next day while Sampson was stretching, we watched a white baby donkey skid and fall over while capering about with his mother. I felt equally wobbly doing T’ai Chi. A while later local farmer Aboud came to find the runaways. He told Sampson there was a haboob brewing, a violent dust or sandstorm. Here’s an example of one in Khartoum in 2017.

The boys spent a couple of hours pouring waste veg oil into the Jojo tank to settle ahead of filtering. Both of them were suffering constant streaming eyes and noses and fits of coughing because of all the particulates in the air. Indoors, I wasn’t having any of this hyper hayfeverish response, and managed a shower for the first time in days.

Thankfully, that meant I was dressed respectfully when Aboud unexpectedly returned bearing gifts of bread and bunches of rocket. After a fragrant lunch, I sadly realised I was not well enough to walk back through the intensifying wind with him to visit. He took Sampson to show him his land and explain how the irrigation worked and how he harvests his animal feed crop. 

Our phones were no longer being tapped and I could access the Al Jazeera website again but not the Daily Maverick? On 14th Feb, stuck offline and unable to load Twitter, I heard about President Zuma’s resignation from my Mom in India via Whatsapp.

We were eating dahl Zola had made for supper when three guys arrived on motorbikes. When they dawdled for longer than the usual “Tamam?” “Tamam”, we realised it was a security check and got the docs out. They didn’t speak any English but were very patient with us. Finally I gathered they were concerned about Zola: “Araby?” They couldn’t understand our adoption papers, so another guy was sent for. After he checked our passports, he enquired “Your son or cabin boy?”

They were much more relaxed than the Egyptian police apparatus and far more concerned about the possibility that Zola was being trafficked than us being a military threat. I was very glad they came to check up.

My Nubian prince. Plus cat flat out in heat.

That night I found my pomegranate difficult to eat because my arms and hands were so achey after writing one long email to Ruby’s school.

After Zola’s public speaking practice lesson, I dreamt I was at school being similarly tested. I was in the last group but, cheated of time, found myself in the bathroom, scrabbling for small bits of paper and pens to write on, being frustrated by people getting in the way and ink running out. I knew I could succeed if I could get a chance to finish, even if I could just get down the prompt words while I remembered – but they were disappearing. When I woke, I could only recall that the final paragraph was about being at my Nanny’s house and how cigarette smoke smelled comforting when fresh like toast, but made you feel sick once it went stale. When I opened my eyes there was a thick vapour pouring in the window and I felt dreadfully ill. The haboob had descended on us.

I felt deeply fluey and my chest was burning – I hadn’t got away with it after all, my sluggish immune system was just slower to react than the boys’. For the first time I was scared I might get so ill, I’d have to abandon the trip; I couldn’t fall into a severe state in the deep Sahara with the threat of malaria or typhoid so present and without any clinics nearby. Quietly I cried at the thought of what Ruby would have to go through if I didn’t make it.

Sampson was outwardly sympathetic, but inwardly withdrawing; he wasn’t looking me in the face. I was realising that his way of coping was to pretend it’s not happening. I couldn’t do T’ai Chi; it took all morning to work up to having a wash. I couldn’t sit up or think or do Maths, just managed to go through one Geography lesson on the bed.

The Chief popped by with farmer Aboud, the infinitely hospitable, who brought aubergines and dates. The latter were tough as tree bark, you could snap them into splinters, but nonetheless, when chewed, they tasted like Thorntons Original Toffee from my childhood. Delicious! I’m sorry I never got to take a pic of Aboud himself.

Aboud’s gifts

Enimie’s Instagram feed was full of the spectacularly colourful dishes she’d been plied with by various Sudanese hosts. My difficult-to-translate extreme sensitivities mean I can no longer risk eating in someone’s home or risk offending such generous hosts by refusing their food.

We were watching Stranger Things; series 2 was getting increasingly exciting as worlds collide. Will’s battle with The Upside Down was looking more and more like my life – the threat of getting sucked back down into the sticky underside, so difficult to pull your way out of, although no one else around you can see it. His terror of the sudden descent of the shadow monster was like my fear of being taken down by any pathogen now I didn’t have any buffer left.

Especially as the ominous floating bits in the air were exactly what we had here in the aftermath of the haboob. Clouds of dust particles were covering every surface several times a day, despite constant wiping and brushing and sweeping – table, bed, floor, laptop – lungs.

Once again, it was the Senegalese stash of moringa powder that saved me.

Finally strong enough to wash my underwear, while sitting on the loo

washing in a bucket, rinsing in the sink

Managing to wash my smalls at long last felt like a triumph, though Hub had to bring them in off the line during the howling sand storm, bless him.

Love is…wrestling your wife’s pants in a biting gale

That Friday night, as we enjoyed a Stranger Things marathon, watching the final three episodes back to back, we realised it was raining. In Sudan?? The cloudburst was brief and the heavy drops didn’t settle. Just left a weird smell like stale cigarettes in the dust.

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Egypt 9: Aswan or Anubis Weighs the Scales

N.B. I’m praying the worst is behind us: this is the last of the behemothic Egypt blogs and September marks the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere. If you can, please support me to complete the story and turn it into a book at Patreon.

* * *

South of Luxor, Big Reg was hitting 85kmh on good tar and Sampson and I both felt much better just to be moving again. But after doing school in the cab with Zola, dizzy me had to go lie down in the back. 200km later, the way into Aswan was a hideous bumpy ride on a half-built road. Big Reg had to double back because the first bridge wasn’t built for trucks, so we ended up crawling round lorries in the dark. Still it was rather magnificent to bowl along the Corniche at night with all the lights of the town twinkling, knowing it would be horrendously backed up by morning.

We found a parking spot for the Big Green Truck next to a mosque just round the corner from the Sudan consulate. I went in to pick up visa application forms first thing and managed to charm the main dude, a Bernard Cribbins lookalike. When we returned an hour later, a powercut had killed the photocopier, so the place was packed and Bernard was a lot grumpier.

A girl I first thought was American but turned out to be Belgian sat down next to me and we quickly bonded. Enimie von Steenberge was a veteran backpacker of places off the beaten track, having taken her first trip to Yemen aged 20. Her boyfriend was Iranian, but she was travelling alone on this trip and after only 10 days in Egypt, she was sick to death of constant daily harassment by Egyptian men and wanted to head south ASAP. I was filling in our forms as she was telling me about it when a German bloke leaned over, pointed to the question about accommodation and said “just write the name of any hotel”. I completely blanked him, turned to Enimie and said “Should I translate ‘mansplaining’?” Sometimes it’s great to be old.

I took her back to the truck for tea to find Sampson entertaining a UK couple: sparkling Irish-eyed Dee Haughney was an African art museum curator and very English RP-accented Andrew Warwick was halfway through his architecture qualifications. I’d avoided Andrew in the visa office, assuming him to be another-one of-those-arrogant-guys-I-was-at-college-with, but he turned out to be an absolute darling. Dee and he were 9 days into their Cairo2Cape Town cycling odyssey and had already learned enough to ditch their trailers! (Sweethearts, I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to write this up – but now you know what I was going through at the time, perhaps you’ll forgive me.)

Angels (l to r): Enimie, Andrew and Dee

You can tell how lovely Dee and Andrew were by how much Zola liked them – he usually hates having visitors but was so silently thrilled to be in their ‘cool’ company, he set about making me lunch so they could stay longer. I slumped afterwards; it had been a long morning sitting up.

* * *

We decided to go ask for oil from the Old Cataract Hotel, built by Thomas Cook in 1899 to accommodate European tourists. Their list of famous guests includes Tsar Nicholas II, Churchill, Thatcher, Queen Noor and Princess Di. Check out this poster. Apparently Agatha Christie was inspired to write Death on the Nile here during the 1930s, and the classic 1978 film adaptation with Peter Ustinov as Poirot, that we’d watched last week, was partially shot here.

Big Reg parked off on the road opposite the Old Cataract Hotel

On the same street as Archangel Michael’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral

We were allowed to park the truck outside under the watchful eye of security. Next morning, while Zola was zipping through his lessons, Sampson and I tried not to feel too smug walking past a queue of tourists being denied entrance (despite begging “just for tea?”) with the valid excuse that we had a meeting! What a privilege it was to go in and look around this landmark. We were warmly welcomed by the Food and Beverages manager Mr Raheem who told us that sadly they had given all their WVO oil away at end of the month a couple of days ago.

Leaving the youngsters to take care of each other

we were welcomed to the Old Cataract Hotel

dripping with history

with a range of spectacular views

both inside

and out

Outside on the terrace, we saw there was only room for ten tables – no wonder access was restricted to guests! So we wandered down the steps to the jetty to appreciate the views.

The view over the hotel grounds

down the steps

to the jetty

the slope much greener now than it was in the movie

but still with unparalleled views of the Nile

the passing felluccas full of tourists

Elephantine Island opposite full of ruins – in ancient times marking the boundary between Egypt and Nubia

everywhere the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern

very ancient

looking so modern!

Sampson fantasised about how wonderful it would be to do a show in their mini-amphitheatre

On our way out, when we asked the hostess to please pass on our thanks to the manager for letting us look around, she insisted we stay for a drink. So Sampson and I ended up being treated to a milkshake and perfect not-too-sweet hibiscus juice respectively on the balcony overlooking the Nile.

Doesn’t get better than this

as seen from this terrace

while sipping this – mmmmmmm

The fascinating array of guests surrounding us reflected the intriguing mix of colonial furnishings and bold contemporary prints in the vestibule décor: an elegant and expensively dressed Cairean family, with 3 young sons and a dragon of a mother-in-law having lunch; a classically styleless retired British couple drinking tea; a couple of very funky black French-speaking mademoiselles with fabulous handbags enjoying cocktails. It was fun to play at being part of the jet-set for 20 minutes.

The hotel interior was like a palace full of plush fabrics…

gorgeous lighting…

magnificent murals…

and elegant reading nooks.

Sampson felt right at home.

See a spectacular photo gallery of the Old Cataract Hotel Aswan here.

In the library area, I went to a bookshelf of tomes left behind by other travellers. There was a range of guidebooks and trashy novels, but the title that immediately leapt out at me was the orange spine of the Penguin Romola. In my first year reading English at Oxford, we were given a week to write an essay on the complete works of George Eliot. We’d done Middlemarch at school, and I managed to read Adam Bede, Felix Holt and Mill on the Floss in those 7 days. But I never got to Romola, which, in the blurb on the back, Eliot herself described as “written with my best blood”.

I could empathise with that feeling.

I don’t know why I seized on it so gratefully. The book felt like a lifeline. I didn’t choose it, it came to me. I could not let it go. It offered me the promise of the comfort of a solid story to get lost in. Even though it took me many more months to get well enough to even open it, Romola lived next to me on my bed for the next year, a companion ready for when I was able to read for pleasure again.

Written in 1862-3, but set in a 15th century Italy lovingly recreated with lavish painterly detail, in Romola Eliot used the dramatic backdrop of Renaissance Florence to examine Victorian social mores. Elaine Showalter opined that “the story also deals with the dilemma of where the duty of obedience for women ends and the duty of resistance begins” (A Literature of Their Own, 1999).

Eventually Eliot gave me a mirror to see myself in. Though I am in no way like obedient innocent Romola, until very recently, I did sincerely believe that:
“She who willingly lifts up the veil on her married life has profaned it from a sanctuary into a vulgar place.”

I have always felt this. For the first 20 years of my marriage, I was never disloyal to my husband in word let alone deed. I wouldn’t consider complaining about him to my best friends or my mother. I felt it would undermine both him and myself. Whether from a sense of sanctity or sheer stubbornness, I could not admit any serious flaws and played problems down.

“…Romola was urged to doubt herself the more by the necessity of interpreting her disappointment in her life with Tito as to satisfy at once her love and pride….
No! resentment must not rise: all endurance seemed easy to Romola rather than a state of mind in which she would admit to herself that Tito acted unworthily.”

But 2017-18 had put this belief to the test. If I continued to hold to this standard, how could I continue to write this blog frankly? As time went on, I began to interrogate why I was constantly making excuses for him, even to myself.

* * *

This weekend was the perfect temperature for me: between too cold in Lower Egypt in winter and too hot in Sudan, it was absolute bliss to be in balmy Aswan. I was back to needing only one sleeping bag with the hatch open overnight. Yet on Saturday morning, for the first time ever, T’ai Chi made me feel worse. I had a terrible headache at the nape of my neck. Was it a consequence of an upsetting call to Ruby at hostel telling her that Polly had died, which had her howling in tears and on the verge of another panic attack?

I lay down and rested up all day ahead of a planned visit to the Nubia Museum which opened at 4.30pm. The museum was built as a conclusion to the staggeringly ambitious UNESCO initiative to rescue and relocate 22 ancient Egyptian monuments and architectural sites at risk from flood during construction of the Aswan High Dam between 1960 and 1980. More than 60 member states contributed to this unprecedented international cooperative effort to preserve our human heritage.

Opened to visitors in 1997, the Nubia Museum won the Aga Khan award for Architecture in 2001. It displays more than 3000 objects found during excavations in an impressive sandstone and pink granite building, and does vital work underlining the links between ancient civilisations and cultures of Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

It exceeded my expectations and deserves to be on the international map alongside the Acropolis museum in Athens. Set amid landscaped gardens and beautifully laid out, it provides a wealth of information about the rise and fall of empires, and the ebb and flow of peoples across Nubia from pre-history through Pharaonic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic epochs to the present. Importantly, in this era of decolonised education, it effortlessly showcases the extent of the sophistication of African craftsmanship from ancient times.

Nubia traded gold, incense, ebony, copper, ivory, and exotic animals from tropical Africa and enjoyed peaceful cultural exchange with Egypt for centuries; there is speculation that the word Nubia comes from the Egyptian word for gold. Some Egyptian pharaohs may have been of Nubian origin, such as Mentuhotep II of the 11th dynasty and Amenemhet I, founder of the 12th dynasty. Nubia was mostly dominated by Egyptian power except for a shining moment during the 25th Dynasty where the kingdom of Kush took over and held sway all the way to Libya and Palestine. The glorious Black Pharoahs of Kush – great name for a band – ruled for 88 years from 744 BCE to 656 BCE.

“The 25th Dynasty’s reunification of Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, and Kush created the largest Egyptian empire since the New Kingdom. They assimilated into society by reaffirming Ancient Egyptian religious traditions, temples, and artistic forms, while introducing some unique aspects of Kushite culture. It was during the 25th dynasty that the Nile valley saw the first widespread construction of pyramids (many in what is now Sudan) since the Middle Kingdom.” (Wikipedia)

Welcome to the International Museum of Nubia

Guarded by four baboon gods

This is a statue of Haremakhet, son of Pharaoh Shabaka and high priest of Amun in Thebes during 25th Dynasty

It’s made of sparkling red granite, larger than lifesize, anatomically perfect and breathtakingly beautiful

Amenridis, ‘Divine Wife’ of Amun, sister of Shabaka, 25th Dynasty 8-7th century BCE granite

Isis suckling Horus between 600-300 BCE (centuries before European depictions of Madonna and child) in schist

Ankhnesneferibre, last ‘Divine Wife of Amun’ 26th Dynasty

Sandstone statue of Thoth, god of wisdom, as Baboon Monkey, 19th Dynasty

letting it all hang out

The stunning face of Shebitku, conqueror of the Nile Valley in 712BCE

Definitely sensing some eastern influence in this lion. Ancient Afro/Oriental fusion?

Suspected to be Nectanbo II 30th Dynasty

Wooden warriors from the tomb of Mesehti around 2000BCE – the Nubians’ archery skills were legendary

Horses were key to the Kushite war machine. They were often buried with their royal owners in full riding regalia

This 8m high sandstone statue of Ramses II is one of the Nubia Museum’s most famous exhibits, from the Temple of Gerf Hussein built by Serau, Viceroy of Kush

Sampson bailed first, then Zola left to cook. So I ended up alone chatting with the most beautiful faces of all: Khaled (13) and his sister Aliaa (10) were proud (and tall!) Nubians on holiday from Cairo, personifying a perfect blend of Arab/African looks and intelligence. While their inquisitive elder brother walked about making copious notes, sweet Khaled was eager to tell me all about Egyptian singer Sherine. In turn I told him about Bra Hugh who had just passed; Khaled paused and said “You know One Direction? We love!” and Aliaa nodded enthusiastically. Bless ’em.

Khaled and Aliaa Godaa

After a rest, I went on to be entranced by the workmanship of the exhibits from the Common Era:

Double kohl pots, for black and green kohl, one with four compartments

A traditional game

Beautiful small bronze sculptures of war elephants between 250 BCE – 300 CE

Bronze artefacts from 4th-6th century

Incense burner – fumes escape through jaws, nostrils and ears

Silver bracelets with semi-precious stones

One of three silver crowns found on kings buried in Ballana in the 5th century. Mixture of Pharaohic and Byzantine symbols

Incredibly ornate – very Game of Thrones

Two oil lamps, one made of brass in the shape of a dove…

the other of bronze in the shape of a man’s head, with silver eyes enlaid with garnet, 4th century

early Christian masonry detail from 6th century

Islamic enamelled glass mosque lamp in Mamluk style inscribed with name of Emir Qawsun from 14th century

I appreciated the copious information about Nubian history and customs

and the detailed account of the mammoth task of dismantling and reconstructing the ancient monuments

The still life tableaux were a bit disturbing

depicting life in Nubian villages –

less Madame Tussaud’s,

more ’60s era Thunderbirds, but evocative nonetheless

When hordes of Egyptian teenaged boys on a school tour came piling in, I left. I got a bit lost in the grounds looking for the way out, and became slightly panicky as it was getting dark and my legs were beginning to fail. Son’s supper felt like a reward:

Scrumptious red bean casserole and mash patted into orderly shape as Zola likes it

That night we started watching the more modern film version of Murder on the Orient Express. Kenneth Branagh seemed as preposterous a choice for Poirot as his moustaches.

* * *

After a very sweaty day missioning to fill up with water and change Egyptian pounds into dollars to enter Sudan (where, according to our guide book, there were no ATMs available outside the capital) we treated ourselves to a felucca ride. If you can’t go to Venice and not have a go in a gondola, you can’t go to Aswan and not experience a felucca ride at sunset. I’d declined to take a daredevil camel ride at the pyramids, but this was far more my scene.

The ads were good

All aboard!

It was just so peaceful

– under sail.

Unlike the motor boats puttering up and down with their cheeky hangers-on…

the felucca moved silently under the skilful tiller

of Mr Aladin (pronounced El-a-deen), here leaning into it, making his tacking look effortless.

While Zola was doing his best impression of an undercover pop star,

and Sampson was marvelling at the sights –

distant monuments,

glorious nature,

tourist boats

both big

and small –

I was busy marvelling at Mr Aladin’s catlike capacity to skip nimbly across his skiff despite being 10 years older than me!

It was truly blissful…

As we (literally) rode into the sunset

feeling so blessed to be here together

Aladin scampered up and down

trimming the sail with one hand, steering with the other.

I’m so glad we ‘pushed the boat out’ for this. The perfect peace of it was such a balm. As Mr Aladin tacked upriver against the current before turning to catch it back, I felt my inner tension unwinding. I loved the timeless Nubian vibe, the slap slap of the Nile against the side, the rich scents of the green water reminding me of trips on the River Leam as a child. It was so relaxing. One hour became two as it got dark.

Basking in the tranquility

I had my first ever moment of turning round and

not being able to tell which was my husband and which my son – Zola (on the left) suddenly had the silhouette of a full grown man!

I was so shattered when we came in, but stood up another 40 mins to fry three of my famous potato cakes to have with Zola’s tasty leftovers. The evening was ruined by Sampson accidentally letting the cat out onto the road when he brought Monte in and threatening to ‘leave it out all night’ because he was too tired to go fetch Lucky. I was so upset, I was beginning to think leaving him was a less scary prospect than staying. What was happening to me? Surely I shouldn’t be this distressed simply because of silly thoughtlessness. Why was I constantly reduced to tears?

Trouble

Monday morning got off to a nasty early start when we both had upset stomachs. (Bullet-proof Zola was fine.) Walking back to the Sudanese embassy to collect our passports with new visa stamps in them, Sampson was feeling very sorry for himself, complaining about how ghastly he felt. When I gently countered that I wasn’t feeling great either, he uttered the immortal words: “Well, you have diarrhoea all the time, so it doesn’t count.”

“Very slight things make epochs in married life…”
At that moment, something broke.
Everything froze.

I turned and looked at him, dumbfounded.
Does he really believe that?
So does he think that ‘pain all the time’ and ‘exhausted all the time’ don’t count either?
Does he really believe I must just get used to it?
I was so shocked, I couldn’t speak.

Does he think that, just because it happens every day, it doesn’t hurt?

“There was a terrible flaw in the trust: she was afraid of any hasty movement, as are men who hold something precious and want to believe it is not broken”

I couldn’t understand his determinedly self-scuppering self-absorption; it felt reckless, almost defiant. Much later, Eliot gifted me insights into the mind of Romola’s husband Tito:
“The terrible resurrection of secret fears which, if Romola had known them, would have alienated her from him forever, caused him to feel an alienation already begun between them – caused him to feel a certain repulsion towards a woman from whose mind he was in danger.”

* * *

It was a nightmare getting out of town – we suspected there was a fire or a bomb scare – Big Reg was waved through traffic by impatient police and nearly squashed a car with the side of a tyre. Finally we reached the Aswan High Dam below Lake Nasser, guarded by a host of boys with machine guns. The truck was given the once over by a plain clothes policeman in a T-shirt, who kept us waiting 45 minutes while he chatted to his boss on the phone (who seemed to be checking whether our website was authentic). Once given the all clear, his colleague jumped into the passenger seat to escort us over this sensitive state site. We weren’t allowed to take any photos of the enormous dam, but he took selfies with Sampson!

The Aswan High Dam, the world’s largest embankment dam, is a breathtaking feat of engineering built between 1960 and 1970 to provide protection from both floods and droughts, while increasing agricultural and electricity production and tourism on the Nile. However it also forced the relocation of 1o0 000 Nubian people in Egypt and Sudan.

Zola and I had finished school, so in the late afternoon when Sampson was exhausted I volunteered to drive  – that’s how much stronger the warm weather makes me! I was so happy to manage an hour and half on the road through sunset into dark. I avoided cramp by slathering magnesium oil on my limbs before bed.

Although woken by a scrabbling dog at 5.45am, I embraced the opportunity to have a little cuddle with my husband – he put Monte out then took him for a walk at 6.30 and I managed to doze back off. Sampson started driving at 8 and I lay in bed till 9 recovering from the effects of my stint at the wheel. I was feeling very grateful for our life, that allows me to do that when I need to, and very fond of the back of Hub’s tufty head.

We stopped midmorning and as usual, within 10 minutes, police in a van swang by to say “you can’t stay here” but we assured them we’d only stopped to eat. I’d been fantasising about making ‘strawberry strudel’ again, gluten-free pancakes with layers of the stewed unripe fruit and Egyptian cream cheese. Even sweet-tooth Sampson liked it.

While I cooked, he went to lie down on my neatly made bed to rest his back. When I gave him a second helping, I saw he had carelessly dislodged the towel spread out there for the purpose of protecting my sheet. I know this sounds painfully petty, but when the only space that is truly yours is your bed, and you spend 80% of your time there, and the effort it takes to sweep it takes 10% of the energy you have for your entire day, when someone thoughtlessly dumps dirt or sand or smears oil on it from their filthy trousers (again) despite having been asked please to take care not to hundreds of times, it can send you over the edge.

Looking back, I also know that this was the height of my menopausal madness; I acknowledge I’m high maintenance at the best of time, but over this six months, my hormones had my triggers on a trip switch. I ended up screaming at him. Sobbing and shaking from upset, I crumpled onto the loo and thought This Is Ridiculous. ENOUGH.

He set off driving and I lay on the bed and wrote a long overdue email to my best friend from school, finally opening up to her, aware that admitting vulnerability had to be the first step: “I think this marriage is over…. I can’t be doing with this crying every day”.

There was no internet connection until we arrived at Abu Simbel, so I only managed to send it just before we went in. While I was blowing my nose and mopping my face with tissues – again – Sampson was taking Monte on a quick walk round the carpark, while fending off a pack of wild dogs, to tire him out before we went in. Approaching 3pm, the heat was easing, so we shut the animals safely inside and set off to find the entrance.

We walked around the side of a mound created by an artificial cliff. My eyes were on Zola – I hadn’t warned him or shown him anything prior to our arrival – and as he caught sight of the gigantic figures outside the Abu Simbel temples for the first time, a huge smile spread across his face. Wow oh wow oh wow oh wow oh wow! It was beyond beyond anything we had seen before. The majesty. The magnificence. The scope and the vision. The sheer size!

During his reign, Ramesses II embarked on an extensive building program across Egypt and Nubia. He built several grand temples there in order to impress Egypt’s might upon the Nubians and encourage integration. The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, which took about twenty years to carve out of rock, was completed around 1244 BC. It features four large statues of Ramesses II in the façade, each representing the pharoah sitting on a throne wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, one damaged by an earthquake.

The Great Temple of Abu Simbel

The four colossal statues are 20m (66ft) high, 2m bigger than the four American presidents of Mount Rushmore, whose faces were sculpted in the 1930s, more than 3 millennia later. Inside there are another 8 huge figures, linking Ramesses with the god Osiris, and bas-reliefs depicting his battles in Syria, Libia and Nubia. The innermost sanctuary has four rock cut figures seated against a black wall: Egypt’s three state deities of the time, Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah alongside the deified king Ramesses.

big fellers

with family at their feet

The depictions of warring horse chariots within attesting to Ramesses II’s victory against the Hittites at Battle of Kadesh in 1274BCE reminded me of the Bayeux Tapestry (but 2300 years previously!). The delicacy of gesture and the fluidity of movement seemed more elegant however – even the Pharoah in the heat of battle slaying one enemy while trampling another looked graceful. Zola was loving it.

Sampson said these guys looked like they were doing T’ai Chi

It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned in such a way that on October 22nd (Ramesses II’s coronation day) and February 22nd (possibly his birthday), the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall – except for the statue of Ptah, a god connected with the realm of the dead, who always remained in the dark.

The Small Temple of Abu Simbel

We crossed to the smaller temple, dedicated to the goddess Hathor, personified by Nefertari, Ramesses’s most beloved of his many wives. This is one of very few instances in Egyptian art where the statues of the king and his consort have equal size. Traditionally, the statues of the queens stood next to those of the pharaoh, but were never taller than his knees. As at the Great Temple of the king, there are small statues of princes and princesses next to their parents.

where the queen stands equal with the king

The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples by a multinational team working together under the UNESCO banner cost US$40 million (equal to $300 million today). Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into 1000 large blocks weighing between 7 and 30 tonnes, dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 metres higher and 200 metres back from the river, in one of the greatest feats of archaeological engineering in history.

Photography is not allowed inside, but when a big tourist boat from Aswan anchored below the temples and we could see the crowd on deck snapping away we decided it must be OK to take some outside, and Zola squeezed a selfie:

I will never forget how happy we were at this moment, how thrilled we were to be there

It felt an historic day

The experience was so magical, it laid a golden glow over us like a magic healing balm. When we came out we didn’t want to leave – we went back to the Great Temple to read these launch plaque comments:

President Nasser’s declaration

and UNESCO’s dedication to future humanity

As we headed round the circuit to the exit, Sampson’s back was aching so he went ahead while Zola and I looked around an exhibition room commemorating 200 years since maverick Italian barber/fugitive/circus performer/hydraulic engineer/explorer/archaeologist/looter Giovanni Battista Belzoni uncovered the Abu Simbel temples buried beneath the sand in 1817.

Giovanni Battista Belzoni

famous for transporting the colossal statue of Ramses II ‘Younger Memnon‘ to the British Museum

As we came out, Ruby phoned me all excited, needing permission to leave hostel to go to the cinema with a friend – but I could hear calling from the truck.

Sampson was shouting that he thought Monte had had a stroke: when he opened the driver’s door, he’d found him on the floor having a fit by the gear stick. Monte was capering around now but his back legs were weirdly stiff. I said get him inside because he seemed over-hyped to me, panting excessively and the presence of the feral dogs seemed to be getting him in a state.

Once we lifted him in, Monte had another fit while I was holding and trying to calm him – it was so extreme, with his limbs and neck straining, my left wrist was bruised the next day from protecting his head against the seat. I couldn’t believe he lived through it. Sampson was freaking out, so I got him to take over holding him while I searched for Kim Taylor’s number from ACE. There was no signal so I ran over to security to use their phone, but no answer. By the time I’d run back, Monte had had another fit and Sampson was beside himself. I remembered the emergency number for the Hurghada vet that our Russian friend Alex had accidentally gave me, and got straight through to Dr Issam. He told us it had to be poison so get to a pharmacy immediately.

Within 10 minutes, Sampson had screeched Big Reg out and down the slope to the roundabout with a couple of shops at the bottom, found a pharmacy and injected Monte with cortisone. Monte had had another convulsion in the meantime; now he was foaming at the mouth. Sampson begged us to take him from the cab into the back of the truck, out of sight of the crowd of guys at the open door watching.

As Zola and I were carrying him through to the back, Monte died. His fifth fit was one too many for his heart. My husband fell on his knees, howling, crying and I couldn’t bear his pain. My heart was breaking for him. No matter how hard living with Monte was, I would never have wished for this. I held Sampson tight, and we sobbed together.

Hub’s best friend

The 5 o’clock call to prayer sounded like a benediction. Monte looked so peaceful, his coat gleaming, his body so healthy compared to the bag of bones we found on the rubbish dump in Montenegro five months ago. Eventually I persuaded Sampson to drive back to the temple car park. He sat behind the wheel and said “He made me feel like a 12 year old boy again, happy every day. He was so simple and loving” and burst into tears once more.

It made me feel so bad. That’s all he wants. All he needs. All anyone needs.

Back in the vast coachpark, Zola volunteered to make pasta while I held Sampson’s hand and walked with him far away from the lone truck, down to the end of the tar road, trying to see where we might give Monte a dignified grave. Way past the yapping pack of strays that security ‘deal with’ by scattering meat poisoned with strychnine…

We wanted to ‘bury him at sea’, and walked around with torches looking for a suitable spot but there was no sheer drop anywhere. It was a border day tomorrow and I didn’t think I could manage the fallout from carrying a heavy dog to the top of the steps, so we rather prepared to place Monte in a bed of rushes. I wrapped him in our old favourite Mr Price Mzansi rug that I’ve been sitting outside on all these years that smelled of us. As I got Monte ready, I realised Zola was finally sobbing. Very glad for the outpouring, I gave him a huge hug. Together we carried Monte deep into the bushes, turned him over, tucked him in and had a last sob with Sampson.

When we got back to the truck and Sampson lay down on my bed, Lucky came and sat on his chest, in a way she hasn’t done since she was a baby.

* * *

Thank you Monte, for all you taught us. A wholly innocent soul, your bounding eagerness made you blessed and your boundless loving heart was without doubt lighter than Maat’s feather. I hope you will be there waiting to welcome us to the other side, our little Anubis.

Rest in peace

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Egypt 8: Necropolis

Our second morning parked outside Animal Care Egypt we watched the sugar cane harvesters work while we were doing our exercise and having breakfast. It took them from 6am till 9.30 to fill the carriage.

Sugar cane flowers blowing in the wind outside ACE

Morning routine no matter where we are

Sampson and I amused ourselves by speculating on how brilliant an African Generation Game would be: instead of smug expert cake-icers and claypot-throwers demonstrating their skills for the hapless contestants to have a go at, rather have urbanites try pack a boxcar with sugar cane, peel a whole pineapple in one go, or balance a bucket of water on their head and walk down a bumpy trail for a kilometre or two…..

Our discussion of uber naff gameshows of the 70s led to us remembering Mr &Mrs, which used to be on when we got home from school before the children’s programmes started. We spontaneously started singing the theme tune simultaneously. I reflected that at the turn of the millennium you could probably have sold a ‘Mr & Mr’ or ‘Mrs and Mrs’ revamp – now it would have to be ‘Gender is A Spectrummmmm’. How we laughed… It’s comforting to have seen such progress in our lifetime. We need to hold on to that sometimes, when we feel the struggle seems to be always uphill.

(OMG, this was a joke but while researching I found out they did rehash it in the noughties to include gay couples: All Star Mr&Mrs!)

It was time to chase oil supplies, although it felt like pushing it to do anything else besides schooling. I was battling to maintain low level functioning; it felt like two steps forward, one step back.

24th Jan 2018. It’s 6am. I’ve been in bed since 9pm but I’m desperately trying to ignore the whining dog and get back to sleep for another hour because at this level of pain and exhaustion I won’t be able to function adequately today. My arms are aching as if I did a thousand press-ups yesterday, rather than typing a handful of emails, so I painfully uncurl them downwards. With the never-fail Harry Potter audiobook droning soothingly from the phone under my pillow, I fall into a light sleep, too light to be restorative.

I dream that Monte is on my bed and I’m trying to calm him, shut him up. I pat him and he gets my hand in his mouth, clamps jaws down over my right hand. I put my other hand reassuringly on his back and try to get Mark’s attention but he can’t hear me, I don’t seem to be making a sound. It’s not hurting and I know Monte doesn’t mean me any harm but I’m scared I’m going to lose the fingers on my writing hand. I drag myself into consciousness and find that somehow my right hand has got trapped in the twisted waistband of my pyjamas.

It’s 7.15 and the cold and the pain are like an assault that take my breath away. It’s about 14˚C inside. I’m in a sheepskin hoodie under my two sleeping bags. Mark knows I’m awake because I raised my left hand over the divide to alert him, but I can’t speak yet. I feel too ill, like I’m drugged. It’s not the pleasant drowsiness you have on waking from a long refreshing night’s sleep, but a horrible grogginess, as if you’re coming round from an anaesthetic. I can’t move yet, the pain everywhere is total and sickening, as if I’ve just been hit by a truck.

Days like this you wonder how you’re not dying.

I am used to the feeling in my head, but it’s worse today. The bottom of my neck, the brain stem inflammation, is always bad after time on the computer or stress. If I didn’t blithely ascribe every symptom I experience to M.E. I would suspect this is what a tumour feels like. Like a lead weight, pushing a huge bruise against the back of my head.

If you touch me I will vomit.

But I want to be touched, I want to be held like a baby and this pain massaged away. I know it will ease, bit by bit, as I surface. The light that is unbearable at first will cease to pierce. The noise will cease to batter. I will thaw enough to sit up a little, then stand, then make my bed, then wash, then dress, then climb gingerly down the ladder. T’ai Chi will help me get my balance back, and allow me to breathe more easily, not as if I am begging my heart to allow the expansion of my lungs.

But today this morning routine will take me two hours not one as I will need to rest in between each action. So we will be late to start school, and late to finish, and I won’t get to any blog editing. My main comfort today is that I am going to spend this time waiting for the first terrible fog to clear telling you about it while the disorientating feeling is fresh, even if my arms and wrists and fingers complain like a bunch of grumbling old people at this affront (being forced to exert themselves too early).

That afternoon, we received news in an email from our tenants that Polly, our rescue dog that they kindly adopted, had died. Pollyanna, calmer of children and licker of toes, was the spirit that taught me to trust dogs. I cried weedily remembering hours upon hours of Noordhoek beach walks together and felt wobbly for the rest of the week.

* * *

Parked off on the side of a highway on the public holiday National Police Day waiting for the garage to reopen, there came to pass a bizarre confluence of travellers.

Firstly, retired Canadians Mike and Sue Broadbent from Sorrento, British Columbia, pulled up alongside Big Reg in their trusty Defender, to tell us they read the blog! Their pace put us to shame – this was their 121st country, and they’d travelled through 40 countries in Africa anticlockwise (from UK to Morocco, down the west coast and up east coast) since Dec 2016! They told us friends and relatives don’t like to listen to their tales, but rather “want to tell them about the latest divorce gossip or discuss paint colours in their kitchen”. They felt like kindred spirits and I would’ve loved to sit down and listen to them for hours.

Canadian adventurers Sue and Mike

with their beautifully decorated Defender

I just managed to snap this pic of ever-grinning Edu after he bounced out of the taxi Rafa was sitting in

As we were standing admiring the designs they’d had painted on their vehicle in Mauritania, another car screeched to a halt next to us. Brazilians Eduardo Brancalion and Rafaela Vellinho were in a taxi on their way to pyramids, having left their Landy Pandora somewhere. Even though it was the briefest of meetings and we didn’t get a chance to chat, I want to thank them for their excellent company ever since.

Edu and Rafa’s Pandora on the Road Instagram feed is one of the most magnificent travel blogs I’ve ever seen. The breathtaking scope of their adventures has shown me how Millennials with a little money can do this social media thing. The Google translation of the Brazilian Portuguese of Edu’s motto on their website is probably dodgy but you can nonetheless grasp why I love his vibe:

“World without border, I want to live for you.”

* * *

Nour El-Assal from Egyptian WVO recycling business Tagaddod had put us in touch with the Luxor Hilton and gratefully we drove there to follow up. It was so blissfully quiet, tucked away at the back by the spa – and a huge relief from the flies in the garage.

Once again catapulted from living in a garage to the lap of luxury: welcome to the Hilton Luxor!

Big Reg at reception

The Hilton Luxor Resort has a spectacular view over the Nile

Spa manager Cindy Atlasik from Durban had such an infectious laugh, Sampson said he’d like to have her in the front row of every audience.

Lovely Cindy points to the Valley of the Kings on the other side

We met with recently appointed hotel Director Mohamed Said Kalil on the main terrace. Despite having a sister living in Cape Town, he had never been to SA so we did some promotion! He outlined the Hilton’s inspiring Blue Energy initiative that foregrounds sustainability as part of their hospitality. You can see why Hilton is number one in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For for the 2nd year in a row. Hilton staff commit to adding light and warmth (and in pandemic times, hope) to the world wherever they are. The Director demonstrated this by handing over a huge donation of waste vegetable oil to us: 180L, triple what we were expecting!

Dynamic Director Mohamed Said Kalil

The glorious spot where we had our meeting

The Hilton donated 180L of WVO!

They’d been keeping it for us for a while

and we were incredibly grateful as fuel stocks were beginning to run low

Thanks so much to the Hilton’s spa, security and garden teams for making us feel so welcome

Especially Mr Elshazly

I needed to start cooking my lunch but a friendly security guard invited himself in for chat. Suddenly I had flashy lights in my eyes – a fairly regular occurrence when I have low blood sugar – but this time it was more extreme and came on very quickly. I couldn’t see clearly at all for about 20 minutes until after I swallowed some carbohydrate and lay down to digest it. It was a bit of a shock: I realised that if this was becoming the norm, it was not going to be safe for me to drive anymore.

26. I have not shut my ears to the words of truth.

Sampson was editing our Saving Water with the Sampsons video that we’d filmed at Marsa Shagra at New Year. It was the height of the #Day Zero drought crisis in Cape Town and, as the city had recently announced Level 6b restrictions would be imposed from 1st Feb, we’d had to reshoot the last scene outside MCV to accommodate the latest water restriction reduction from 85L per day to 50L. Zola’s genuine disbelief that Capetonians were struggling to cope on 50L each per day – what we have to make do with for a week – made his ‘drop the mic’ disgust utterly authentic!

35. I have never stopped the flow of water.

I was trying to coordinate a couple of drivers provided by our Russian friend Alex in Hurghada to collect WVO from a clutch of Jaz Hotels in Madinat Makadi under the auspices of Mr Mahmoud Abd El Gawad, Sustainability Director of Jaz Go Green, a contact made remotely via Heba Shawky at HEPCA who was now in Germany… eeek. We managed to overcome an 11th hour problem about papers giving permission for the oil to cross the provincial border into Luxor and their red bakkie finally arrived with 13 containers of WVO, 260L without which we would never have made it to Khartoum.

A thousand thanks to Hadi and Ahmed who drove 10 hours from Hurghada and back

and extra special thanks to Mahmoud Abd el Gawad, sustainability manager at Jaz Hotels for going out of his way to help us, although we never met

We were invited to eat in the Hilton’s Rosetta Restaurant that night – a huge treat for the boys but more exhausting than enjoyable for me. Waiting just 15 minutes for food to arrive proved too much more time than usual in the evening sitting up. I was longing to lay my head on the table and had to leave before they finished their dessert.

The elegant surrounds of the Hilton’s Rosetta Restaurant

Zola’s favourite fresh mint and lemon juice

I was spoiled with fresh prawns and crisp vegetables

and giant chocolate-swirled nut-stuffed dates

It felt terribly sophisticated

The next day I had a lovely chat with Assistant Training Manager Mr Hassani, who was very wise for his years. Although brought up in the rural village of Qena, his is a very modern family: his wife has a BA in Engineering and they share parenting duties for their 3 kids. His Dad still stays in a house 30m from his own, without electricity or water, and prefers the simple life.

29. I am not a stirrer up of strife.

Mr Hassani told me he’d spent a year studying in the States, but apart from admiring their punctuality, he didn’t like much else about the Western way of life. He said he came home because he didn’t like the absence of fellow feeling. He was talking about preferring a less goal-driven life, emphasising “enjoying the food you are eating, conversation you are having, this cup of tea with you”. I don’t think he knew the word ‘mindfulness’ but he certainly knew the value of it as a daily practice.

The delightful Mr Hassani. Not sure he liked the rooibos we shared mind you!

Meanwhile my husband was busy turning a drama into a crisis, prematurely announcing that a file had corrupted and he’d lost all the extra day’s filming. I noticed how Zola and I both didn’t react, so used now to holding firm against the first flood of his panic. Of course he recovered the file, but it seemed like he had deliberately leapt on the worst case scenario to wound me, to shake my calm, to get me as rattled as he was feeling. It felt so unnecessary, so mean, I wasn’t sure I could cope with much more of it.

8. I have not uttered lies.

Sampson chilling by the infinity pool next to the Nile – before completely losing his rag with his computer

I had been so looking forward to this weekend away from the garage, finally some time to write. But my spoons were stolen, my scarce energy reserves burned up in unnecessary upset, indignation, explanation – talking him down was exhausting. I was beginning to feel that this marriage was unsustainable, purely on a health level. I couldn’t get over the stupidity of it – we could be having such a simple, peaceful, mutually nurturing time on this trip but, under stress, his first impulse is always to prove he’s in a Worse State than me. I had to keep out of his way today, to protect my capacity and preserve my sanity, and the recognition of that instinct made me deeply sad.

12. I have made none to weep.

I knew he was struggling and internally vowed to be kinder to him the next day, but it proved hard when his first action was to open the side door without knocking on me naked in front of the whole carpark…

19. I have not been angry without just cause

On Monday, Ruby called SCREAMING with excitement because her school Principal had added our video to their water wise assembly that morning without warning her. She was half absolutely mortified and half loving the attention – and Zola was apparently a bit of a sex symbol now amongst Wynberg Girls! The video reached 1000 hits that day…

After some to-ing and fro-ing to MCV trying to sort out last clutch niggles, on 30th Jan – 2 full weeks after Ruby had left – we finally crossed over the big bridge onto the west bank of the Nile heading to the vast valleys of the Theban Necropolis.

Crossing the Nile with luxury cruisers in distance

There was a marked contrast between the barren mountains and the fertile alluvial plains

We drove past a local racing event involving around 20 horses and a throng of about 100 spectators. The animals were being driven up and down wildly in the dust, urged to turn sharply around long sticks jammed in the ground, while being whipped to a frenzy – all to the accompaniment of a four piece band with goblet drums and pipes. It was all rather frenetic and formless and obliquely macho and looked most unhealthy for the horses. I knew our friend, Liberty expert Andrea Wady, would hate it.

A kind guy who recognised us from our WVO appeal on the Hurghada residents Facebook group came up to Big Reg in the Valley of the Kings carpark and invited us to sleep outside his house. So on 31st Jan we managed to get ourselves to the entrance by 10am.

The Valley of the Kings carpark, where you are not allowed to sleep overnight

Many thanks to Mahmoud Ahmed Mohamed for his hospitality

Like the Taj Mahal and Table Mountain, the Valley of the Kings is a top tourist destination that not only lives up to, but exceeds expectations. This was a whole new level of gob-smacked: the magnitude and the magnificence of it, the giddying vistas it opened before me of hitherto unimagined philosophy and culture of kingdoms of which I knew absolutely nothing.

And yet this too is our human heritage. This too.

The Valley of the Kings

From Wikipedia: “For a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, rock cut tombs were excavated for the pharoahs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom in the Valley of the Kings… The valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers (ranging in size from a simple pit to a complex tomb with over 120 chambers)… The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. Almost all of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed in antiquity, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the pharaohs.”

I love that the “official name for the site in ancient times was The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes.” The Egyptians were as verbose as I am!

Thankfully there was a mini train to take us most of the way there

The little yellow train trundled through the dusty valley carrying coachloads of Chinese tourists and us. There was a chill wind and I was wrapped up, prepared for Cold Tombs, but got it so wrong – it was humid inside! The E£160 basic entrance price allowed access to 3 tombs excluding Tutankhamun‘s, which was more than enough for my energy capacity.

all the sights are underground

The interior of Ramses IV’s tomb KV2 was covered in colourful detailed designs. All of us were overwhelmed (again) by the scale and sophistication – every inch was decorated and meaningful. I particularly liked the variegated red-blue within the hieroglyphic text. Approaching the tomb at the centre, an elderly caretaker stationed there cautioned us all not to take pics because we hadn’t paid E£300 extra for that privilege (it hadn’t crossed our minds at that point, still dazed by the sights). But when he caught sight of Zola, he motioned come, just take a quick snap! Have a look at this tourist’s video.

As urged by the caretaker – though Zola not keen

Twosret and Seknakhte’s tomb KV14 was deeper, with two chambers and bigger pictures. Notable was Osiris with his four sons, a huge Horus on a lotus, a ram-headed bird as the soul of Ra, and the wings of Maat. I loved the first chamber’s blue ceiling with gold stars  – it felt very Hogwarts. The huge sarcophagus had a very thick lid with a statuesque relief on top and a picture of the pharoah on the underside pointed out by a guide stationed there with a torch. Here’s another video.

The third tomb of the package, a deep one with stairs, was closed, which saved me because I wasn’t sure I had enough energy to cope with them. Instead we were directed to that of Ramses III, KV11: blind harpists were the unique feature of this one. Its red quartzite sarcophagus had been removed to the Louvre in France; its lid to a museum in Cambridge, UK.

He spoke to me across millennia

Surrounded by tourists snapping away nineteen to the dozen, I found myself mesmerised by this calm blue-headed god Ptah (“who by his will thought the world into existence”) and couldn’t resist capturing a quick pic. The carving of his ear, nose and hand reminded me of the bas-reliefs by Canova I saw in the Gallerie d’Italia in Milan – only he’d been sculpted nearly 3000 years earlier! Check him out in the video at 1.43 – thanks Richard. There were so many extraordinarily magical realist figures:

This Horus looking hunky

and this beautiful Anubis looking very like Monte

It has been fascinating to read about Ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife. During the Old Kingdom from around 2400BCE, Pyramid Texts were carved into the walls of royal burial chambers to help guide pharoahs through the underworld to eternal life. During the Middle Kingdom, access to this knowledge was shared with commoners through Coffin Texts or inscribed on linen shrouds.

By the New Kingdom era, from around 1700BCE, the collection of funerary spells known as the Book of the Dead (or more correctly, the Book of Coming Forth By Day), were typically written on a papyrus scroll produced to order by scribes. They would be commissioned by people in preparation for their own funerals, or by the relatives of someone recently deceased, and were expensive items. One source gives the price as one deben of silver, half the annual pay of a labourer.

The most famous of the 192 recorded spells is number 125, the ‘Weighing of the Heart‘, first documented during the reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, around 1475 BCE. Having overcome a series of threats presented by crocodiles, snakes and supernatural animals en route, the newly-dead was led by the jackal-headed god Anubis into the presence of Osiris, lord of the underworld.

There, the deceased swore that they had not committed any of a list of 42 sins, reciting a text known as the Negative Confessions. This culminated in the weighing of their heart on a pair of scales against the goddess Maat, embodiment of truth, justice and harmony, who was represented by an ostrich feather, the hieroglyphic sign for her name.

If the scales balanced or the heart was lighter, this meant the dead person had led a good life. Anubis would escort them to Osiris and they would find their place in the afterlife, becoming maa-kheru, ‘vindicated’ or ‘true of voice’. If out of balance with Maat, the heavy heart would be eaten by a fearsome female demon called Ammit, the Devourer – part lion, part hippopotamus, part crocodile – damning the deceased to ‘die a second time’ and condemning their soul to eternal restlessness in the Duat.

We drove out of the Valley of the Kings and paused here to eat

40. I have not carried away the khenfu cakes from the spirits of the dead.

– only later we realised that in the distance was Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari – can you spot the terraces of colonnades? I was gutted to have missed it, but I’d had no energy left to walk any further anyway.

There were so many more tombs all around

But at least we saw the Colossi of Memnon in passing

and these fellers

13. I have not eaten the heart [i.e. I have not grieved uselessly, or felt remorse].

Mortuary temples in distance

I was shattered. It was enough.

* * *

Sampson saw so much more of Egypt than me: his early morning walks with Monte took him on long loops around the truck everywhere we stayed. He would come home and tell us about what he’d seen over breakfast. This morning, he’d watched a man making crates out of pieces of palm fronds while mist rose off the Nile behind him. “It’s probably been like this for thousands of years” he said “except for the hot air balloons going up in the background!” The craftsman had completed two by the time he finished his circuit.

Handmade crates like this were common

The magical sight of the balloons going up at dawn, he described (and I quote) “like Chinese lanterns, full of Chinese tourists. Or like giant mutant jellyfish wobbling above you. They turn into enormous brightly coloured beach balls. It was a feast for the eyes. I drank it in like an alcoholic who’d just fallen off the wagon.”

You gotta admit, we’re well matched in our hyperbole.

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#LonghaulersUnite

This is a call for all Long COVID-19 and chronic illness sufferers to come together to make our voices heard. A rallying cry for those too weak to march and protest. A covenant for those physically unable to stand up for our rights.

On 9th July, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr Anthony Fauci commented that an emerging pattern of extended COVID-19 symptoms is “highly suggestive” of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. For months, people with ME and ME activist associations have been publicly expressing concern that health authorities are not prepared for the avalanche of post-viral effects about to come crashing down on the lives of millions of patients across the world (see the Washington Post).

Groups of long-term COVID-19 patients across Europe and the US have been gathering on social media to compare notes on a frightening array of fluctuating symptoms and the medical profession’s unwillingness to engage with them about it (see The Atlantic). They are aghast to still be riding a rollercoaster of fever, chest pain and heart palpitations, headaches and muscle pain, gastrointestinal and sleep disturbance, cognitive problems and debilitating fatigue – weeks and months after official guidelines suggest COVID should be over (around 2 weeks) and when all their tests keep coming back ‘normal’.

It is estimated that at least 10% of all COVID-19 sufferers are being affected in this way (see The Guardian). Many of them were considered relatively mild cases, and are relatively young. 26 year old Fiona Lowenstein, who told her story in the New York Times, founded a Slack group for long-haul sufferers now numbering in the tens of thousands. There are five times as many members of the Survivor Corps Facebook group, many of whom, like several #AprèsJ20 groups in France and sufferers in UK, are reporting a slew of post-viral complications in longhaulers.

Welcome to our world.

For millions of people with ME and other chronic comorbidities (EDS, POTS, MCAS, Fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, Lupus etc) this has been our lives for years. We are hobbled less by the ball and chain of our pain as by the Sisyphean boulder of our exhaustion; just getting through each day is a marathon of endurance.

I know about long haul. For the last 6 years, my family trekked through 38 countries around Africa Clockwise in a 10 ton truck running on waste vegetable oil, sourcing it from hotels en route. Over 47000 km, we battled extreme weather and appalling roads, breaking down 26 times. To say we travelled at a snail’s pace would be an exaggeration. In the last year alone we spent 146 days living in garages enduring 3 engine rebuilds (see Carte Blanche TV).

But I wouldn’t count any of this as long haul compared to the years I spent in a darkened room in my early twenties suffering from severe ME. I fell ill in August 1992 aged 22, having contracted giardiasis less than a year after glandular fever, setting off a cascade of symptoms that have waxed and waned ever since but never relented. For 6 years I couldn’t work; for 2 years I scarcely got out of bed. At times, my parents had to bath and feed me. People with very severe ME don’t even have enough energy to swallow and have to be tubefed. Having another person in the room triggers agonising symptoms. Their pain is unimaginable.

When Professor of Infectious Diseases Dr Paul Garner described his 7 week COVID “hell” in the Guardian, his list of long-tail symptoms sounded exactly what living with moderate ME feels like. I currently have all the symptoms listed at 30 secs on this Long Covid SOS video daily, except for the cough.

For a month in Cote d’Ivoire in 2014, I had malaria and typhoid at the same time and it was a breeze in comparison. With malaria and typhoid you either get better or you die – the suffering does not go on infinitely. Crucially, there is acknowledgement of the gravity, well-funded research and effective medication for both of those diseases.

On the other hand, since the 70s, ME has been dismissed as a ‘conversion’ ‘functional’ or ‘somatisation’ disorder, ‘women’s problems’, anxiety/stress or all three: ‘hysteria’. A group of influential psychiatrists have made a career out of insisting our symptoms are all in our heads, ignoring the vast literature documenting their organic basis. This has been enormously convenient to governments and the medical insurance industry, who have pocketed a fortune denying social security benefits and the financial support due to those disabled by energy-limiting chronic illness (ELCI) . (See my August 2018 blog M.E. Too detailing the history of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.)

Slowly but surely, hundreds of thousands of people are realising that they are never going to recover from COVID-19, but now have a chronic post-viral condition that is going to affect their capacity to work, study and parent. Be assured that medical insurers across the globe are already mobilising to avoid covering the cost implications. Governments at risk from class action suits claiming criminal neglect of their duty to protect will be doing the same. Those most unable to fight for their rights are going to have an epic battle on their hands.

Legendary lifelong civil rights activist John Lewis died last week. He was one of the original Freedom Riders, marched alongside Martin Luther King at Selma and famously advised “Never be afraid to make some noise, and get in some good trouble, necessary trouble.”

This week I watched Crip Camp, a brilliant documentary charting how a 60s summer camp birthed the disability rights movement of the 70s which led to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. During the first militant protest in 1977 when the Disabled In Action spontaneously occupied a government building, the Black Panthers provided them with hot food every day for a month.

Such solidarity is vital.

In 2011, incensed at the ignorant racism of white feminists, Flavia Dzodan seethed “My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.” Germaine Greer and JK Rowling have discredited themselves demonstrating that feminists who exclude trans women from their struggle are perpetuating the hierarchy of the patriarchy. ‘Healthy’ disabled people who, in the face of an ableist infrastructure, understandably insist that disability is not sickness but merely the state of being overlooked, may ironically be perpetuating the marginalisation of the chronically ill.*

Invisible illness is the last great frontier for freedom fighters.** Because, unlike our BIPOC/BAME/historically disadvantaged, LGBTQIA+ and ‘healthy’ disabled brethren, the chronically energy-impaired are physically unable to protest. Most of us are unable to get out of bed. Most of this year, I have had to plan ahead to muster up the energy to cut my toenails.

So how can the chronically sick start mobilising now to prepare for the inevitable struggle ahead?

1) Virtually stand together: ME sufferers’ cumulative experience is a huge online resource that the growing long-tail COVID-19 cohort can call on. Finally we have something valuable to contribute to society: we’re experts at this! We live in lockdown. Social distancing is what we do to survive. Isolation is our normal.

We can share both physical pacing and mental coping strategies – for combating yo-yo boom and bust energy cycles, for diet and sleep management, for dealing with disbelieving doctors and family members. Most importantly, we can help Long COVID sufferers avoid potentially devastating and detrimental medical advice and therapies that could reduce them to wheelchairs or worse. #LonghaulersUnite

2) Create a Chronic/COVID Coalition: In the spirit of ‘Nothing about us without us’, the chronically ill community should nominate a global group of 30+ trusted ambassadors to represent us, alongside Long COVID groups, ME associations and scientific experts like Ron Davis from the Open Medicine Foundation etc. With Merryn Croft‘s mother’s words ringing in our ears (“what other illness gives the least attention to the worst affected?”) longstanding activists should be chosen with an emphasis on including the views of the most severe – only then will the true risk of ignoring their voices be weighed. Please post your nominations in the comments or Twitter thread.

3) Lobby medical authorities such as WHO, CDC and NIH (USA), NHS and NICE (UK) or Dept of Health in each country:
– to acknowledge the existence of longtail COVID-19 as another disabling post-viral syndrome
– to end dangerous recommendations for Graded Exercise Therapy for newly diagnosed people with ME (NICE has already discontinued recommendations of GET for Long COVID)
– to release more urgent research funding to pursue overlaps now.

4) Recruit a faithful band of allies: Call on carers of Long Covid sufferers to step up and add their voices to the chorus of chronic illness survivors and supporters who have been calling into the void for decades. If each new patient can persuade one other person to act on their behalf, stand in their Millions Missing shoes and march in their name, post-pandemic we could finally be a force to be reckoned with. #LonghaulersUnite

5) Plan for direct actions: some ideas – please feel free to add yours.
– Allies stage not sit-ins but lie-ins at key government/medical insurers offices to represent the predicament of the post-viral worldwide, with mattresses blocking office workers’ movements as they block ours.
– Allies obstruct entrances with placards bearing a giant PAUSE sign (II), symbolising solidarity with all those invisible individuals with Invisible Illness whose lives are permanently on hold due to the inability of authorities to even imagine their plight.
– In the midst of the AIDS pandemic, ACT UP activists chose the motto Silence = Death but for us Silence = Living Death. Allies could march as a Zombie Army all wearing white with black mask-covered mouths to express how Longhaulers are silenced by a lack of energy to protest. Allies are The Living Dead Walking, holding up their phones with images of the housebound and bedridden loved ones they represent.

Over the course of this pandemic, as the rest of the world got a taste of our lifestyle, astonishing advances in empathy took place. Remote medical consultations, working arrangements, online education and entertainment opportunities denied to us for decades became available within weeks.

Real change is enabled when allies stand up for others’ rights: when white people take a knee alongside black people; when straight people vote for gay marriage; when cis people march for trans rights. Because none of us are free until we are all free; none of us have dignity until we all have dignity; none of us are safe until we are all safe.

Chronically ill people need healthy people to protest for them, because – as the pandemic has so brutally demonstrated – none of us are well until we are all well. Most other minorities are ‘born this way‘, but absolutely anyone can become chronically ill – overnight.

 

Sam Pearce is an Oxford graduate with a Masters in Diversity Studies from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD in Persistence from the School of Chronic Illness: Acute 1992-93, Severe 1994-5, Moderate 1996-98, Mild 1999-2011, Moderate 2012-2017, Severe/Moderate 2018-20.

* Chronically ill people who reject their condition being dismissed by medical authorities as caused by anxiety or depression must nevertheless strive to stand in solidarity with those incapacitated by mental health issues. No disabling condition should carry a stigma. All of us have a right to be respected and live the fullest lives possible within our limitations.

** apart from speaking up for other silently suffering creatures or Mother Nature herself of course…

Posted in 00 M.E. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Egypt 7: MCV Luxor – Magic Eyes

The Temple of Karnak is stupidly huge. Approximately 30 Pharoahs contributed towards the building and it seems to have been built on the ‘more is more’ principle. The site is host to four sacred precincts, and construction was underway from the Middle Kingdom, around 2000-1700BCE, to the Ptolemaic period (305 – 30BCE) although most extant buildings date from the New Kingdom (from around 1550BCE), the peak of Egypt’s power. In this Ramesside period, Egypt attained its greatest extent, conquering new territories north into Syria and south into Nubia.

Even the model of the Karnak temple complex was tiring for me to walk around!

Sampsons ready to dive in…

down the avenue of…

ram-headed sphinxes protecting Ramses III between their lion paws…

I can’t tell you how excited I was, all energy saved up and ready to go!

The avenue of Sphinxes extends for about 2700m from the Temple of Karnak to the Temple of Luxor – it was rediscovered in 1949 and excavations are still underway. The female Pharoah Hatshepsut from the 18th Dynasty was the first to build this processional road, with sphinxes in her own likeness. But they’ve been reworked and repositioned many times by later kings.

During the Beautiful Feast of Opet the statues of the deities of the Theban TriadAmun, Mut and their child Khonsu — were escorted in a joyous procession in a sacred barque down the avenue of sphinxes that connect the two temples, stopping at specially constructed shrines filled with offerings en route. The highlight of the ritual was the meeting of Amun-Ra of Karnak with the Amun of Luxor. Rebirth was a strong theme of Opet and there was usually a re-coronation ceremony of the Pharaoh confirming his kingship. At the end of the ceremonies in the Luxor Temple, the gods’ barque and the royal barque would journey by boat back to Karnak.

The West entrance

Greeting Ramses II

also guarding Ramses III

Dude

surrounded by stories

Of four main temple enclosures, only one, the Precinct of Amun-Ra, the chief deity of Thebes, is open to the public. You walk into the Hypostyle Hall, the largest religious enclosure in the world: an area of 5,000 m2 (50,000 square feet) with 134 massive papyrus-flower-shaped columns arranged in 16 rows. 122 of these columns are 10 meters tall, and the other 12 are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters.

‘Massive’ has never meant so much

the crowns…

the architraves…

the detail…

the girth…

the amount of tourists

The architrave or lintel of each column alone weighs 70 tons (that’s 7 Big Green Trucks!) It’s still a mystery exactly how they were lifted up there. If I remember rightly, toppling a lump of rock off the top of one of them featured as a murder attempt in the 1978 film version of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.

‘Huge’ appears an inadequate adjective

and every inch of every one

is decorated differently

Mammoth in design

and exquisite in execution

to the tiniest detail

although the hieroglyphs on sandstone were wearing away

So much remains – shoo

Obelisks abound

The pair erected by Hapshetsup

were, at the time,

the tallest in the world

the detail was breath-taking

I read somewhere these are all the names of one god

I loved how the faded remainders of Ancient Egypt’s favourite paint colours echoed those still preferred by contemporary tractor drivers.

Was it a coincidence that the same colours

of blue,

red, orange

and sunshine yellow

were well represented in more protected nooks

under the starry ‘skies of heaven’ within the temple walls?

I found the face of this statue of Tutunkhamun so beautiful it took my breath away. A group of Chinese tourists were surveying it next to me; all I could pick up from their rapid chat was “Wah wah wah Michael Jackson wah wah”. You agree?

Just look at him

The too beautiful boy king/of pop        (before the nose job)

The kids were feeling the force of royalty on all sides

and the achievement of the slaves who built the monuments in its honour to last

– with an insane amount of detail

It went on

and on

and on

with more bewitching glimpses of  unexpected beauty around every corner

– wild

A chubby tour guide – another in a long line of persistently space-invading Egyptian men I haven’t chosen to focus on in this blog – offered to ‘take us for free’ but we firmly and repeatedly declined as we were wanting to go at our own pace (i.e. very slowly with lots of rest stops for me en route). The best bit of today was singing along with Ruby to the tune of Goldfinger: “MANSSSPLAINER… He’s a man, the man with the small …”

Later on he ended up introducing us to the lovely Tracy and Brian from Diep River

The Sacred Lake was dug by Tuthmosis III (1473-1458 BCE) and used by priests for ritual washing and ritual navigation. It was also home to the sacred geese of Amun and a symbol of the primeval waters from which life arose in the Ancient Egyptians’ idea of creation.

The Sacred Lake

with Amenhotep III’s ‘lucky in love’ giant scarab beetle

Pharaoh as god with a firm grip on the ankh symbol of life

Sampson having an Ozymandias moment

As we wandered around, I was a little wistful I’d been unable to do my usual prep to get the most out of my visit, beyond reading the very basic guide book we had with us, but comforted myself that I would do the research afterwards, while writing it up for the blog. Yet here I am more than 2 years later still with not enough energy to do justice to this vast subject, just skimming the surface. This Hypostyle Hall video is about as much as I can cope with right now.

Sampsons getting a crash course in African history

I kept asking myself why on earth hadn’t we ever studied the Ancient Egyptians in school? On the ground, the sheer scale of their magnificent construction projects was so obviously superior to those of the Ancient Greeks or the Romans – not least because many were carried out centuries, even millennia, prior. How white Western education skews our understanding, insisting that ‘civilisation’ began with the Classical cultures of the Mediterranean, refusing to acknowledge the advent of writing or agriculture in Africa or the Middle/East and sidelining ruins and artefacts from Ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia, from the Indus Valley to Ancient China, from Norte Chico to Mesoamerica. Not to mention ignoring the vast treasures of collective wisdom across the globe from the First Nations of Canada to the indigenous peoples of Australia and the Amazon to the San. For five hundred years, colonising countries have been determinedly blind to the evidence of the intelligence and sophistication of the cultures of black/indigenous/people of colour throughout ancient history.

Loving the sights of this day

It was unforgettable for all of us

I amazed myself with how far I walked, but was bloody glad I’d cooked already. We found a quiet sidestreet to park overnight in, but when Sampson took Monte for a walk, some kids throwing stones at him progressed to chunks of brick being chucked at the truck by teens driving by on scooters.

How could you do that to this little feller?

This caused my kids both alarm and upset, particularly as we couldn’t work out why they were doing it. We’d had no interaction with them so it couldn’t be personal. Was it due to hostility or boredom? Were they demonstrating resentment at us or what we represent: tourists or colonists? I wish I’d had the language capacity or energy to enquire. Security guards invited us to shelter in Karnak’s outer carpark, where a few stones were still thrown, but finally there was quiet.

PEM hit me hard the next day. The situation wasn’t helped by Ruby-grieving-anticipation insomnia. Thank goddess Rube decided against trying to see the Valley of Kings the day before she left. Instead we went on a supermarket hunt and by fluke arrived at the perfect place at the perfect time (empty during jumu’ah prayer at noon on Friday) after the Big Green Truck squeezed between cartfuls of tomatoes in a packed market and turned a corner to find a few hundred men praying in a shady street, the overflow from the mosque opposite, a magnificent sight of conscientious calm.

Backstreets of Luxor

blessed to find a supermarket round this corner

Sampson was somehow managing to blag his way round in Arabic solely via his knowledge of names of street food. The relish with which he would rattle off a sentence featuring a string of his favourites seemed to be enough to convince locals he was practically fluent: “Kofta, kebda, kushari, hawawshi, aseer assab – magnoun!” The three of them tucked into a veritable feast as I dug out the rice cakes…

Hawawshi (chicken, cheese and pepper stuffed rotis) with delicious kushari (a local version of spag-bol-cum-chilli-con-lentils)

It was now the third week of January, which in Cape Town means back to work for everyone after the long summer Xmas holiday. Ruby was about to start Grade 11 and said she didn’t want to fly out for Easter this year because she had too much studying to do and it would be too far for a short holiday.

Last night with all 4 of us in the truck

Not much room when both teens bigger than me now

A final helping of choc-dipped strawberries before she goes

Gang of annoying lads who pestered us relentlessly on Ruby’s last morning, so cocky at first but so lacking in self esteem, Mohamed (3rd from right) covered his broken teeth when I first asked for a photo, despite his lovely smile…

and then escorted us all the way to the airport!

A melancholy day for everyone

Though some handled it better than others

So we drove our daughter to Luxor airport for her four flights home with the long months until we would see each other again yawning cavernously before us. I waved and waved through the glass until I couldn’t see her anymore; only then I did I allow myself a little burst into held-back tears on son’s shoulder.

I think this is where my airport phobia started

Ruby survived a delay at Cairo and resultant tight transfer at Addis but had a panic attack on the plane to Jo’burg. Uneasily, I put it down to stress about the lonely exam-studded time ahead of her. We were very grateful to Uncle Pierrot for picking her up, and to Nana and Duke for whisking her away for weekends out of hostel in term 1.

* * *

It was quieter without the maelstrom of her moods; calmer, but sad. I comforted myself with reflecting on how fiercely we love each other – imagine if we were feeling glad she was gone. Zola and I had a motivating chat in preface to starting the school year, aiming to make the most of our freedom to do more of what we love while we can. For the first time since Ruby arrived in Cairo in early December, he came for a cuddle before bed. We were all missing her.

I also shared my 2018 New Year’s Resolution with my husband and son – “Take. My. Time.” meant determining for the first time ever:
1. to unapologetically take as much time as I need to do things in my compromised state. (Including unapologetically splitting infinitives.) But also
2. to not automatically sacrifice hours to planning and making meals, constantly putting the boys’ nourishment ahead of nurturing my reserves.
I needed to prioritise my needs for a few months until I could pull back to better health.

I read a fascinating piece in NYTimes by Reform Judaism’s first openly transgender rabbi Elliot Kukla reflecting that, despite his layered minority identity, it is his status as a chronic illness sufferer that has most made him feel like an outsider.

As Sampson felt that the Big Green Truck still wasn’t running right, the evening after Ruby left we drove to MCV Luxor and parked outside.

Just me and the boys again

MCV Luxor’s Mercedes garage

It may have been much smaller than Manufacturing Commercial Vehicles Cairo HQ but we were welcomed by an equally eager MCV team on Sunday (the Egyptian equivalent of Monday morning). Chief technician Mr Micheal (sic, pronounced Michelle) Melad gave Big Reg the once-over and was convinced that a new clutch was needed – a nightmare prospect in terms of both time and money in the same month we paid out Ruby’s annual school fees.

Although strictly we didn’t conk out anywhere, I counted this as breakdown number 17 because it did delay us. We were there a week.

To take the clutch out,

they first had to take out the gear box,

and two bolts to lift the transition to access it –

a HUGE and tricky job,

thank goodness labour was generously donated by MCV.

Blessings on Amir

Mamdour

and Mr Sami

for extricating this!

Once all that was out, the truck was unable to move. Unfortunately, due to the angle we were parked at, there was a freezing wind coming through the side door. Temperatures were dropping to 13˚C overnight, as it had been in Europe in November. Winter was catching us back up. We couldn’t understand how, despite it being this bloody cold, there were still so many flies?

Not to mention the mossies…

Yet here I am wearing every layer available.

Fly paper supplies were dwindling fast

Yuk

There was lots of admiring of dog before work commenced on Monday.

Monte keeping warm

in his cosy kid’s jumper

Has ever a puppy been more cosseted?

Monte was about 4 months’ old by now and Sampson was starting to train him in earnest. He was walking miles and miles with him every morning around the waste water recycling plant opposite. Every day he would pick up a few of these bizarre rocks he called ‘magic eyes’ – small smooth circular stones that looked like fossils of some sort. We have tried in vain to find out what on earth they are and where they come from; any feedback would be appreciated!

Sampson’s magic eye collection

a fascinating array of fossil-like stones

Any idea of their origins?

While Sampson was busy replacing indicator lights and swapping armrests on cab seats (so at last I had a way to wedge myself in), I was going through the Grade 8 books Ruby had delivered in preparation for Zola going back to school. The prep exhausted me so much, Zola had to cook. He washed up and cleaned the cooker as well. WHAT a star.

Zola got stuck into his washing backlog using his skateboard to transport water from the main building so we saved enough for drinking and cooking

Letting it all hang out

Apart from the skateboarding, his one-legged unicycling prowess – check the video – made him a legend among the mechanics. He’d come a long way since France!

Check the state of his sneakers

First day back, Zola and I did 5 subjects, and were very chuffed with ourselves. In the holidays I miss the deep chats schoolwork demands of my naturally reticent boy. Today’s English lesson involved looking at yourself through the eyes of others in the social media context of ‘Your Brand’. After a long talk I asked him to share 3 adjectives he would like other people to use to sum up his character. This is what he chose:
1. Mysterious
2. Interesting
3. Kind.

I love him.

Back to school

I finally reopened my Croatia blog. This first writing in weeks made me feel so happy. It felt like I was back – to me. We were getting back into the swing of being three. Sampson made us mash for tea. We started watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Before bed I played some Cranberries to Zola in honour of Dolores O’Riordan, who had died yesterday age 46. At 47, I felt so lucky to still be here hugging him.

During a visit to the truck, Mr Micheal and sales manager Mr Armia Albert explained that in Egypt long fingernails signify that they are ‘rich men’ – specifically not blue collar manual labourers. (I enjoyed this account clearing up exactly why and a couple of other local mysteries.)

Companionable chats in the truck

comparing their pinkie status symbols – Sampson definitely ranking lowest

We took to ending off the day with a once-round-the-block walk with Monte in the last warm hour between 3-4pm. One last circuit with Zola on his skateboard while revising French numerals, days and months – I was impressed he was spot on! He had to give his Dad a massage tonight. I was dreaming of having a bath in Epsom salts – my muscles were beginning to take strain in the cold.

Meanwhile Micheal had said there was “no clutch in Egypt” so we had put feelers out to source one from SA, but by some miracle he then found one in the next town. Sampson leapt in a van with hectic driver Romany who went 140kph the whole way while on his phone.

Driver Romany on right

triumphant return with new clutch

Boxfresh!

After the new clutch was installed, the first test drive was disappointing as the pedal was super hard. After the second, Sampson was getting depressed that the adjustments seemed not to be having any effect, it was still wayyyyy too tight. I on the other hand felt weirdly relaxed – I could do absolutely nothing about any of it, so just surrendered myself to fate.

Sampson seemed aggrieved that I wasn’t feeling as overwhelmed by the situation as he was. He didn’t understand that I simply couldn’t afford to waste energy stressing, so consciously wasn’t. Garage-bound is the only area of our life that he has to be in charge because my useful knowledge is zero. The rest of the time, he prefers to defer to me.

Clutch installation underway

The guys were not overly impressed with being offered rooibos for their teabreak

Real men need caffeine!

Sampson was thrilled to track down a new release bearing to free up the clutch action

I was wondering whether we could get our cab decked out as cosily as this one!

Eventually the truck was taken into workshop and parked over a work pit, even colder out of the sun. I made pancakes with stewed apples and raisins to keep us going through school. Inevitably progress was two steps forward, one back. Some days Zola was deliberately s-l-o-w and I has to steel myself to show patience. In the absence of a text book, I improvised a Life Orientation lesson about Future Zola. I surprised him by opining that his naturally “cool, but with air of effortlessly reassuring gravitas” demeanour is something he could develop. We watched videos of a young Barack Obama and noted how less confident he was speaking at Cambridge Public Library in 1995 compared to his Democratic Party Convention-slaying speech in 2004 – Zola was so inspired it was worth the chowing of data.

We were hoping to get away by the weekend, but on the third clutch test, the bolt snapped. Back to square one. The truck had to be towed out of the workshop at 6pm to allow us a day’s break in the fresh air.

Thank God for the weekend and a bit of peace

Lucky got more adventurous the longer we were there

and scared me to death threatening to disappear over the wall

S/he was teething – not a kitten anymore

Friday Night Treats and the last episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. It struck me that Africa has been Europe’s Handmaid  for centuries. I had cramp in my left leg before bed, and in the night an attack in my right leg woke me with staggering pain. But this was Monte’s first night outside alone in the tent, and overall I slept better knowing Sampson was inside all warm and toasty. He got two hours more sleep than normal and looked loads better not to mention calmer – I felt like I got my husband back!

Security guards Ahmed and Noor

On Saturday morning, hospitable security guards Ahmed and Noor offered to share their cottage khobz, cream cheese, lettuce and bean casserole breakfast, but I declined and pressed on with my T’ai Chi to warm up. I knew it was keeping me mobile in the absence of being able to build my strength through walking. I was suffering PEM from typing yesterday; the pain in my fingers and arms was dire. However, the sore vertebra of my upper spine between my shoulder blades that had been bruised during the Christmas tree concussion incident was slowly healing.

My wonderful son, after reading in bed for most of the morning, around periodic skateboard dashes, made The Most Delicious Dahl ever from just onions, garlic and red lentils. Our fresh food supplies were dwindling.

We had the last orange for breakfast, the last two tomatoes for lunch. For some reason, I was still not worrying about it until I absolutely had to – I’m grateful that illness has taught me how to do this. After Amir had been under the truck all morning, Micheal came and asked Sampson to test again and, by some miracle, the clutch action was suddenly easy – the smoothest ever!

Our friends at MCV Luxor l to r: Mr Shazli, Mr Gemy, Mahmoud, Shaim, Nazshe and Ahmed the driver

Plus Romany, David, Karam and Karoles

Our heroes

Dear Armia Albert bought us these choccie snacks as a parting gift

to make us feel like rich people!

Bless you Mr Micheal for your patience

and the MCV team for their support

We couldn’t have made it through Egypt without MCV

We shall never forget your kindness

We immediately set off into town to stock up.

Sadly couldn’t indulge in these

but loaded up with bags of this

While Sampson scoured the main street for the best fruit and veg, I sat on my bed in the back of the truck and spent a fascinating half hour watching a vendor at the dried goods store it was parked outside. I wasn’t strong enough to get out and look round, or even hold my arms up long enough to take a decent pic through the window, but here at least is a polished version of what I managed to type then:

The stall is packed to the rafters and spilling onto the street. Spices in all imaginable shades of desert are displayed in giant wooden or perspex square boxes around the walls, topped by jars of honey and packets of tea. Giant sacks of dates as high as a table sit out front, next to huge baskets of different grade hibiscus flowers or ‘karkadeh’ – the Arabic word for Senegal’s ‘bissap’. There are piles of peanuts and pumpkin seeds on the right; rice, pasta, pulses, chillies and peppercorns on the left.

Sampson perusing the treasure trove of dried goodies

The shopkeeper is less like a salesman and more like an orchestra conductor. His three sons are constantly moving around him, weighing and bagging and smiling, while he counts the notes. He has a word for everyone: a joke, a story, or a recommendation – “Try the dates… Try the nuts… Look at the tea!” He keeps the entertainment going while welcoming each new arrival with half a handful of spiced peanuts, rubbing the skins off between his palms before handing them to the entering guest. Everyone in there is nibbling and content.

Sons to the left, the maestro to the right

I watch a family – patriarch, wife and grown-up daughters – stocking up for three households. The whole shop is a rolling performance, a choreographed routine they all enjoy. They point, the shopkeeper enjoins the more expensive, the better, an addition. All the while he’s moving about so sprightly – on his feet 12 hours a day yet he’s got to be 60 at least.

Look at the tea! Piles of dried hibiscus flowers of different grades

He takes off his turban to cool down, then redoes it 5 minutes later, winding the white scarf expertly round his skull cap, flattening the pristine folds. As dusk falls and the call to prayer rings out, the shop gets busier and busier. A little gift for everyone, a little treat. A free pack of incense sticks to all the big lady spenders. This is his way, his success – it is fun to shop here, fun to banter, fun to be able to help yourself to a little nibble from the huge heap of peanuts with no fear of reprimand because here you are at home, so feel free! He knows anything he gives he will get back tenfold because you can’t but love him. It’s probably been done this way for thousands of years. So humanity-affirming.

So far from Pick’n’Pay

* * *

We headed to the nearest vet’s to get Lucky and Monte’s follow up rabies vaccinations and tick/worm meds. After a bumpy drive, my aching spine was so bad, I allowed myself to stop being me for a minute (ever-striving) and remember my NY Resolution; it made me cry and ask myself how Sampson would act if he had this pain. Immediately I gave in and lay down. Eventually he came and massaged my back so I could move.

We parked next to Animal Care Egypt, an extraordinarily heartwarming welfare centre.

Welcome to ACE!

ACE has a wonderful history: it was founded by Kim Taylor and her aunt Julie Wartenberg from UK, after they came on holiday to Luxor and saw the dire state of working animals in the streets. Though aimed originally at relieving the suffering of donkeys and horses, by now they were home to 30 cats and 13 dogs as well!

The remarkably dedicated and tenacious Kim Taylor

Julie and Kim first envisioned ACE as a place where people could come and give their animals the care they need for free:

washing facilities,

emergency vet care for wounds

caused while pulling tourists in calèches

or for burns like Angel’s

as well as farrier and dental services

ACE helped over 35000 animals in 2019. They also offer educational tours and classes to local schools:

Zakia Reskalah is in charge of the educational programme

teaching love and respect for animals

how to care for them and keep them healthy

how to nurture them

through long hard-working lives

In term time, ACE teaches 150 kids per week from local primary schools. They are already seeing an impact as longstanding beliefs such as ‘animals don’t feel pain’ are overturned and replaced with tender care and compassion.

Thanks to volunteer Sophie Bell, studying Equine Psychology at Nottingham Trent Uni, for answering our questions

Sampson fell in love with this feller

Dear Zakia and her husband George helped get us everything we needed (from gas refills and inner tubes to bags of dog food and a cat litter tray) as well as spoiling us with biscuits, toast and kebda not to mention putting our sheets in their washing machine, bless ’em.

A thousand thanks to George and Zakia Reskalah for their kindness

and especially the boys’ favourite biscuits!

ACE is celebrating 20 years of making a difference in July 2020 – why not join their patron, actor Martin Clunes, in supporting their work today? See their wonderful video on Angel’s Story page here.

Amen

* * *

Check out Africa Clockwise on Carte Blanche this Sunday 19th July 7pm MNet and DSTV!

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Egypt 6: Luxor or In De-Nile…

On our journey up the west coast from 2013-16, I tried to weave context throughout my stories, to post my observations about the interesting people we met along the way against a backdrop of African history, to try and gain some perspective on their lives. Here on the east side through 2018, having relapsed in the European winter of 2017, I was no longer able to sustain much interaction with the world outside the truck. I also stopped typing notes, so I am working now from the scrawl in my diary, which was mostly documenting my struggle to survive.

(N.B. This is an almost unbearably bloated blog – I started writing Egypt up over 18 months ago and I’m afraid the pain of this long drawn out process is all too apparent. Please bear with me as I try and get back into my groove. Thanks to those who have stepped up to support me on Patreon; your belief that I can close the circle means more than I can say.)

When you get this chronically sick, you lose the capacity for the meta-narrative. The physical horrors of your daily life are so great, the emotional toll is too demanding. Just a harsh word from a loved one can sledgehammer you for 24 hours; so you can’t take on thinking too deeply about Brexit or Yemen or impending climate catastrophe, else you’ll end up sinking into the slough of despond.

You rather retreat to the company of fellow sufferers on Twitter, and prop each other up with sheer marvelling at surviving each day. You are like a band of traumatised refugees trudging the long lonely road together, struggling along with no end in sight, holding each other up with soothing lies:

“There’s still hope. Out there, there must be somebody in power who cares.”

“They’re coming to save us, to save the children. They might ignore us, but surely they can’t leave the children like this…”

* * *

On Jan 6th 2018 severe ME patient and advocate Anne Ortegren, of Sweden, chose euthanasia after 16 years of chronic illness and pain. Her suffering was beyond what most people can imagine. Like most people with ME she had lost her capacity for temperature regulation. But while I have drenching sweats whenever I get cold, her hyper-reactivity caused an immuno-allergic reaction that was next level: for ten years she suffered with constantly burning skin that couldn’t bear the touch of clothes or bed linen. Sheer unrelenting torture. This is the letter she left for us, as finely wrought as antique French iron gates, painstakingly forged in the fire of her experience.

* * *

On Jan 7th, the day we left Red Sea Diving Safari at Marsa Shagra, Sampson was fighting off a 24 hour bug that had him so sick he crawled back into bed in the tent after breakfast and slept till lunchtime. But back in the truck on Jan 8th he was up early, banging about and raring to go. I exploded – had he forgotten already what being dreadfully ill felt like for him yesterday morning? The way it is for me every morning? I had to spell it out: it’s like the worst hangover in the world plus the worst flu. So stop brutalising me with noise in the first hour I’m awake – carelessly banging the door, slamming the fridge, clattering crockery. It’s cruel! It hurts. It makes me want to throw up. And if you can’t grasp this, I’m going to have to live on my own.

I wasn’t proud of my outburst. My shouting woke the kids and used up most of my energy for the day. But if watching the M.E. movie Unrest had helped them both realise that this is real and happening to me, why can’t – or won’t – he? For me, losing 2 or 3 hours sleep due to the dog barking means taking 2 to 3 times longer to get up. And I was feeling way too dizzy to leave quickly – I had to work up the strength to do T’ai Chi to calm the vertigo down enough to enable me to sit up in the front.

The first ever Africa Clockwise Instagram post was taken that day: a beautiful empty shot of the desert just past Barramiya, perfect for the final cautionary frame of the Saving Water with the Sampsons video. I started Instagram as way of my people far away being able to keep up with glimpses of our daily reality despite me now being so behind in the blog.

Africa Clockwise first Instagram pic Jan 2018

In the middle of nowhere on the way to Edfu

Surrounded by desert

That day I had moments of appreciating the beauty of shadows cast by lone acacias amidst desert expanses of charcoal, red and gold; I felt extreme gratitude for exchanging the drudgery of routine at home for this experience. We even held hands across the cab for a moment. Sampson admitted that he was having nightmares post-Unrest, that, most unusually, he couldn’t describe. (Sigh. So he did feel something – just not for me.)

Trying to capture the beauty of a lone acacia from speeding truck 1

But the fallout from the vibration of driving was dire.

Lone acacia 2

I took a preventative Ibuprofen after lunch in an attempt to head off the worst of the inflammation, but still, when the engine stopped, I had to go lie on the bed for an hour till the world stopped spinning. Again it seemed just being in the cab while driving, despite being wedged in with a travel pillow, was giving me too much brain rattle to cope.

Lone acacia 3

My journal records I had a moment that evening when I felt my heart was not right, overly strained at rest: “I reckon that, when my time comes, it will be my heart. It’s comforting perhaps, that it should be quick, not long drawn out, but still a bit frightening. I would like to discuss it with my partner, but I can’t. I know it would frighten him too much. It’s like having three children to protect. I have to face this alone.”

Lone acacia 4

That night I cooked for stroppy teens and fell asleep exhausted at 9pm.
“But Monte’s so freaked out to be in a new place, his barking woke me three times before midnight. I was so so deeply asleep; it was sickening to be wrenched out of it. I told Mark I shouldn’t have to feel this level of pain (I normally sleep through the most intense period of PEM). I don’t want or need a guard dog and if it happens again, he must go out and sleep in the tent with him.

It did, he has, and now I’m too upset to sleep. He came in to get dog food and left without saying a word. It’s ridiculous what we have become. I hate it; hate he chose this, hate he refuses to acknowledge the impact of it.”

Lone acacias 5

I finally got to sleep about 3am and was woken at 6.40 by Monte barking again. Weak and dizzy as all hell, and now with a raging sore throat, I was scared to be feeling on such shaky ground. Only two sleeps out of Marsa Shagra and already I was back to this. I couldn’t get out of bed. Too cold, too wretched, I lay waiting for the spinning to ease while the kids got up.

I told Sampson I couldn’t carry on like this; a few more weeks or months, I could be back in a wheelchair or worse. There was no chance of me seeing Luxor properly in this state. Most of all, I was gutted that his decision to keep the dog was stealing my limited time with my daughter. I felt at a crisis.

Should I go back to Cape Town next week with Ruby for a couple of months to recover (or at least sleep) till Monte was over his puppydom? But I couldn’t leave Zola to homeschool himself, and we couldn’t afford to fly me back, let alone both of us, with Ruby’s school fees due – never mind the carbon footprint. I felt trapped in a vortex of circumstances beyond my control.

* * *

Lying on my bed in the back, I missed the transition from the desert into the Nile Valley, and felt cheated when Sampson told me about it. So after lunch, despite pain and dizziness, I strapped myself in the front. I didn’t dare take another Ibuprofen, as daily use would be far too much for my stomach.

Before Edfu

Outside was suddenly a different world: Upper Egypt is GREEN! It’s the agricultural heartland of the country, spreading out from the Nile, and its lushness has had a critical influence on the country’s history.

And – in a change from the cities and towns we had driven through from Alexandria to here – suddenly there were WOMEN, everywhere! Egyptian men were generally very bloody wearing: there were too many little boys throwing stones, mocking teens, lairy young men pulling all nighters or old men sat around in hookah cafes with their feet up on benches (while somebody else was cooking for them) – spoiled princes all. It was such a joy to see female people back on the streets. Walking in groups: shopping, trailing toddlers, coming from school.

After

Lower Egypt, with the cities of Cairo and Alexandria, is considered more affluent, more sophisticated. Urban middle-class Egyptian women tend to live life behind closed doors, confined to the house for the vast majority of their time. Upper Egypt might be more rural, more ‘common’, but it definitely felt more comfortable for us girls.

Egypt’s range of people was as varied as the country’s range of landscapes: from the modern sprawl of Cairo, to the empty desert of Marsa Alam, from the colourful coral reef of the Red Sea to the luminous fertile green of the Nile valley. As we sat in the truck on the side of road surveying the passersby – some dark skinned, some light brown, some very pale – Ruby said “Wow, people look so different. Just like South Africans”. Admiring a woman sporting a leopardskin coat, green patterned legwarmers, Nike trainers and a replica Louis Vuitton bag with chutzpah, I had to agree with her.

Generally, clothing in Upper Egypt was much more traditional than in the cities of Lower Egypt: men were wearing long charcoal grey or brown robes; older ones with white turbans; most with moustaches, on donkeys. People were much friendlier, and often very excited to see us – there were hardly any tourists round here.

On the way into Edfu…

back in a built up area

things got a bit cramped…

with low hanging wires presenting a particular challenge

Edfu was crowded, and it got a bit scary trying to find our way to the Temple of Horus with the truck squeezing through narrow roads in the centre. At one point a whole posse of guys helped Big Reg turn around under low wires; a kid leapt up onto the front bonnet, pushed a broom underneath them, lifted it and scampered along the length of the roof! So it was especially surprising when we finally found the Temple and saw the size of the carpark:

Beyond vast! And empty!!

The Temple of Edfu was so much more… everything than I could have remotely anticipated. More HUGE. More architecturally impressive. More modern-looking. Despite being built between 237 and 57BC by Ptolemaic kings during the Greco-Roman era.

The temple was dedicated to the falcon-headed Horus, god of the sky and of kingship, son of Isis and Osiris. It is covered in hieroglyphics relating the age old conflict between Horus and his fratricidal uncle Seth, god of the desert.

It’s the largest temple dedicated to Horus and Hathor. Each year, a statue of Hathor travelled south from her temple at Dendera to visit Horus at Edfu; this event marking their sacred marriage was the occasion of a great festival and pilgrimage.

Over centuries, the temple became buried in 12m of desert sand and Nile silt. Locals even build homes on top of it. Only in 1860 did the famous French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette begin to uncover it. Wikipedia describes the temple as “one of the best preserved shrines in Egypt”.

Welcome to the Temple of Edfu. Be prepared to have your mind blown.

I was not remotely prepared – for either the sheer scale…

or the magnificence

or the artistry

or the detail

or the delicacy

Words failed me then

and they fail me now

So I’m going to let the beauty of the Temple of Edfu

speak for itself

It was so spectacular, from a distance

or close-up

Just imagine what it must have looked like as originally painted

with each enormous column

crowned with a unique design

in different colours

Shoo

There were still traces of turquoise and ochre in more sheltered corners

And apart from the pictures –

what if you could read the words?

What stories were they telling?

of feast and famine

of love and death

The combination was enthralling

My arms were getting so tired I vowed only to take pics of things that really delighted me

There were still too many

and more

The temple fell into disuse following the banning of non-Christian worship across the Roman Empire in 391. We could see damage to reliefs done by Christians; the blackened ceiling of the hypostyle hall was a result of arson attempting to destroy religious imagery considered ‘pagan’. Some figures on the outside had the surfaces of their faces, arms and legs chipped away:

Ruby checking out the vandalism

A guide explained it was the fault of the “Romanin” – Romans conscious of the ‘sacrilege’ of the art felt no qualms about stealing the gold leaf. And then there were the more modern graffiti artists:

Boys will be… inferior craftsmen determined to leave their mark no matter how shameful

Sigh… so embarrassingly inadequate

in comparison to such grandeur

From macro – the barque sanctuary in the centre

to micro – detail on the arch behind

Exquisite

Referencing my obsessive diary habit, Sampson joked that one of 9 side chambers (which was smaller than the others, with no figures of gods pictured) had hieroglyphics so densely packed, it should be named “the Sam Pearce room”.

Please step into the room of my mind

Yep

Just check the scale of this again – even round the back every inch is covered

We were all gobsmacked

by the grace of Horus and his consorts

What a blessed day in our lives

As we exited the temple in the perfect golden light of afternoon, I felt utterly overwhelmed. Humbled and enthralled in equal measure. Full of gratitude for this astounding day in my life and appreciation for achievements of our Hellenic/Ancient Egyptian/African ancestors which have endured 2200 years. All hail the Ptolemies!

Check this Temple of Edfu reconstruction video showing how it might have looked to contemporaries.

Fascinatingly, an industrial family in Leeds, UK, were inspired to build the Temple Works flax mill in Holbeck in 1840 with columns in the same style as the courtyard of the Temple in Edfu. Their building did not endure as well as the original –  a pillar in the façade collapsed in 2008! Ambitious renovations are underway.

* * *

Walking around the temple for just over an hour hadn’t made my Big-Wobbly-Head-Puppet dizziness any worse but inevitably I was shattered and knew I was going to pay. I’d planned ahead and cooked in advance so Ruby only had to reheat our leftover supper as risotto.

Thank goodness because it took us a while to find a place to pull off the road and it was nearly dark already

We drove a little way out of town looking for quiet place to sleep and pulled off onto a side road next to an irrigation canal among sugar cane detritus. Sampson set the tent up far away to ensure I had a quiet night to recover. I felt bad for him because it was shockingly cold: I was using two sleeping bags and even Ruby requested the pink fleecy blanket. (We were still very much in the northern hemisphere at this point, so despite the sunny days, January was deepest winter with overnight single digit lows.)

We’d seen some very narrow gauge tracks nearby and when Hub said “What’s that?” I replied without thinking, as a bit of a joke, “It’s the sugarcane train!” Still, when the very thing came clattering right past the truck just before 9pm Sampson sent me a shocked text message – he’d been worried it would blow the tent over!

Pics taken the following day

showed the train carried substantial amounts

and explained why it was so loud!

At 3.50am, a group of men with torches came back pushing a couple of empty carriages along the tracks and started loading cane. What a time to start work. But I’d slept solidly in between – a miracle. I felt so much better after a chunk of uninterrupted sleep, it was a different world. Pain and dizziness were so diminished, I was able to doze on till 7.30 and got up in glorious golden light when the train carts were nearly full.

The gratitude I felt for not feeling utterly wretched was as wide as the sky.

First view through the window at dawn of the men we’d heard hard at work in the dark for a few hours already

Our quiet spot turned out to be a busy junction!

The winter morning was so beautiful…

(as Sampson stretched and I did T’ai Chi next to the canal much to the amazement of small boys just out of picture)

it made pain more bearable

– as did the welcome – a local gifted the kids some fresh sugar cane for snacking

so Sampson showed some fun tricks in return.

Strawbs are still my best memory of Egypt

After another fab breakfast, I strapped myself in for the drive alongside the Nile on the ‘Road of a Thousand Speedbumps’: Sampson had to brake every 100m all the way up the west bank to Esna. It was exhausting and I was frustrated with my constantly blurry photos. I missed some classic pics: today, an embroidered Rikki tuktuk taxi motoring along with 2 giant cabbages bouncing on the roof; yesterday, a colourful calèche or hantour, set against our first glimpse of the Nile. My reactions were too slow to catch them, but I wrote it down to remember my delight.

I was loving the vibe of the little shops; preferred paint colours seemed to be lilac, dark pink and Cape-Town-municipality aqua.

In places, it was like the Bo-Kaap

but with more daring murals

and some beautiful inscriptions

On the other hand, tractors heaped with sugar cane were always painted in a combination of blue/red/orange/yellow, with hearts at the front. It was so difficult to take a decent pic of them while bumping along in the truck, but I tried:

We saw so many tractors

piled high with sugar cane

all painted in the same combination of colours

orange, yellow, blue and red.

I’d be fascinated to know why –

I got a bit obsessed

At every police road block, there were at least 5 guys, half with machine guns or rifles, all grinning, some mere lads, conscripts. They became noticeably friendlier as they became noticeably poorer. I was loving the feel of being back in Africa, small shops piled high, horse-and-carts, the aluminium-pots-and-pans man, the feeling of Less Stress.

There was such peace and contentment along this stretch

the feeling that things had been done this way for thousands of years…

and would perhaps continue to be so for thousands more

At Esna, we crossed a bridge back over the Nile and took a much bigger easier road to Luxor, though still scattered with speed bumps. We arrived at 3pm and were shocked to find that the Temple of Luxor was bang smack in the middle of town.

Oh my word – isn’t that the temple just beyond the traffic light?

Er – yes it is!!

Can we park here??

Surely not

We drove round the city centre twice trying to find parking.

By the time we entered…

the sun was going down at the end of this avenue of sphinxes

We had to be quick

but then again, maybe this was meant to be –

we didn’t have long before closing…

so I couldn’t get overtired

and the light was perfect

Go with the flow and be grateful

The Temple of Luxor was far less well preserved than Edfu, but much bigger and older, having been built around 1400BCE. Unlike other temples in the the ancient city of Thebes, this wasn’t dedicated to any particular god but to the rejuvenation of kingship itself – it is suspected that many of the pharaohs were crowned here.

There are chapels built by Amenhotep III, and Alexander the Great. Other parts of the temple were built by Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. During the Roman era, the temple and its surroundings were a legionary fortress and seat of government.

It was fascinating to read that originally there were two obelisks flanking the entrance that weren’t the same height but looked the same due to the illusionism employed in many Egyptian temples. I would have liked to test this theory, but one of the obelisks was transported to Paris in 1833 to decorate the Place de la Concorde – in exchange for a French mechanical clock which has never worked. ACT UP covered it with a giant pink condom for World AIDS Day in 1993. An exciting life for a hunk of rock.

The phallic references were all around…

There were soaring columns everywhere

with enormous crowns

These kings were stupidly huge

As you can tell by the size of the guide below

The colossal seated figures of the deified Ramesses II were cult statues of the king as embodiment of the royal Ka.

I was interested in the depiction of the team behind the throne

the slaves underneath doing the heavy lifting

and the representation of their proud features

Back amongst the huge columns…

the kids were pretty gobsmacked

we hadn’t been expecting such magnificence

There was a varied array of artisanal penises on display – an old man lurking in an inner chamber posing as de facto guide was pushing young women tourists into “touching them, as a prayer for strength”. I declined. I was quite strong enough already.

Alongside this impressive girth

there were more spindly specimens

popping up everywhere.

Most extraordinarily, there is an active Mosque of Abu Haggag within the temple grounds – built on the ruins of the ancient temple which was originally converted to be a church by the Romans in 395AD then to a mosque in 640 – resulting in more than 3400 years of continuous worship. This makes it the oldest religious building in the world.

Check out the Temple of Luxor reconstruction video.

The Mosque within

other evidence of Christian iconography

plastered over the ancient Egyptian

as well as some amazingly well preserved colour originals

It just went on… and on

More than 50000 stone fragments now stored in the Luxor Temple block yard were once part of the decorated walls of the Luxor and Karnak temples. They were reused as building materials in the medieval period. Many fragments were uncovered in the 1950s during excavations around the old Sphinx road.

The amount of ancient artefacts just lying around was overwhelming

so I just snapped my faves – this feller spoke to me

and this uraeus

and this Anubis

They were just a fraction of a fraction of the piles of priceless treasures sitting uncovered and neglected in the courtyard

There were far more tourists here, even this late in the day

and so much more to see, but we were feeling dazed already

We beg the kings’ pardon for managing only a cursory glimpse of their endeavours –

but we felt you

* * *

“I dreamt all four of us were sliding down grassy hills covered with shiny brown straw bits (like the dead leaves and sheaths of sugar cane too slippery to do T’ai Chi on yesterday) as if we were sledging. I was in the lead, managing to pull off increasingly difficult and dangerous turns, manoeuvring surprisingly well until, speeding up and beginning to get out of control, I suddenly hit a mogul and leapt almost vertical. I found myself going so high there was complete silence – – – then I was plummeting, coming down so fast I was convinced I could not but die on impact. I turned to see Ruby and Zola behind me looking fine, I knew they would cope, so I faced front, gripped Monte’s bed tighter (only then did it become apparent what I was sledding on) and prepared for a big shock impact… But I soft bounced like I was weightless, fell with no pain – and woke up.

My heart was racing so hard I thought I might die.”

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Please Help Me Come Full Circle

I’ve got very behind telling the second half of the story of our journey. In 2018, from Egypt to Kenya, I was mostly too ill to write. In 2019, from Tanzania, I was stronger, but got derailed by my daughter – or rather co-opted into her climate activism, as we organised 3 school strikes together as I moved through Malawi and Mozambique to Durban. In retrospect, it was a joy to be doing something so vital and constructive with her when I couldn’t face the lonely writing up  – the wounds were too fresh.

Family Sampson finally reunited in Cape Town, November 2019

We are blessed that COVID-19 did not strike last year when we were stranded in a garage without an engine, thousands of kilometres away from Ruby; that she has already completed her Matric; that Zola is an old hand at homeschooling himself; that Sampson has infinite jobs to do on the Big Green Truck to keep himself sane. Being together makes everything else bearable.

But back in Cape Town with winter descending, my health has deteriorated to such an extent I have reluctantly had to accept that even remote activism is no longer an option for me. What’s more, the raging pandemic of social injustice across the world right now – whether racial or environmental – is so overwhelming, I need to withdraw completely and shield to survive.

Lockdown has had almost zero impact on my lifestyle – as a ‘moderate’ ME sufferer, I am still 70% bed bound and rarely leave the house – the only difference is that my husband has no prospect of earning a living from stand-up comedy or motivational speaking until 2021 at the earliest.

So I am coming to you, loyal followers, to help me craft a work of art out of crawling a way through this. It’s over a year since I abandoned the chronicle of our east-side trek midway through Egypt. I propose to rejoin our journey on the road to Luxor, and fill in the gaps as soon as physically possible.

If you would like to join me on the last leg of this trek, please consider becoming a Patron of this blog from July 1st 2020, the anniversary of the day we set off 7 years ago. To support me to complete the Africa Clockwise story and turn it into a book, please click here. Every little helps.

Before I share the link to social media, I would appreciate regular readers’ feedback as to what rewards you would like to be offered at each tier of Patreon membership. As well as making it sustainable, your insights and your company along the way will help make the rest of this journey a joy.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Love from us xxxx

If you can afford to contribute to feeding the most vulnerable in our Cape south peninsula community at this time:
Masi Creative Hub targeting children in Masiphumelele
Feed Our Valley supporting soup kitchens in Ocean View and Redhill
Ocean View CAN currently setting up a vital COVID Community Care Centre
Ukama Community Foundation feeding the hungry from Masi to Vrygrond

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Joining the Dots… Reflections on Corona and Compassion

NB. This was written before news broke of the first death from COVID-19 in South Africa.

Public information poster in Monrovia in 2014

1. On Killer Viruses and Perspective

Unlike most South Africans, we’ve been here before.

The Ebola virus, which originated in the deep forests of Guinea in early 2014 and dawdled for a couple of months in the border regions of Liberia, arrived in the capital Monrovia at the same time as the Big Green Truck.

The kids and I left within 24 hours – not because we were scared, but because my brother paid for us to fly to my parents’ surprise 70th birthday party in UK. We thought we were going for 2 weeks and took only one bag between us.

We didn’t come back for 7 months.

To the Liberian population, Ebola seemed to come from nowhere and escalated so quickly, that despite an admirable ramp-up of public education, there was initially much distrust of health service providers as it seemed that people who got taken into quarantine in hospital died.

At first, my husband thought he would wait it out somewhere remote, and went surfing. A few weeks later, in a village on the coast, Sampson decided it was time to leave when a group of people were seen carrying their mother down the road after breaking her out of the local clinic. By then, most airlines had stopped flying, so his ticket out cost more than our three put together. The 9 days he spent shut inside the truck waiting to get on that flight were among the longest of my life.

We found out later that the woman survived, but several members of her family who tended her died.

Liberians showed a lot of grace under pressure. The brutalities of the civil wars 1989 -2003 were only a decade behind them. Many of the population displayed post-traumatic symptoms; they’d been through so much already – they didn’t panic easily.

But with Ebola, the survival rate was about 50/50. Mortality rates for COVID-19 are estimated at less than 1%. As Ruby said last week “You’re not going to bleed to death through your eyeballs people, so calm down and get a grip!”

Marooned in the UK over that winter, as the death toll across West Africa rose higher and higher to more than 11000, I remember initially being appalled that relatively little news coverage was being given to the serious threat of the epidemic, beyond salacious stories of gruesome deaths in the tabloids. As it wasn’t directly affecting British people, only Africans, it didn’t make the top 3 news items until the virus arrived in America.

There were many impacts born of ignorance: international conferences in South Africa were cancelled because foreigners perceived that there was a risk of contracting the virus on the continent, despite Jo’burg being several thousand kilometres further away from Liberia than London is!

At the start of the outbreak, Liberia had 1 doctor to every 100 000 people and Sierra Leone had 2 (compared to European average of 390) yet the international relief effort managed to contain the epidemic before it took down the global economy. Little credit was given at the time to the magnificent job the Nigerian health authorities did in shutting it down and limiting deaths within their vast population to 8; Senegal managed 0. If West Africa had not handled it, Ebola could have devastated the whole continent and been unleashed on the world.

This time the boot is on the other foot. Because of its dithering governments, Europe is now the epicentre of the epidemic and Africa is suspending flights and shutting its borders to travellers coming from there. Funny how those racist Chinese memes have merely transformed into tiktoks of plucky Italians singing and Spanish aerobics classes though.

Meanwhile the USA has 65000 cases while Mexico has less than 500; my favourite story today was of Mexicans blocking American travellers from crossing the border while “wearing face masks and holding signs saying ‘Stay at home’”.

Evidence showed that Ebola came from bats, and there have been two studies investigating whether this coronavirus jumped species when endangered wildlife/products were stored in unnaturally close proximity in Asian markets. This ‘Revenge of the Pangolin’ seems to indicate that Mother Nature is indeed sending humanity to our rooms to think long and hard about what we are doing.

2. On Surviving Social Distancing and Self-Isolation.

Unlike most people, I have been here before. I live here.

People like me with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (literally ‘muscle and brain stem inflammation’ – a neurological condition estimated to affect up to 30 million people worldwide) spend our lives in isolation.

People with ME have to do social distancing to survive. Not so much to protect ourselves from germs (although we are immunocompromised) but to guard against energy-draining people and activities. We have to self-isolate to recharge our malfunctioning metabolic batteries. As a person with moderate ME, for every couple of hours you might see me outside, either walking or in a wheelchair, I currently spend 2-3 days at home recovering, mostly lying on my bed.

People with severe ME (about 25% of the global total, more than the population of Scotland) spend their entire lives in bed, unable even to sit up. Many of them don’t have enough energy to speak or swallow and have to be tube-fed. Interacting, even online, is often dangerously exhausting for them. Their existence consists of enduring constant pain in solitary confinement.

So for us, the irony of a sudden slew of articles like this is almost too much to bear. A panic over social isolation causing chronic inflammation? And mental health problems? And increased mortality rates? But the world’s press is only getting concerned about this now you healthy people have to do it?

Suddenly, people with ME are the experts. A three week lock down? Pah! We’ve been doing this for months, years, and in some cases, decades. Check out Josie’s hard-won advice or wise words from Anil, who’s had 2 visitors in the last 2 years.

My guidelines for dealing with this come from a blog I wrote in 2018, when I was far iller than I am now. I spent 85% of that year on my bed inside the truck, seeing very little of the countries in East Africa we were passing through:
“The survival tactics spoonies adopt are good advice for all humans: try not to look back, only forward. Don’t think about the time you’ve lost, just about making the most of the time you have. Don’t dwell on what you can’t do anymore; focus on making the most of what you can.”

Now a third of the global population is in lock-down, the big question for pwME (and other people with chronic fatigue, chronic pain or ASD) watching this on Twitter is: When the world gets a tiny taste of what it’s like to live like we do – will it start to view access for the invisibly ill in the same way it does access for the more ‘acceptably’ disabled? We don’t just need wheelchair ramps; to enable us to go out in the world we need sofas every 100m and Quiet Rooms in schools, hospitals and supermarkets to shelter from the hypersensory onslaught.

I celebrated my birthday earlier this month with a long awaited trip with my daughter to the largest contemporary African art museum in the world, the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.  I had been looking forward to it for 3 years! It was a joy from start to finish, due entirely to the front-of-house staff who went out of their way to bend rules to accommodate my needs.

Not only did they reply promptly to assure me there was wheelchair access throughout, they arranged for me to enter through the back way to avoid crowds at the front desk. Not only did they allow me to wear sunglasses and ear defenders because I am hypersensitive to light and sound, an erudite staff member kindly gave me a quiet one-on-one introduction. Not only did they allow me to eat the safe food I brought with me, they arranged for us to sit in their restaurant with a superb view. Most crucial of all, a briefed staff member gave me leave to to lie down on a sofa outside the restaurant with my head covered just beforehand. This 15 minutes in the dark headed off the crash I had coming; the easing of pain extended my visit by an hour, enabling me to see another floor of exhibits after lunch.

This empathetic treatment gave me such dignity and hope. It also meant the three hour outing only took me a few days to recover from, rather than a few weeks.

A more compassionate world is possible.

P.S. To all the people who were too busy when I last asked: now you’ve got time on your hands, please watch Unrest, the movie about ME, now on Netflix!

3. A Message to Margaret

Last Sunday, the day before the City of Cape Town banned going to the beach, Sampson, Zola and I drove to Fish Hoek for breath of fresh air on that blustery autumn afternoon. I was shocked to see how many people had decided to do the same – Jager Walk was packed.

Sampson strode out ahead of us, while Zola supported me on a gentle stroll. As we passed a family of bathers on a bench, me on the inside, a woman behind us shouted to her teenage daughter, who was struggling out of a wetsuit just ahead of us, “Watch out Margaret – she’s touching his arm!”

We’d walked several steps further before the implications of this hit me. I was nearest her daughter, but the white woman had looked at me arm-in-arm with my son and decided that the teenage black boy was the site of risk? This virus is not yet prevalent in townships and the people who brought it into SA are exclusively privileged travellers who can afford to holiday in Europe, the vast majority of whom are white, and yet she decides he is the problem?

Shoo, it’s Columbus and the Taino, Cortes and the Aztecs, and the Dutch East India Company giving smallpox to the Khoi while making them wash their laundry all over again – ignorant European disease-carriers decimating the innocent indigenes!

By the time we returned, they’d gone and I didn’t get a chance to chat. So I’d just like to say “Watch out Margaret: it’s at times like this that people’s base prejudices are exposed. Educate yourself, stand up for science and never assume your elders are acting in your best interests.”

Zola and Margaret’s generation need to stick together.

4. GrAttitude

Today, 26th March, global deaths as a result of COVID-19 passed 20 000.

Before the first death in our country –

Before this pandemic inevitably explodes in the places in South Africa where overcrowding and lack of water on tap is standard and HIV and TB make millions more vulnerable –

Before the selfishness becomes apparent of those who, in this last week since the President closed the schools, insisted their domestics leave children unattended and come to work on crowded taxis just to do their ironing –

My overwhelming feeling right now is thankful: that corona happened this year not last year, when we were stranded without an engine in a garage in Malawi so far away from my daughter about to sit Matric. Hugely grateful that it’s happening on President Ramaphosa’s watch and not on Zuma’s – it’s been uplifting to see the former show some firm leadership at last.

To avoid despair, we have to choose to be positive – to employ both grit and gratitude. We have to choose to be proactive and create community networks to withstand the crisis, rejecting the instincts of those who barricade themselves behind a laager of loorolls. We have to choose to join the dots and learn the lessons.

It is high time we realised that we are all irredeemably connected:

If someone in remote Guinea is so desperate for protein that they are eating bats or if someone in rural China erroneously believes pangolin scales to have medicinal powers, all of us will suffer.

If privileged people continue to be wilfully blind to their role in perpetuating this inequality (there is no reason anyone on the planet should lack for food or education today) and their culpability for the consequences – of corona, of capitalism, of colonialism – all of us will suffer.

If we continue to ignore the fact that how we treat the most vulnerable in our society – the shack-dwellers, the refugees, the elderly, the chronically ill – is a litmus paper for our capacity to survive the crises that ongoing global heating and environmental emergency will continue to throw at us, all of us will suffer.

This month, our President has proved that, when the threat is perceived as great enough, he can take bold action to save lives and the economy. Imagine what might happen if he could show the same backbone and take immediate steps to free us of our fatal dependence on fossil fuels and Eskom?

Now renewable energy is cheaper than coal, he is perfectly positioned to push for a just transition. Using wind and solar to reboot our economy would ensure the resilience needed to sustain South Africa through the crises to come.

Contribute to the national Solidarity fund, or local initiatives Feed Our Valley and Masi Creative Hub

5. Top Tips for New Homeschoolers

As someone who planned to spend 2 years homeschooling but ended up doing 6 – and spent 2 full terms stranded in garages enclosed in a 3m2 space with a 15 year old last year – I offer the following advice to those feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of being stuck at home with their kids for a month or more:

  1. Draw up a calendar and put it on the wall where everyone can see when lessons are due to restart after the official holiday. Explain that the family will be following a routine, with school happening every day from 8am till lunchtime and they can only play/ watch TV/ go online after lessons are done.
  2. Start the day with exercise. (I found my son worked far more quickly and efficiently on days when he spent an hour surfing before school because he was more focused after letting off steam.) If you can’t get outside in a garden, do exercises indoors. Challenge youngsters to build up their ability to do press-ups/do the splits/hold a yoga pose/bounce a ball/juggle three with daily practice over the lock-down period and give them a sense of achievement. More ideas for preschoolers on Pick n Pay School Club.
  3. If your kids are in primary school, you just need to make sure they do some Maths and English every day. For the first 2 years of our trip, we would recite times tables on our daily walk and do spot quizzes. I abandoned this habit once they were able to answer “What’s 6 x 4? 3 x 12? 7 x 9?” quicker than I was. If your kids’ school or local education department isn’t providing materials, it’s possible to access lessons online (see below).
  4. If they’re too young to read alone, get them to read to you every day – anything that can hold their interest. If you haven’t got access to books, try a magazine, a website, or a cereal box. Read to them, every night, a story that can keep them riveted and carry you through these 3 weeks; or stream a free audiobook from Audible. The routine is comforting – to this day my kids doze off to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter. Challenge your teens to read a chapter a day. Get them to write every day. Once a week a story, a diary entry, a letter to someone, a list of ambitions, a piece of research on something or someone that interests them. Practise giving a speech about it.
  5. Once you’ve done Maths and English, do some fun stuff. A cooking lesson is also a great opportunity to learn about measuring, ratios and temperature. Teach your kids how to sew on a button or darn a sock. Getting creative with pens, paint or plasticine can combat frustration and while away hours. If you don’t have access to expensive materials, make collages from cut up newspapers or leaves. Lego saved us on many an occasion. When was the last time you played a board game together? Cards, dominoes, Uno or dice games such as Yahtzee are all good for practising mental arithmetic. Challenge your family to an intergenerational singsong! If you don’t have instruments, make some shakers from plastic containers and rice, or have a DIY karaoke competition!
  6. If your kids are in high school, I hope they’ve been sent home with text books they can work through – the South African CAPS curriculum is easy to follow as each topic is clearly labelled e.g.“Term 2, week 3”. Once you’ve read through the text of the lesson together, they just need to be supervised to complete written exercises. The Western Cape Education Dept has made school closure resources available online and Paper Video has made access to their G8-12 video lessons free over the lock-down period, as has Siyavula Maths and Science and Advantage Learn Maths. Ukhozi FM is also offering Matric revision sessions daily from 9-10pm.
  7. If your kids (or you) are battling to accept your new role as Teacher, try thinking of it as homework extension – start by asking them what they might be struggling with at school, something they may have been reluctant to ask for help with in front of the whole class. They might appreciate you spending an hour helping them get to grips with telling the time or revising fractions. Even if you struggle yourself with algebra, they will learn from your willingness to tackle it together. If teens are still reluctant to study, ask for their help teaching Maths to younger ones – they love knowing better than you! But it also helps foster understanding and cooperation around the challenges you’re all facing.
  8. Reward them for good behaviour whenever possible – ignore the negative whenever you can, and focus on the positive to reinforce a constructive environment. Younger ones love receiving stickers and stars on their work, and even the stroppiest tween can’t resist glowing in response to an ‘Excellent work’ comment on a good essay. On your wall calendar, put a star every time they complete their daily 3-5 set lessons. Every five stars, reward them for their self-discipline: give them a treat or access to data or simply an hour alone with your undivided attention. Go on a virtual visit to a museum together!
  9. Keep a record. In my Teacher’s Book I wrote down every day what subjects each child had done, what pages completed. Through the roller coaster days ahead, that will help build routine and give you all a sense of achievement – bietjie bietjie maak baie.
  10. Don’t overburden yourself. You are not qualified to teach, so anything you do manage is a bonus. See these tips as guidelines not a straight-jacket. If you or your moody teen are not in the right frame of mind to study, don’t push it. Be kind to each other and go with the flow. Try and see this not as an obligation but as an opportunity you have been given to reconnect with your kids and see where they are. If I had not spent so much focussed time with my son, I would never have realised how dyslexic he was and how much he needed help. When in doubt, just give yourselves a hug.

I’ll be adding to this list as more info becomes available – feel free to chip in with your recommendations.

Homeschooling despite distractions, Ghana 2014

Ruby Sampson (Matric graduate with 3 distinctions, homeschooled from Grade 6 to Grade 9) is available for online tutoring – put your contact details in the comments if you would like her to help you inspire your youngsters to keep up with their schoolwork.

Dept of Health’s official COVID-19 news and resource portal sacoronavirus.co.za

Posted in 0 South Africa | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

So Near And Yet…

Written mid-November 2019

We can’t deny it’s been a tough few months. We re-entered South Africa at the end of July and confidently expected to be back in Cape Town to support our daughter through her Prelims in late August – and definitely in time to accompany the African Climate Alliance to the Global Strike on 20th September.

Us lot, all optimistic on the coast in August

Well guess what? Late again Sampsons! Ruby’s doing Matric right now and the Big Green Truck is still not home.

After travelling through Swaziland in early August, we arrived at Mercedes Commercial NMI-DSM in Durban North for a roadworthy.

“It’ll only take a day” said Sampson

Famous last words…

They gave Big Reg the once over and said everything looked fine, they just wanted us to nip up to Pinetown to have an injector pump leak fixed. Bowling along up the hill, the power suddenly dropped: pop! The compression rings had gone again… Breakdown number 26.

Sampson was gutted. It was the third time this year. By this point, we’d already had the engine out in Tanzania and Malawi (twice) and spent 85 days in garages in 2019. We comforted ourselves by reflecting how lucky we were – we had been on our way to Lesotho, so it could have happened on the Sani Pass! But to breakdown just a few kilometres away from the biggest Mercedes truck garage in the southern hemisphere – that had to be a blessing.

Dealer Principal Robbie Van Der Merwe of Mercedes Commercial NMI-DSM listened kindly and put us in the capable hands of Service Managers Ashwin Dalthmum and Kisten Govender. Big Reg got cosy in a corner of their enormous carpark – there were more than 200 brand new and used trucks on sale, with around 50 vehicles being worked on daily, from very early morning till late late at night.

If you gotta break down, this is the best place to do it!

Big Reg’s berth in the vast Mercedes Commercial carpark

with a gaping hole where the engine should be

Dealer Principal Robbie Van Der Merwe

Super P.A. Maranise Abrahams

Service Manager Ashwin Dalthmum

We want to make special mention of the patience of Workshop Manager Terence Nayager, the long-suffering man in the middle, constantly juggling the competing needs of his clients, his bosses and his mechanics. Profit margins are now so narrow, it can be cheaper for fleet owners battling to meet delivery deadlines to buy a new truck than spend 3 days fixing a broken one.

The man on the frontline: Terence Nayager smiling under pressure

This terrifying environmentally-threatening fact seems to be why there are so few remaining capable mechanics in Europe and South Africa – apprentices are mostly being trained to be ‘fitters’ now. Our experience shows that only in remote Africa is it financially viable to bother to mend broken trucks as old as ours. ‘Uptime’ is a major bonus feature of new Mercedes trucks – their latest model Arocs provides instant satellite notifications of any engine problem to the nearest service provider to ensure swiftest possible resolution and return to the road.