We arrived in Aswan this morning. Aswan is a city in the far south of Egypt, toward Sudan. With a population of roughly 275,000 it is one of the larger cities in Egypt.
Nubians are Egypt’s second main ethnic group, and they usually live in southern Egypt or northern Sudan. They have lived there for thousands of years, often trading or battling with the Egyptians.
While our tour group went off a did a formal tour of the city, Jordan and I opted out because it was over $30/per person. Instead, we searched online for interesting places in Aswan, then grabbed a taxi outside our hostel. The driver knew immediately where we wanted to go (Nubian Museum) and took us there–for a hefty fee because we’re tourists. Pictured below is a Coptic Orthodox church.
At the museum (which we both got discounted tickets for a youth and student) we saw plenty of Nubian artifacts and pictures of daily life. Afterward, we walked down the hill, guided by Jordan’s phone GPS, and slipped into Fatimid cemetery.
Also known as the Islamic Necropolis, it houses many of the tombs of the Fatimids. They were part of the Shia Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled from the beginning of the 10th century until the end of the 12th, when Saladin took over. There are tombs here from the 9th century to the 21st.
The Egyptian men hanging out at the cemetery were very helpful in showing us which dirt paths to follow to get out the other side and didn’t even ask for any tip in return.
We saw the famous unfinished obelisk, then haggled with a taxi to get us to the Nile ferry to Elephantine Island. The public ferry separated men and women, and I had a scarf/hijab so we tried to blend in with the locals in the boat. We had intended to visit the Aswan museum, but a Nubian man told us it was closed. We weren’t sure if we should believe him, but we didn’t know any better, so we allowed him to take us around the island, where two Nubian villages are. After going down tiny little alleys and along dirt paths past very undeveloped houses and gardens, we arrived at Animalia, another museum we wanted to visit. It was smaller and less official than what we had read online suggested. A Nubian woman came downstairs to greet us and walked us through a little museum dedicated to local Nubian life, homes, and decorative baskets. The price of admission was steep for what we got: 15 Egyptian pounds a person, but I suppose helping someone stay out of poverty by purchasing a service from them is good. Everyone was so friendly and kind.
A large portion of the Nubian people lived just south of here for hundreds of years, but flooding along the Nile was getting worse and threatening several temples and parts of Aswan. So in the 1960s the Egyptian government, with some funding from other nations (including the U.S.) moved the temples, built a dam, and permanently flooded the area the Nubians lived. About half were moved to Sudan, while the rest (around 80,000) were moved to the Aswan area. The Egyptian president Nasser declared that Nubians could claim any land between Aswan and Luxor along the west bank of the Nile.
This evening we ate dinner in a local Nubian home, and the food was delicious. Along the ferry ride we were able to see the monastery of St. Simon, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. The ancient Desert Fathers, seeking the solitude of the Egyptian desert, began practicing Christian monasticism.
Taking a ferry across the Nile reminded me so much of Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile.” I think Jordan was relieved because the BBC version doesn’t have any singing for me to imitate, unlike “The Prince of Egypt” (from yesterday looking at alabaster stone) or “The Sound of Music” (when going through the Vienna airport). As long as I sing quietly, no one hears me and it makes me very happy. So far, Egyptians seem to like us. Actually, I was expecting (As an American) to be met with cool indifference or slight displeasure by the Egyptians, but instead everyone is very enthusiastic about us being from America and seem very excited to have American tourists back among them.