Aswan Part X, Mixing Cultures

April 15-August 2, 2014

Michele was heading back the same way we were after Scott’s birthday dinner, but would have to walk towards town for a little ways to be able to pick up public transportation. There shouldn’t be any problem walking around alone after dark, but we figured it would be smarter to walk with Michele to where she’d pick up her minibus. It wasn’t a far walk and it was pleasant to be out in the cooler night air.

We saw lots of night scapes in Aswan since lots of socializing happened after dark.

We saw lots of night scapes in Aswan since lots of socializing happened after dark.

Just as we arrived at the bus stop, I heard someone calling, “Michele, Michele!” I looked around, but all I could see were women in black abayas (a shapeless, long dress worn over regular clothes). One of the black clad women came up and grabbed Michele’s arm. I wasn’t quite sure what to think until she started talking in American accented English.

It was Eiman, Ahmed’s wife. They were looking for a bus to take them home. After being so helpful with our visa situation, we were excited to meet Ahmed. Immediately, he suggested that we sit for drinks in a cafe on the main street.

Ahmed was an affectionate, attentive father--pretty rare in Egypt or Sudan.

Ahmed was an affectionate, attentive father–pretty rare in Egypt or Sudan.

It was pretty late already, but we agreed anyway. Ahmed, originally from Sudan, and Eiman, born in Eritrea but grew up in the United States, had met and married in the US. After spending some time living in Sudan, they were in Aswan for a few years before moving back to the United States. The lifestyle in Egypt was good for them, but their school-age children would benefit from the better schools back home.

We related our continuing visa troubles. Ahmed could sympathize. Eiman only had an American passport, so everytime they went to visit his family, it was a headache to get her visa. Conversation meandered and I felt my eyes getting heavy. When we checked the time, it was after 3 in the morning! I almost never stay up that late.

This swimming beach became one of our favorite spots in Aswan.

This swimming beach became one of our favorite spots in Aswan.

Ahmed paid for our drinks, but got in an argument with the waiter who tried to overcharge him. The waiter assumed we were tourists and Ahmed was our tour guide. We had a little laugh about it and vowed to choose a different cafe next time.

As we were leaving, Ahmed and Eiman invited us to go swimming the next Saturday with them. A group of expats and locals met at the Germania Hospital, chartered a motorboat out to a beach down the river and spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming. Of course we said yes.

The boat to the swimming was always full of locals and expats.

The boat to the swimming was always full of locals and expats.

It was a great mixed group, friendly and welcoming. We motored down the river, coming to a nearly empty beach near the first cataract. The current was flowing fast, so it was safe to swim without any risk of parasites. Because of Egyptian modesty, I swam with all of my clothes on. With tempteratures in the high 40’s, the cool river water was refreshing.

Eiman would board the boat in her abaya, but as soon as we reached the beach, she’d pull it off to relax in shorts and a tee shirt. She told me that in the US, she spent more time taking care of her hair and clothing, but here, under a hijab and abaya, she didn’t need to.

Ahmed and his two youngest kids on the boat.

Ahmed and his two youngest kids on the boat.

When I got out of the water, it was warm enough that my clothes dried quickly. I was jealous of Scott being able to swim in a proper swimming outfit. It was the middle of Ramadan and we would stay at the beach until it was time to break the fast. Just as the sun went down, everyone would break out all sorts of food.

Unique in Sudanese and Egyptian culture, Ahmed was the main cook in their household. He would come with foul or baba ghanoush sandwiches. I didn’t want to be greedy, but they were so good, I always wanted seconds. His secret to baba ghanoush was peanut butter. After the first week, we brought a watermelon every Saturday. It would float in the river, so we left it there to cool off until it was time to eat. I never imagined that I’d find myself swimming in the Nile. It was so much fun, we went every week until we left for Sudan.

Ahmed and Minona enjoy the cool Nile waters.

Ahmed and Minona enjoy the cool Nile waters.

They invited us over for dinner one night and, having already tasted Ahmed’s fantastic cooking, we jumped at the chance. Ahmed gave us directions over the phone, but just to be sure we didn’t get lost, he sent the kids out to watch for us. Two kids in each of the possible directions we could have arrived, it made finding their house very easy.

Ahmed was also in charge of making fresh juice. With just a blender, water, a little sugar and some fresh fruit, he would make some pretty amazing combinations. The night we were there, they served us red abre, which is more common in Sudan than Egypt, and a mix of carrot, lemon and other juices. Eiman cooked lentils, Eritrean style. So dinner was a mix of Eritrean, Sudanese and Egyptian specialties. It was one of the best meals we’d had in Aswan.

We enjoyed our multicultural feast at Ahmed and Eiman's.

We enjoyed our multicultural feast at Ahmed and Eiman’s.

Michele joined us and again we stayed late into the night chatting. It was still Ramadan, so even the kids would stay up late into the night and sleep for much of the next day. While the adults stayed inside, the kids went out to play with the neighbors. It’s hard to imagine letting the kids out to play so far after dark in another country.

Playing  in the Nile.

Playing in the Nile.

They’d started walking after breaking the fast to get in some exercise. As we prepared to leave, Ahmed and Eiman got dressed to come out with us. Ahmed wore a galabeya, a traditional long white tunic, and Eiman wore her abaya. I got a good laugh when they both put on running shoes. I was expecting a relaxed stroll, but they were nearly speed walking. I really had to hustle to keep up with them!

They were planning a trip to visit Ahmed’s family in Khartoum at the end of Ramadan. If we got our visas by then we would be in Khartoum at the same time. Ahmed also knew that the land border crossing was opening up again after being closed for many years. He was hoping it would be open in time to take a bus all the way to Khartoum. After hearing many stories about the hectic ferry, so were we.

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