The beautiful Islamic village of Balat was built during the time of the Mamluks and Turks and serves as a good example of mud architecture. People and livestock continue to inhabit the village but our guide happily led us through their homes and up onto their rooftops. We passed through one persons’ home as he was having a nap. He simply opened his eyes to check us out then went back to his rest.
I ran into these girls and their mother early one morning. Going for a walk near the hot spring we had bathed at the evening before I just followed what appeared to be a path for livestock. As I was passing a couple of mud structures a couple of men called out. They surprised me as I thought I was alone but then I realised that I had surprised them too. I didn’t stop to chat as I had the sense, due to some grown man giggles, that I had passed at an inopportune moment. At the same time a woman up the path turned to see what had startled them and I noticed that she had her two girls with her. This woman waited for me to catch up and hugged me so hard with strong double cheek kisses that I thought she must be my long lost auntie. It was now obvious that the structure I had just passed was their home.
Whenever I find myself in a new and very different environment the first things that I notice are the similarities between people regardless of location. We all need the basics for survival but more than that we all seek to find love, happiness, and kinship wherever we are. What is often forgotten in more privileged societies is that money is not necessary to achieve this however, the belief that it is often leads to severe disappointment and despair. Real abject poverty is high in the oases but if you pass any person standing in a falling down rubble doorway they will offer you a smile, a kind word, and anything else that they may have.
I took this photo of our guide from the top of the tower at Al-Qasr. I really appreciate that it is important to him to present his best self and to make the appropriate adjustments. The white galabayas are really beautiful, sensibly cool, and a symbol of purity.
My friend Richie caught a rare photo of me. I am sharing my photos with our guide. He seems pleased or at least mildly amused. There is a calm kindness shared by the inhabitants of the oases that rubs off and it is difficult if not impossible to feel anxious here.
I am backtracking due to my utter laziness about updating my blog. Anyway, here goes, a continuation of where I left off, sometime in November. We arrived at Al-Qasr, a medieval Ottoman town in the Dakhla Oasis, at dusk. Even still it was super cool, if not a bit eerie to meander through the dim passageways as the sun was going down. This town was purposely built, enclosed for protection from marauding invaders. It is a labyrinth of alleyways off of which are short doors with elaborate wooden lintels framing them. The doors tend to lead to small rooms built for various domestic necessities. One of the rooms held an olive press and another a grist mill. A gentleman who at first just seemed to be curiously following us turned out to be a caretaker and local guide who offered us information and helped with directions in the maze. The area was not marked as a heritage site of any kind because there are people that still live here. We met many locals in the passageways and even one woman who was selling handicrafts and cold sodas
The tower that you see got our attention right away and of course what do you do with a tower…climb it. There is a little tiny door at the bottom that you can access by passing through two rooms. The door is padlocked but it is no problem because we are being sort of followed. This is when we found out the person following was the caretaker but alas he doesn’t have the key with him. Off he goes to collect the key and we can hear him yelling to someone in Arabic, then all goes quiet… more yelling back and forth…nothing. We wait. And wait. And wait. At last we are in and up the two thousand year old wooden stairs with the thousand year old holes in them. It is a long way down if they were to fail but that will be for a poor bloke who climbs them in another thousand years. Anyway to the top, snap some pictures and back down. Yep, worth the wait.
Admittedly there isn’t much to Farafra Oasis but the mudbrick homes of the residents and Badr’s Museum. We stopped to check out the artwork of Badr Abdel Mogdy and to search for petrol. Although cheap due to heavy subsidies, petrol shortages are common especially around the oases. Badr’s art is very organic as you can see and depicts oasis life. In the cafe next door our friend and guide, Ahmed put together a really delicious lunch of traditional bread, fuul (beans), sharp sheep’s cheese, and salad. Successful in the search for petrol we were now fed and free to head on towards Dhakla.