Before finishing my Egypt series for good, I still want to share a very special experience with you. When my friend Youssef heard about me coming to Cairo — and good friend as I am, I let him know about my trip to Egypt when I was already on the bus from Sinai to Cairo, — then he immediately started planning the ultimate Cairo plan for me and Nora. His enthusiasm was both utterly sweet and also slightly uncomfortable; when it comes to travel plans then both me and Nora can be quite some control freaks and Youssef seemed to want to plan our whole trip on his own. And that’s what he ended up doing anyway. But when he offered to go and visit his mother’s home in a small village a couple of hours from Cairo, then we couldn’t really say no. Authentic Egyptian villages together with the locals were exactly what I had wanted to see!
So it was decided — after just one day in Cairo we already packed our bags and left the city to go to the countryside. I mean, considering the fact that I traveled with only a small hand luggage fitting under the seat in front of me, there really wasn’t much to pack anyway. The journey to Sharqia took about two hours. Bus rides are my absolute favourite part of traveling; even when they’re as bumpy and sweaty as the one to Sharqia. I admired the late winter in Egyptian nature, the villages passing by and the lively culture on highways. Egyptian villages and especially Sharqia were absolutely fantastic. Sure, I do tend to get overly excited about every new experience, but Sharqia really was worth it. So what was so special about it?
Local food is clearly the best part of traveling, am I right? Well Sharqia took it to a whole other level. Since we weren’t completely random passersby, but anticipated guests, then the whole neighbourhood had made preparations for the visitors. The main course of our feast was rice stuffed doves that were the very same morning. As an everyday-vegetarian, I was a little bit uncomfortable at first, but definitely appreciated the good intentions of the neighbourhood. In addition to the doves, we were also offered koosa — stuffed eggplants, zucchinis and corn,— a plateful of green leafed vegetables, fresh tomatoes and incredibly soft fresh arabian bread. The food was not only fresh, but also farmed literally within 500 metres, in the neighbourhood farm. I n c r e d i b l e.
The village had no dessert-culture. However they cherished strongly their tradition of tea, drinking in a circle by real fire. This fit well into the warm arabian spring nights.
Despite the fact that I’m also a country girl in spirit, I was seriously amazed by the self-sufficient eco system of Sharqia. An home made water pump directed pure groundwater right into the rice fields. In order to direct the water more efficiently, tiny soil ramparts were built and destroyed according the water needs of the field. Rice was farmed together with eggplants, zucchinis, corn, beans, peas and countless other local delicacies. The use of electricity was kept at minimum, most of the activities were conducted outside under the sunlight. Food was prepared with gas, tea was made on real fire.
The Arabian moments
In addition to the more earthly aspects, my trip to the village was also a wonderful opportunity to experience real Northern-African arabian culture. Since me and Nora were foreigners, we were also included in activities that usually were reserved for men only; such as going to the fields and playing table until late at night in the village cafe. Table, also known as backgammon, is one of my favourite social activities ever since I lived in Turkey. The men were clearly surprised when they realised that I already know the game and thus I played a tournament with the village’s best players in front of 50 other local guys. Table was accompanied by hot tea and nargile, the local water pipe. It was basically what bar culture is like in Europe, except for the absence of alcohol and women.
One of the unforgettable arabian moments was drinking tea in the fields. One of the local farmers asked us whether we wanted to have a cup of tea and clearly we expected to see a thermos that he had brought from home in the morning. Instead, he set up the fire and put a ceramic tea kettle right into the flames.Considering the fact that I was in a Northern African village, looking at the sunset and drinking hot tea from actual flames, it really constitutes an idyllic arabian moment.