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  • Writer's picturevsigston

Sugarcanes and Fire dancing

Our first day at the Luxor Worldschool Hub was a leap into the unknown. Although we'd met most of the families in the days leading up to the sessions starting properly it would be the first time everyone had been together and the first time we'd seen the space the children would call home for the next 6 weeks.

Our trusty school bus arrived at our house to pick me and the boys up and we made our way through the dusty roads to collect a few other families. We'd walked most of these roads on our week settling in so things looked familiar which was nice.

The first thing we did after saying hello was take the children on a walk through the farmland at the back of the hotel where the hub base was located.

It was great watching any first day nerves drift away with each footstep as the kids ran and played among the sugarcane fields and irrigation canals that fill so much of the West Bank. We had arrived during sugarcane harvest season so there were plenty of workers out on the land and one kind farmer offered the children to come and pick a sugarcane (or two) each. It was the first time we'd seen them raw in this way and we were thankful for Abdel and Mustafa for showing us how to rip off the hard outer shell to access the sweet fibres inside. Things were a little quieter for a while as the kids had their fill on the sugary juices.

Then it was back to the hub where the children were encouraged to think about any "guidelines" they would like for their time there. They came up with ideas such as being kind, helping each other etc and they also began to create their own mini flags to create a larger hub poster. Each piece of art had drawings, words and flags from each child's home country or culture, it was very cool to see.

Due to a combination of Covid delays and the hub start day being moved it so happened that Jake had his first LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) online exam booked for that same morning. While a little stressful I was so amazed at how he dealt with things, not letting the change of plans or his nerves affect him. I had some issues accessing the internet but luckily Louise (our hub leader) came to the rescue with her "hot spot" and we found a quiet room in the hotel next to the hub space where he performed his pieces brilliantly. (We later learned he passed with Merit, good work Jake!).

Each day at the hub the children shared a lunch, sometimes soups or rices with salads, sometimes sandwiches or wraps. The food was always fresh and tasty, prepared by local families with love. We ended day one feeling like we'd definitely made the right choice to come here and eager for more.

Day two started with another group walk, this time out into the desert between the Nile and the Valley of the Kings. I can't remember who pointed out that this is where the Sahara desert starts and behind the mountains that line the Valley of the Kings there is nothing but sand and dunes for over 2,500 miles. Where we stood it crosses the whole of the continent of Africa from Egypt in the East to Morocco in the West. It blew my mind and I would think of this fact often during our time here.

As we walked the children played and chatted, always under the watchful eye of Abdel and the volunteers. We visited a Coptic Church on the edge of the desert known as St. Tawdros (El Mohareb's) Monastery. It's full of paintings and tapestries and some of the blocks used to build it come from temples and palaces in the area. A kind man who showed us a little of the building explained that over the years if any of those temples were under threat from invaders/other religions the most precious art was removed and hidden here in the desert. It made me feel sad that they had ever had to worry about their precious arts and buildings being demolished and also impressed that they had come up with ways to keep certain elements protected.

We walked back to the hub past an area that has become known as "Sun City" or "Golden City". A brand new archeological dig where they have discovered the site of 3,400-year-old royal city filled with treasures and artefacts as well as the foundations of the buildings that once stood there. As we walked past, snapping a few photos, the workers there began shouting and gesturing for us to stop, they really didn't want us taking a sneak peak at what they were uncovering just yet. It was tantalising to wonder what was there and although I would have loved to see more I understood why they wanted to keep it to themselves while they are in these early exploration days. Luckily for us the school bus had arrived to give us a lift back to the hub so we hurried away before upsetting too many people. At the weekend we would visit Luxor Temple and it was amazing to think that this newly rediscovered "Golden City" might one day be a "must see" tourist spot where people would visit from around the world.

There was always something cool to spot out of the bus windows on our trips to and from the hubs and day out and today was the first time I would spot fresh tomatoes being laid out to dry in the sun. Huge spaces filled with (mostly) women laying individual fruits, each cut in half to speed up the drying process, out on the hot ground. They lay out in the heat for a week or two and are then packaged and, mostly, exported abroad. I read that the industry is working hard to ensure their workforce is primarily women, who in Egypt are still greatly marginalised and can find it hard to earn their own money and have independence. I hope this kind of effort continues.

As the week continued Louise told all the families about a street party that was happening in Hassan Fathy Village (New Gourna), a little way from where we were staying. There would be juggling and a fire show as well as tea and sweet treats. We decided to go along and check it out and were so pleased that we did.

Hassan Fathy was an Egyptian architect who was committed to using traditional materials and building techniques in his works to stop the spread of modern building designs. He was arguably most well known for his work here in New Gourna where he oversaw the building of a new village to rehouse a population that lived within the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. The aim of moving people was to try and stop the long time looting of those sites and also to help with tourism.

We arrived at the village along with the other hub families and were warmly greeted and shown to wooden benches that lined a square. On one side of the square a group of musicians sat on raised platforms and there were children and people streaming in from all sides.

It was a wonderful night, the juggling and fire dancing was brilliant and kept children and adults alike glued to their seats. Villagers served hot, sweet, black tea and passed around plates of sweet Egyptian treats like syrup soaked semolina cake, honey drenched baklava and sweet vermicilli slabs. The hub kids sat with the local children, sharing crisps and cakes and enjoying the show. I was blown away by the generosity of the people here, people that had so little but were willing to share it with us strangers.

As the night ended the group of musicians filled the air with rousing tunes and everyone enjoyed a dance. Jake was particularly pleased when a hub volunteer, Mustafa taught him a few of this best moves. I was surprised to see that the only women dancing were those of us from the hub, a reminder that lots of times in Arabic communities men and women celebrate separately.

As the week ended we had already seen so much but it wasn't over yet and the weekend would see our family trip to explore Luxor Temple. I'm going to write about that in the next post.

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